How to show empathy in counselling

Alongside knowledge and experience, counsellors require a broad skillset. To be a good counsellor, it’s essential that you are able to make your clients feel comfortable and show them empathy when needed. Being empathetic tells your client that you are listening to them without judgement and that you will help them in the best way you can.

By demonstrating empathy, you will also be able to build a strong relationship with your client, stimulate self-exploration, assist communication and provide the necessary level of support.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what another person is feeling as if we are feeling it ourselves. Unlike sympathy, which is feeling for someone, empathy is feeling with them and showing compassion towards them.

Good counsellors are able to put themselves in their client's shoes in order to better understand how they are feeling. It isn’t always easy, and some people are naturally more empathetic than others, but it is possible to increase the level of empathy we naturally have.

How do you show empathy in counselling?

Empathy is all about paying attention to how your client is feeling and understanding how their problem is impacting them emotionally so that you are able to help them in the best way possible.

Listening is key to showing empathy. After all, everyone likes to feel listened to and respected.

Other ways that you can show empathy include:

  • Always give them time to think
  • Be patient – not everyone is able to open up straight away
  • Always show understanding of your client’s perspective
  • Use short responses and appropriate language
  • Always respond to their thoughts and fears, and keep the line of communication open

What shouldn’t you do?

There are also a number of things to avoid when trying to empathise with your clients:

  • Never ask inappropriate questions
  • Avoid using clichés
  • Don’t repeat your clients’ exact words
  • Don’t make interpretations or judgements
  • Never pretend to understand your clients’ issues
  • Don’t assume – if in doubt, clarify the facts

Showing empathy naturally doesn’t always come easily for everyone, but, as long as you are as authentic as possible, you will find that as you gain more experience as a counsellor, it will come more naturally.

How do I become a counsellor?

If you are considering becoming a counsellor, there are several different routes you can take to achieve your career goals. Whether you complete a level 4 diploma in counselling, a degree or postgraduate course in counselling or psychotherapy, there are a lot of opportunities to realise your full potential and gain the theoretical and practical skills you need to become a counsellor.

If you’re considering becoming a therapist or counsellor, explore our counselling courses and get in touch if you require any further information.