Yesterday was my 9 to 5 training at S.O.S. on using the Empathy Model in counseling. In this model, empathy is the opposite of sympathy. 'Empathy', by this definition, focuses on the client, or 'consumer' as S.O.S. calls them (I can't bear this term), while 'sympathy' focuses on ourselves. The risk with using 'sympathy' is taking everything the client says and relating it back to one of our own experiences, thus spending a great deal of the conversation talking about ourselves. In 'empathy', we try to leave ourselves out of it, focusing the conversation entirely on what the client has to say and how they are feeling about things. When the counselor speaks, it is to clarify what the client has been saying, not to interject her own take on things.
Our training materials list five steps that we should take when speaking with a client in order to properly follow the empathy model:
1) Listen (to verbal and nonverbal statements the client is making)
2) Ask clarifying questions (to help you fill in the gaps of a client's story; to make sure you are understanding them correctly)
3) Give positive strokes (point out things the client has already done to solve his or her problem; help the client see his or her strengths and successes)
4) Make value clarifications (suggest what you think is of greatest importance to the client, based on what he or she has told you)
5) Summarize what the client has said (recap the main points of their story, the feelings they've shared with you, what is important to them, to make sure that you have captured things accurately)
Yesterday there were ten of us in training, with three trainers (all 13 women). We divided into two groups and spent most of the day with our small group practicing the empathy model. I was very nervous to take a turn as a counselor, but it went well. I told myself that instead of trying to follow the empathy model, I would just try to talk to my client (a fellow trainee) the way I normally would. As it turns out, I used all five steps without consciously thinking about it, so yay. One weakness I have is asking two or three questions at a time, and asking the questions a bit too abruptly (What do you think caused this v. I'm wondering what you think may have caused this). Our small group finished the training an hour early, and our trainer said that we picked up on things faster than she's ever seen with previous groups.
Our last activity before going home was sweet. Each of us was given a piece of paper and a bunch of small stickers. We were supposed to use two stickers per person to write the words we thought best described them. Then we took turns presenting our papers and having our new friends come up and stick the words that they chose for us onto our papers. In my group were two undergrads studying social work (volunteers) and two MSW students doing internships with S.O.S., plus the two trainers, one of whom is an S.O.S. staff member, and the other a long-time volunteer.
Our last training session is this Monday night. The topic is Assertiveness. Tuesday morning I will start shadowing. I can shadow for as long as I want, and when I feel comfortable, I can start counseling while a more experienced person shadows me. Once that person thinks I'm ready to go solo, I will be a real, live crisis counselor for S.O.S.