Is low therapist empathy toxic?

One of the largest determinants of client outcomes is the counselor who provides treatment. Therapists often vary widely in effectiveness, even when delivering standardized manual-guided treatment. In particular, the therapeutic skill of accurate empathy originally described by Carl Rogers has been found to account for a meaningful proportion of variance in therapeutic alliance and in addiction treatment outcomes. High-empathy counselors appear to have higher success rates regardless of theoretical orientation.

Low-empathy and confrontational counseling, in contrast, has been associated with higher drop-out and relapse rates, weaker therapeutic alliance, and less client change. The authors propose emphasis on empathic listening skills as an evidence-based practice in the hiring and training of counselors to improve outcomes and prevent harm in addiction treatment.

Moyers TB, Miller WR.