Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dekeyser & Elliott (2009): Chapter on Embodied Empathy Published

Entry for 13 March 2009:

Background. Four years ago I got asked to do a chapter on empathy for a book being edited by Jean Decety and William Ickes. (I first met Bill Ickes about 8 years ago when he came to Toledo to give a colloquium on his social psychology research on empathic accuracy, and subsequently ran into him at the University of Ghent in Belgium, where he was on sabbatical and I visiting during my 2-year parttime stint at Leuven.) Mathias Dekeyser was (and still is) a PhD student at KU Leuven, whom I co-supervise with Mia Leijssen, and who has an interest in empathy, so I invited him work on it with me and to be first author. He agreed, and the two of us put our interests together: his were in more general forms of empathy such as the empathy clients have for their therapist and in embodied empathy; mine were in metaphors for empathy and process-outcome research on empathy as a predictor of outcome. Now the chapter has appeared in a book entitled The Social Neuroscience of Empathy which also includes chapters by Decety and Ickes (the editors); Watson & Geenberg; Bozarth; Hatfield; the Feshbachs; and many others from a variety of disciplines. I'm looking forward to getting my own copy!

Summary. In this chapter, we focus on the dual interpersonal and bodily nature of therapeutic empathy: It is deeply social and interpersonal in that it is founded on everyday, bidirectional forms of empathy that make communication and psychological contact possible; it is bodily in that is it grounded in both the brain and in immediate bodily experience. This perspective leads us to examine not only how therapist understand and misunderstand clients, but also how clients understand and misunderstand their therapists, with implications for addressing severe communication problems in psychosis. This dialogical, body-oriented view offers a richer, more complete understanding of empathy, highlighting client agency and providing important leads for therapy and therapy training. These leads include new emerging directions for both practice, including methods for working with clients with severe communication difficulties (i.e., Prouty’s Pre-therapy); and for training, including using body-based metaphors to help students learn deeper empathic responding and training therapists to draw on their immediate bodily experience as a powerful source of empathy. In addition, we review evidence supporting the connection between therapist empathy to client posttherapy outcome.

Reference: Dekeyser, M., & Elliott, R. (2009). Empathy in Psychotherapy: Dialogue and Embodied Understanding. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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