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What Is Empathy?

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Updated September 16, 2009

Definition: Empathy refers to the ability of one person to understand another person's point of view. Empathy is important in some approaches to addiction treatment, in which the counselor or therapist empathizes with the client by showing how he or she understands the client's point of view as valid. Empathy is powerful in building trust, and in developing a good therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client -- particularly if the client's behavior has lead to judgment and criticism from others in the past.
Pronunciation: em-path-ee
Also Known As: understanding, compassion, sympathy (although counseling theory distinguishes between sympathy and empathy)
Examples:
Fred expressed empathy towards Louise as she described how a series of mistakes she made had worsened her dependence on drugs as a way of coping with her feelings of shame and incompetence.

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