Empathy vs Sympathy – Therapy Case Notes

“Truly empathic statements don’t necessarily try to make the other person’s pain go away or feel better.


Seems like when you get to that point, you want to give up and hand yourself over to the snakes, because you feel that there’s no goodness left anywhere in the world, inside or out.


These strike me as statements of stark truth that grow from true empathy, not sympathy; by entering into my clients’ emotions and articulating exactly what they feel, I empathize with their pain but don’t try to make it better by offering consolation or easy optimism. Because I’m not afraid to look at something so painful and then to articulate it, I also communicate to my clients that, as painful as their experience may be, as unbearable as it seems, it actually can be tolerated.”


By Joseph Burgo