Clinical Counseling: The art of empathy: How long can you walk in someone else’s shoes?

By James Martin

Most counselors have heard the term, “Compassion Fatigue.” This is a common symptom of those in the human services arena who spend an inordinate amount of time feeling the pain of others without the opportunity to ‘debrief’ about their own feelings with other colleagues. Helpers who are ‘worth their salt’ have an ability to not just have sympathy for someone, but can actually empathize with other’s feelings (‘I feel your disappointment’).

Recognizing and understanding someone else’s feelings can be very taxing upon your own emotional state. However, there is a danger of making empathy the ‘default’ way of relating to others. 

Here is a simple test to determine if you are in danger of becoming tangled in an empathy snare: