Skip to main content
Portrait of David Lindskoog

David Lindskoog

Registered Clinical Counsellor
SFU Health and Counselling Services

empty
A woman reaching out and touching the shoulder of a man
Credit
Alex Green on Pexels
I think that empathy has a special role to play in many career related tasks.

Speaking from personal experience, when you’re a student in counselling psychology, you become very familiar with the term “empathy.”  The message that empathy is the cornerstone to successful therapy is practically pounded into your brain until you pretty much stop asking how or why it’s important, and start accepting it as mere fact.  It’s one of those messages that you are just never going to forget.  There are lots of these kinds of messages.  One of my favourites was from my undergraduate degree in psychology: ( say it along with me all you psych students) correlation does not imply causation.  It’s just one of those things you’re likely to hear in every psychology class you take.

Being an avid humanist, I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by empathy, particularly its role in therapy and other helping relationships.  What do we really mean by empathy?  Can it really be quantified, simplified into the identification of emotions in another person, and evaluated based on transcribed verbal communication (as is common practice in counsellor education programs)?  Is there more nuance, more subtlety involved?  What makes a person empathic or not empathic?  Can we teach empathy, or is it more akin to a stable personality trait?

Not surprisingly, empathy became the subject of my (ongoing) graduate level research.  I decided to study what people in therapy think of empathy and if they think it matters as much as therapists tend to.  But that’s not quite what I want to talk about today.

picture of neurons

There are quite a few takes on empathy, depending on what context you look into it from.  Ask a therapist, and you’re likely to hear about how it’s a process of being with another person, truly understanding them and often feeling the same emotions as them (although it depends on what kind of therapist you ask).  Ask a leadership expert and you’re likely to hear about how it can be used to inspire and motivate others.  Ask an artist and you might hear about how we ascribe beauty to a painting.  Ask an evolutionary or biological scientist and you’re likely to hear about group survival advantages and mirror neurons. On and on it goes.

Empathy is kind of a hot topic out there these days.  But if it’s so important, on so many different levels, why does it still seem so elusive?  We all experience interactions with others on a daily basis that confirm that empathy is not always a high priority in others’ minds.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own worlds, our own emotions, that those of others become a mere echo in the distance.

It’s my belief that embracing an empathic attitude can help in many areas of life.  In romantic relationships (think of couples’ therapy), friendships, at school, at work, etc.  Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, an empathic attitude is very likely to improve your relationship with yourself.

It’s not often that we think in these terms, separating “I” and “self.”  But ask yourself: How is your relationship with yourself?

For a lot of people, the answer is “not good.”

I think that an empathic attitude can be projected inwardly just as effectively as it can be outwardly, with similar results.  When we are empathic with others, we are cultivating a relationship acknowledging and thriving on mutual humanity.  We help the other person feel that we are with them in their plight, even as we are helpless to do anything about it.  We make no claims that suggest superiority or that we know something better than they do.

When we are empathic with ourselves, the same applies.  We are acknowledging our emotions, our states of mind, as authentic and are restraining from imposing value judgments like ‘good’ and ‘bad.’  In short, we are accepting ourselves.  The concept of mindfulness, which has become incredibly popular in therapeutic circles, describes the same essential process.

Much in the same way that I believe an optimistic perspective will go a long way in a job search, I think that empathy has a special role to play in many career related tasks. In  Next posting I’ll talk about the role of empathy, inward and outward, in a successful job interview.

About the Author

Portrait of David Lindskoog

David Lindskoog

Registered Clinical Counsellor
SFU Health and Counselling Services
David Lindskoog is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Health & Counselling who used to work as a Career Advisor with Career Services. David is passionate about suicide prevention, social justice, career and professional development concerns, and the use of role-playing games in therapy. Check out his group: Dungeons & Worry Dragons.

While you're here, check out Dave's Diary! It is an ongoing series of journal entries touching on various aspects related to careers and well-being.

Want to hear Dave's thoughts on a particular topic?  Send him an email, and he'll do his best to include it in his next post!

 

You Might Like These... Volunteering, Community Engagement, Professional Development, Personal Development, Life Balance

STC West Coast
Alumnus Profile: How Crystal Kwon Advanced Her Career Through Volunteerism

Students often overlook one important benefit of volunteerism. While students realize that scholarships and bursaries usually require community engagement, they often forget that volunteerism can also give you the edge you need after you finish your degree.

Kyle and volunteers
Kyle Jung: Expand Your Horizons through Volunteering

Did you know that you can make a difference through volunteering, as well as discovering your passions and career goals? These are just some of the benefits of volunteering, according to Kyle Jung, a 5th-year SIAT student who is also the Vice President of Operations, Interactive Arts & Technology Student Union (IATSU) and the SFSS Forum Representative.

Volunteers
Jordan Robinson: Volunteer, Learn & Have Fun!

Do you want to improve your writing and communications skills? Do you want to meet other SFU students? If you answered “yes” to any of the two questions, becoming a peer educator may just be right for you! Let Jordan Robinson, a 4th-year Sociology student, tell you what valuable skills and experiences.

You Might Like These... Indigenous SFU Community Stories

Carmen smiling
Student Success Story: Carmen van Soest

"I hope to be someone that other Indigenous youth can look up to, and a person that others can count on in my everyday life. And hopefully I can get into Law school so I can help Indigenous peoples fight for their rights." Read Carmen's story of overcoming adversity, and their reason for continuing their education. 

Seoul
Why I Took the Leap and Applied to Live and Teach in Korea

Like many others, as a senior student, Joyce was still unsure of what direction she would take towards her future career. Teaching, lab work, and academia were all possibilities. How does one decide? Read Joyce's article on why she chose to live and teach in Korea!

animated man being pulled down a hill an @ sign, underneath the words "take control of your reputation"
Enhancing Your Online Reputation

Your resume and cover letter impressed them… Your interview dazzled them… and you’re confident that your references will sing your praises. But, what else could factor into an employer’s assessment of you as a potential employee?