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Empathy in psychotherapy: dialogue and embodied understanding

Dekeyser, Mathias and Elliott, Robert (2009) Empathy in psychotherapy: dialogue and embodied understanding. In: The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. MIT Press, pp. 113-124. ISBN 978-0-262-01297-3

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Abstract

In this chapter, we present an account of empathy in psychotherapy that is based on a more general, multidisciplinary understanding of everyday empathic interaction. We want to argue that, for two reasons, this approach can contribute to a better understanding of processes of empathy in the therapeutic context. Neurological studies and social psychology research have demonstrated the power and complexity of interpersonal influence on a physical, nonverbal level, a complexity that is sometimes ignored by therapists (Shaw, 2004). Second, understanding problems in client-therapist interaction requires us to examine how clients both understand and misunderstand their therapists, including their therapists' intentions, emotions, and other internal states (e.g., Rhodes et al., 1994). These problems are grasped with more coherence when they are described using parallel concepts for the client and the therapist. For example, it is easier to understand and tackle severe communication problems in psychosis treatment when both the client's and the therapist's 'sides' of the communication are considered.