A structured learning exercise in person-centered empathy within a counselor training program


Jo Cohen Hamilton


The structured exercise in empathic listening is designed to provide counselor trainees with an intensive and deliberate focus on the person-centered empathic process. By far the single most curative factor identified in counseling process and outcome research, empathy deserves lo be a key focus of counselor research and training. Current psychotherapy outcome research estimates of empathy's variance in effecting client positive change occur in the 40% range. This learning exercise is decidedly a highly effective tool for enhancing counselor's capacities to practice empathy; with minimal, if any observable adverse effect on student-selected participants. Qualitative findings from more than 200 counselor trainees over a ten year period, along with a sub-sample of 23 trainees' quantitative results point to the value of the empathy exercise as an especially useful method in counselor empathy training. Experience with the large number of exercises being conducted by trainees suggests that rare instances of a need for one-on-one supervision do occur; and that therefore, the trainer-supervisor must be mindful of the progress, process, and outcome of each case. In-class periodic assessments of general progress, along with individual student meetings and initiation of follow-up as needed are recommended.