Empathy as a Professional Skill
October 23, 2017
image (c) laurie rae dietrich 2017
It was an honor to be asked to speak, this evening, to graduate psychology students (and interested alumni) about the development and skillful maintenance of empathy from a performer's perspective.
Arising from years of conversation with Dr. Todd Russell of Sul Ross State University about the intersection of our professional skill-sets (there is talk of a forthcoming collaborative paper), we begin with the premise that empathy is a naturally-arising human phenomenon and that failures to establish empathic connection -- when they are not neurochemical/organic -- are based in fear of enmeshment.
As a director, performer, and as a ritualist, I have techniques - some shared canonically with colleagues and some idiosyncratic - that allow me to open to and internalize the emotional states of other people and situations without fear of compromising necessary analytic function, and with confidence in my ability to separate cleanly from those states when appropriate.
It was wonderful fun to share those techniques and exercises with Dr. Russell's Techniques of Counseling class, and heartening to see how seriously these future counselors take the challenge to connect deeply and authentically with their clients, and the responsibility to manage that empathy to sustain a long career in support of the healing process.