Empathy This is because a fair amount of

 

                        Empathy is a skill which has been used by child and youth
care practitioners for many years.  Among all the other relevant skills, empathy
has been named the most popular: “empathy is the construct that has evoked the most
attention” (Feller & Cottone, 2003, p. 53). In relation to this field, it
is known as the ability “to see the world through the eyes of the client”
(Shebib, 2017, p.40). This skill involves practitioners being able to
understand their clients’ perspectives and feelings without injecting their own
viewpoints into the situation. To show empathy, practitioners must be able to
actively listen to their clients, pay attention to their non-verbal cues and
suspend all judgement or assumptions. Despite all that is known about empathy,
there is still a debate on whether or not it is a prominent skill for
practitioners to use. With the use of research and facts from articles and
academic writing, this paper will prove that empathy is an essential skill for
child and youth practitioners to have.

 

In any helping profession, the client
is always the central focus. One of the main benefits for clients who
experience empathy through treatment is that they are highly likely to receive
improved outcomes. According to Shebib, experiencing empathy helps clients to
understand the impact that their emotions have on their life, as it, “assists
clients to understand how emotions influence decision making and helps clients
recognize the impact of emotions on themselves and others” (2017,p. 160).This
reflection then contributes to a client’s self-awareness as they now understand
how their emotions trigger certain reactions. In addition, clients learn how to
properly manage their difficult feelings: “empathy also assists clients in
identifying and labelling feelings, which allows them to deal with those
feelings” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Once a client is able to handle their
emotions, they can then start the process of self-acceptance since they can now
recognize that their emotions can be explained and that there is nothing wrong
with feeling a certain way. Empathy is also proven to aid in the treatment of
substance abuse: “research shows that empathy is one of the strongest
predictors of success in reducing relapse” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). This is
because a fair amount of substance abuse victims have an emotional reason for
their addiction, such as, stress or the death of a loved one. When they are
able to release those emotions onto their practitioner and receive an empathic
response in return, it provides the clients with a smoother recovery process.
Studies show that the experience of empathy reduces antisocial behavior, as
well as, “inhibits aggression towards others and promotes healthy personal
development” (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p.142). Similar to the substance abuse
victims, children and youth who exhibit these behaviors don’t know a healthy
way to cope with their frustrations. Having a practitioner to talk through
their problems with reduces and eventually eliminates the behavior. In
counselling sessions, the use of empathy increases client participation levels:
“clients generally increase their level of therapy satisfaction, likelihood of
compliance, and involvement in the treatment process” (Clark, 2010, p.348).
Even the scared and unwilling clients tend to adhere to the treatment as a
result of the empathic and non-judgemental attitude of the practitioner, which
encourages them to let their guard down. Observing practitioners who
demonstrate healthy and effective empathic skills improves a client’s
communication patterns: “counsellors who use empathic communication and other active
listening skills are modelling skills that clients can use to improve their
relationships with others” (Shebib, 2017, p.161). Due to the great amount of
time clients spend with their practitioners, they have a tendency to view them
as role models, which often leads them to adopt their behaviors and
communication skills.

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 The amount of empathy that a practitioner
expresses has a crucial effect on the success that a client has in treatment.
For that reason, a lack of empathy results in destructive client behavior.
Practitioners who refuse to use empathy or who do not use it correctly, prompt
their clients to give up on their treatment: “confrontational counselling leads
to high dropout rates” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Majority of the clients who seek
help or who are required to get help from child and youth practitioners are
struggling with trust and self-esteem issues. With that being the case, when
they are faced with a practitioner who does not attempt to understand or listen
to them, but rather shows signs of judgement and rejection, they result to
defending themselves by escaping the counselling process. The failure to be
empathetic with children and youth affects not only their mental state, but
their physical actions as well: “the lack of empathy is correlated with
bullying, aggressive behavior, violent crime, and sexual offending” (Gerdes
& Segal, 2011, p. 142). This is due to the fact that these children and
youth do not know how to effectively cope with or control their emotions. Not
having someone there, who they can work through these problems with, causes
many of them to act out in anger or violence.

 

To invoke change in the lives of
children and youth, a practitioner’s methods, skills and counseling practices
must be beneficial. Perhaps the most valuable skill, empathy, increases the
effectiveness of practitioners. When an empathy-based treatment approach is
used, practitioners are unlikely to oversimplify the client’s problems and rush
into providing their solution: “because they understand more, they are also
less prone to insult their clients with well-meaning but unusable and premature
advice” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). Effective practitioners understand that most
clients are facing emotional confusion and cannot comprehend or accept advice
until their emotional needs are met. The use of empathy allows practitioners to
develop a deeper understanding of the client’s problems which in turn leads
them to provide the appropriate treatment methods: “empathy is also linked to a
more comprehensive understanding and conceptualization of clinical concerns,
which can therefore lead to more responsive and targeted treatments” (Bayne
& Hays, 2017, p. 34). Using facilitation and treatment practices that are
appropriate for the client’s situation results in better outcomes.

 

Practitioners play an important role in
the lives of children and youth, as they are their guides, counsellors and
advocates. Taking on this role can be physically and emotionally draining since
they are constantly dealing with their clients’ problems, however, when
practitioners use empathy in their practice it saves them from becoming
overwhelmed. Many practitioners who engage in counseling feel as if they need
to take on their clients’ feelings as their own, which leads to them to become
burdened, stressed out and unable to disentangle their feelings from their
clients’. Using an empathic approach instead, prevents “over arousal in emotion
sharing” (Gerdes & Segal, 2011, p.145). With this approach, the
practitioner seeks to comprehend the client’s feelings and point of view on the
situation. To properly do this, they must observe the clients’ responses and
body language, rather than taking their emotions and making it their own. This
allows them to keep their own feelings separate from their work and separate
from the feelings of others. On the other hand, some practitioners experience
physical and mental burnout do to the fact that they feel as if they need to
have all of the solutions to their clients’ problems in order to refrain from appearing
incompetent. When a practitioner holds that mindset, they begin to stress over
their clients’ problems and focus on trying to force out a response, instead of
concentrating on how to help the client emotionally. Empathy, however, only
requires the practitioner to understand and respond to their clients’ feelings
as a way to help them discover the meaning behind their emotions, “by assisting
clients to understand and manage feelings, energy is freed up for problem
solving and clients may be able to move ahead without further counselor
involvement” (Shebib, 2017, p. 161). The use of empathy in counseling
situations helps practitioners avoid placing an unbearable amount of pressure
on themselves to have all the answers and in addition to that, it can result in
the client’s finding solutions to their own problems.

 

The most important part of the work of
child and youth practitioners is being able to develop and maintain healthy
relationships with their clients. Applying empathy is a critical step in causing
a practitioner-client relationship to grow and become effective. Shebib states
that: “empathic attitudes and skills can generate powerful bonds of trust and
rapport” (2017, p. 68). A practitioner who takes the time to learn about their
clients’ world’s and does so without judgement, displays that they truly care
about their clients’ well being and that they are someone whom they can depend
on. When a client sees genuine care within their practitioner, they are more
likely to break down their trust barriers and embrace the relationship. Harmony
is also created through empathy because clients feel that they have been
understood, “when a counselor empathizes with a client, there is often a
kinship with the person because of a perceived similarity of experiences”
(Clark, 2010, p. 349). Feelings of affiliation and validation encourage
children and youth to deepen the connection that they have with their
practitioner.

 

There are various types of empathy
which can be used in the child and youth care field. The use of different types
of empathy enhances the client’s counseling experience and reduces the chance
of practitioners being biased. Shebib explains that: “the three types of
empathy are invitational empathy, basic empathy, and inferred empathy” (2017, p.
164). Invitational empathy involves encouraging clients to speak about the
feelings they are experiencing.  Basic empathy is when a practitioner
“mirrors what the client has explicitly said” (Shebib, 2017, p. 164). Inferred
empathy requires a practitioner to decipher a client’s subtle body cues in
order to reach full understanding of their feelings. During the time spent with
their practitioners, clients will encounter multiple issues and feelings which
cannot all be dealt with in the same way. For example, if a practitioner
chooses to only use basic empathy, they will not be paying attention to their
clients’ cues and will fail to discover their unvoiced feelings. When a
practitioner uses all types of empathy, they allow their clients’ to express
themselves in different ways. Using a mixture of the types of empathy also
reduces the risk of practitioners being biased towards their clients. Due to
the diverse milieus that child and youth practitioners work in, they will be
helping clients of different cultures and backgrounds, in which they may have a
limited knowledge of. The use of empathy, however, calls for practitioners to
gain an understanding of the person as a whole, including their culture and
beliefs, as it, “enables a counselor to assess how an individual client
responds to influences within his or her particular culture” (Clark, 2010, p.
351). This inhibits practitioners from making assumptions about how they think
a client is supposed to feel or respond in a particular situation.

 

This paper explains that empathy is a
vital skill to use in the work of child and youth practitioners. The use of
this skill has proven to have positive impacts on the outcome of clients’
treatment, the efficiency of a practitioner’s work and the growth of a
practitioner-client relationship. A lack of empathy however, is confirmed to
lead clients down disastrous paths. Overall, the demonstration of empathy has
been revealed to have a major impact in the development and treatment of
children and youth who struggle with behavioral, cognitive and emotional
issues. Understanding empathy and other relational skills is an essential topic
that child and youth practitioners should continue to discuss and research
further.