Accurate Empathy

4 Commentsby   |  09.06.09  |  Uncategorized

      Accurate empathy is one of the essential qualities successful therapists use to connect with their client. According to Trux & Carkhuff (1967) accurate empathy describes the therapist’s ability to see things from their client’s perspective. Trux & Carkhuff (1967) further illustrate accurate empathy by saying “both the therapist’s sensitivity to current feelings and his verbal facility communicate this understanding in a language attuned to the client’s feelings” (p.46). However, to display accurate empathy the therapist does not have to show or feel the same emotions as their client. For example, a therapist that displays a high rate of accurate empathy correctly responds to the client’s feelings and recognizes subconscious and/or conscious emotions the client maybe expressing. In turn, the client feels more validated because he or she feels like the therapist understands them. This understanding will help the therapist/client relationship grow, increasing the chances of a successful outcome for the client(s).

            To show a practical application of accurate empathy, I chose a clip of therapist Carl Rodgers. In this clip, Rodgers displays accurate empathy with his client Gloria who is struggling to raise her children after her divorce.

Carl Rodgers Therapy Session \”Accurate Empathy\”

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you, as a therapist, display accurate empathy with a client who abused his/her spouse? Would you have to put more effort to display accurate empathy qualities like sensitivity and understanding in this situation? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think accurate empathy is important? Do you think an effective therapeutic intervention could be employed without it? If so, how?
  3. What kind of body language cues would you use as a therapist to communicate accurate empathy? In addition, what type of gestures or remarks would be beneficial to ensure the client feels understood during session.


Carl Rodgers and Gloria counseling part 2. (n.d.) Retrieved September 3, 2009, from

Truax, C.B., & Carkhuff, R.R. (1967). Toward effective counseling and psychotherapy: Training and practice. Chicago: Aldine.


  1. Jaime Goff
    9:30 pm, 09.07.09

    Thanks for posting this video of Carl Rogers, Jacqueline. He is the father of unconditional positive regard and the creator of Person-Centered Therapy, which focuses on reflecting and validating feelings. Here are some things I noticed about this video:

    -He immediately puts her at ease by taking a one-down position, saying “I don’t know what we’ll be able to do in 30 minutes.”
    -He acknowledges that she has asked for advice but tells her he won’t give it to her.
    -Even Rogers gets it wrong in terms of accurate empathy. Twice, she tells him he hasn’t gotten it. -He gets to the most basic negative emotional experience, her fear of not being accepted by others and by herself. Interestingly, current research shows that strong negative emotional experiences are typically related to attachment needs/fears

    An interesting question that came to mind for me is this: Can you sit with your own anxiety when the client wants you to solve his/her problems?

  2. Ashley Roan
    11:38 am, 09.09.09

    I really liked this video. Dr. Goff you are right he does immediately put her at ease. She even verbalizes that she is less anxious. Even though they have just met she is able to say “no I don’t think that’s it”. It was interesting that she acknowledged that he was not going to give her an answer but she was not resistant to talking through it with him. She seemed relieved to have someone to empathize with her situation and that helped her talk through the issue. I think the most important thing was to feel validated that she was in a sticky situation.
    In response to the questions:
    1. I believe that it will be easier to display accurate empathy when we don’t have to imagine ourselves in the situation; we actually have been in that situation (however this could cause unhealthy concern for the client). That said, in a situation with abuse, assuming that the therapist has not been an abuser, it will be harder to empathize and take substantially more work.
    2. I believe accurate empathy is important to clients because they probably don’t feel like they even understand their actions. If they feel like it is possible to understand their situation they might feel more comfortable finding out the cause, and ultimately changing negative behavior.
    3. Ques of accurate empathy are important for clients. Some body language ques are, leaning in, looking at the client, nodding, etc.

  3. Amie Campbell
    7:52 pm, 11.05.09

    I think in any situation, whether we approve of the client’s behavior or not, we can still show accurate empathy. Even if we find a client’s behavior to be appalling, the client is still a human being, and often a hurt and broken human being. By working to see the client’s perspective in the case of an abuser, we can not only help the client feel understood, but hopefully find the underlying emotional and cognitive basis for the behavior. Most people do not wake up and say to themselves “I think I’m going to beat my spouse today” or “Today I’m going to be a horrible parent.” Often times these behaviors follow from people who are suffering and need to feel as if they are understood in order for them to make positive changes in their lives.

  4. Kelsey Waskow
    7:54 pm, 12.03.09

    When thinking about the role that accurate empathy plays in therapy, I thought about the ultimate “Accurate Empathizer” and a specific story where it was exemplified. I thought about the story in the Bible where the woman who was committing adultery was brought to Jesus, and those that brought her to Him had stones that were just ready to be thrown. Although Jesus did not agree with what she was doing (He even told her to go and sin no more) He did not join with the crowd and place judgment on her. Although the scriptures do not say so, I am sure Jesus had a great deal of empathy that day for the woman.

    In much the same way, whereas we are not instructed to agree with the actions that our clients are taking part in, we are ordered to love on them as Jesus loves on us. Like Amie said, there is nothing inside of me that believes that a person wakes up one day and decides to act in a specific way – but instead due to past hurts or cognitions, they take part in a certain behavior. I think it is key that we do not just look at the action being committed and say “that is who they are” but instead we reach deep within themselves and find a place where we can understand their present selves.

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