7 Empathic Responses in Counselling Examples

This blog will provide examples of empathic responses in counselling. We will first discuss why empathy is so important in the counselling process. Then, we will describe eight different types of empathic responses in counselling and list examples for each type.

What are Empathic Responses in Counselling Examples?

Here is a quick list of some types of empathic responses in counselling along with their examples:

  • Showing Attunement – “Go on, I’m listening”
  • Acknowledging the Client’s Feelings – “Oh, dear! That must have felt so infuriating to witness!”
  • Acknowledging the Client’s Struggles – “It must have been so strange for you to start from scratch in such an unfamiliar space”
  • Sharing Your Feelings – “I feel shocked to hear this. I can’t believe how difficult it must have been for you.”
  • Highlighting the Client’s Strengths – “I am simply amazed that you survived that”
  • Expressing Gratitude – “Thank you so much for sharing that with me”
  • Offering Support – “I am here for you”
  • Words of Encouragement – “I have faith in you”

Why is Empathy a Big Part of Counselling?

Empathy is a crucial step in building the therapeutic alliance between the client and counsellor. Without empathy, the client will feel disconnected, misunderstood, or even judged by the counsellor, regardless of whether they are actually being judged.

When a counsellor practices empathy, they are able to apprehend the client’s perspective and goals. They get a feel of the client’s unique personality and preferences while learning how to communicate with them effectively.

There are verbal and nonverbal ways of showing empathy in the counselling setting. The non-verbal ways include gestures, facial expressions and body language. The verbal methods shall be explained in more detail in the next section.

8 Empathic Responses in Counselling Examples

Now that we understand why empathy is so important in counselling, let us take a closer look at eight types of empathic responses. These are statements that the counsellor can make within sessions or when interacting outside of sessions.

Showing Attunement

The first step in showing empathy is to display a genuine interest in the client and what they have to share. A counsellor can show attunement by paying attention to the client’s words and non-verbal cues. 

In both these cases, it is possible to respond with statements that reflect this attunement. Let’s look at some examples:

  • If the client wants to talk about something
    • “Go on, I’m listening”
    • “Yes, please tell me more about that”
    • “Oh, could you give me an example of that?”
  • If the client is giving a non-verbal cue
    • “You seem to be restless, is this topic making you anxious?”
    • “I wonder what about this issue made you so grim all of a sudden”
    • “Would you rather we talk about this later? You seem a little uncomfortable”
  • If the counsellor wants to show that they are attuned
    • “Hang on, let me turn away my screen so I don’t get distracted”
    • “Could you repeat that? I just want to check if I got everything in my notes”
    • “So you’re saying xyz happened, and then qrs, which made you think abc?”

These responses work wonderfully in building rapport because they make the client feel seen and heard. Often, the counsellor’s office might be the only place in the client’s life where they feel acknowledged.

Acknowledging the Client’s Feelings

If there is only one thing that you take away from this blog, let it be the responses that acknowledge the client’s feelings, especially those of pain, anger, and suffering. When a counsellor makes statements like these, the client truly feels understood.

Even if you get a few of the words wrong, the client will appreciate the effort you are making in putting yourself in their shoes. That’s why these responses allow both parties to clarify and ensure effective communication.

A few examples of empathic statements that acknowledge the client’s feelings are as follows:

  • “Oh, dear! That must have felt so infuriating to witness!”
  • “I can see that this incident has caused you a great amount of pain”
  • “I can’t even imagine how much hurt you must be feeling”
  • “Wow, that does sound like something very scary”

Sometimes, the client themselves are not aware of what words to use to describe what they feel. In times like that, an empathic response from the counsellor gives them a descriptive word to label their subjective experience. It also makes them feel normal for having such feelings.

Acknowledging the Client’s Struggles

Whenever a client talks about their difficult times, it is the counsellor’s responsibility to acknowledge their struggle. If the counsellor fails to do that, the client may feel like they’re weaker or less capable than most others.

Therefore, one must not miss the chance to point out that no matter what the situation, it was challenging for the client and they had a tough time experiencing it. Making these statements also allows the counsellor to truly comprehend the client’s perspective.

Moreover, when you talk about these struggles, you validate the client’s experience and remind them that they are not making this stuff up. It is a struggle for them because it would have been a struggle for anyone in their position.

Below are some examples of empathic responses that acknowledge the client’s struggle:

  • “It must have been so strange for you to start from scratch in such an unfamiliar space”
  • “After everything you have been through, it was probably very hard for you to face something like that again”
  • “It may seem like a normal thing to you but I can see just how difficult it is to go through such a thing over and over”
  • “It’s very challenging to have to face the people who hurt you so much”

Sharing Your Feelings

It’s imperative for counsellors to talk about their feelings if they want an equal relationship with their clients. Some mental health professionals choose to not reveal anything about themselves during sessions. 

However, that is not an effective strategy if you want your client to trust you and feel safe around you. Sharing your feelings encourages transparency in the client-counsellor relationship. It also helps the client realise that their feelings aren’t excessive.

A lot of clients believe that they are too much because they have been told so by other people in their life. When a counsellor reveals their feelings, and these feelings resonate with the client’s, it is extremely validating.

Here are a few examples of empathic responses counsellors can make to share their feelings:

  • “I feel shocked to hear this. I can’t believe how difficult it must have been for you.”
  • “Just hearing about what happened to you gave me goosebumps”
  • “I’m feeling a bit concerned about this decision because of xyz”
  • “I’m so glad that you managed to achieve this”

Highlighting the Client’s Strengths

Another big responsibility of the counsellor is to highlight the client’s strengths whenever they get the opportunity. Doing so also puts a positive twist to the client’s narrative, which is often necessary because the client is blind to their own abilities.

There is always scope for praise no matter what the client is talking about. A good counsellor can recognise these strengths and point them out appreciatively and convincingly.

Some examples of empathic responses that highlight the client’s strengths are listed below:

  • “I am simply amazed that you survived that”
  • “You are so brave that you managed to get through that”
  • “You did something that I probably would never have been able to”
  • “It’s incredible how strong you are on a daily basis”

When you make such statements, expect some resistance from the client because they’re not used to seeing themselves in a positive light. No matter what their response, stick to what you said and say it with conviction.

Expressing Gratitude

Always remember that it is a privilege to be privy to such sensitive details about a client. Even if you have put your heart and soul into building trust within your relationship, one must always express gratitude to the client for sharing things with you.

Generally, these statements are best said when the client has just revealed something very personal about themselves. It’s also important to say these if you can sense that it was very difficult for the client to speak about it.

Responses of gratitude are extremely well-placed if the client starts crying or has a visible emotional reaction while sharing something. Some examples of these statements are:

  • “Thank you so much for sharing that with me”
  • “I appreciate you telling me this even though it was clearly hard for you”
  • “I am thankful for your trust in me”
  • “I’m honoured that you could reveal that to me”

Offering Support

Though counsellors aren’t supposed to solve the client’s problem for them, they can and should always offer their support whenever appropriate. At the same time, it’s important for the counsellor to know their boundaries and not promise something they cannot deliver.

Empathic responses for offing support include:

  • “You can talk to me about anything whenever you need to. I may not always be available but I will always respond to you as soon as I can.”
  • “I am here for you”
  • “We will handle this together”
  • “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, so you’re not alone.”

Words of Encouragement

Finally, the last type of empathic responses on our list is for statements that encourage clients to keep at it. There will be many points throughout the couselling process when the client may be tempted to give up or lose hope.

This is especially true because recovery is hardly ever a linear graph. There are several fluctuations and good or bad phases before a client can fully recover. Such statements are extremely useful in times like these because they help the client get back on track.

Examples of words of encouragement are:

  • “That’s alright, let’s focus on the lesson here”
  • “I have faith in you”
  • “You have always shown such resilience, you will definitely bounce back again”
  • “I have no doubt that you can lead a life you like one day”

Conclusion

This blog provided examples of empathic responses in counselling. We first discussed why empathy is so important in the counselling process. Then, we described eight different types of empathic responses in counselling and listed examples for each type.

The types of empathic responses in counselling mentioned here were Showing Attunement, Acknowledging the Client’s Feelings, Acknowledging the Client’s Struggles, Sharing Your Feelings, Highlighting the Client’s Strengths, Expressing Gratitude, Offering Support, and Words of Encouragement.

FAQs (Empathic Responses in Counselling Examples)

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to feel and understand another person’s experience. It’s different from sympathy because you don’t feel sorry for someone’s suffering. Instead, you’re able to put yourself in their position and attempt to feel what it is like for them.

What questions should I ask a new Counsellor?

You can ask absolutely anything to a counsellor which will make you feel more relaxed and comfortable in your sessions. Nevertheless, here are some useful questions that can help make the counselling process less challenging for you:

  • “What approach do you use in your counselling sessions?”
  • “Have you ever dealt with a client with problems similar to mine?”
  • “Why did you choose to become a counsellor?”
  • “Is it okay if I don’t reveal that right now?”

What are the 5 Counselling skills?

There are many skills and micro-skills involved in counselling so they can’t be limited to a number as small as five. Having said that, here are some essential skills that are required of anyone practising counselling as a profession:

  • Attunement
  • Self-awareness
  • Establishing rapport
  • Active listening
  • The use of appropriate questions
  • Refraining from making judgemental comments or body language
  • Empathy 

References