Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Empathy: Implications of Three Ways of Knowing in Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Empathy: Implications of Three Ways of Knowing in Counseling

Article excerpt

From a humanistic orientation, Carl Rogers (1964) described 3 ways of knowing with reference to empathic understanding: subjective, interpersonal, and objective. In the context of a threefold perspective of knowledge, the author expands on Rogers's conception of empathy. As a consequence of a conceptual change in the direction of empathy, implications for counseling are affected.

Almost 50 years have passed since Carl Rogers wrote a provocative article on the "necessary and sufficient" conditions for personality change in the therapeutic process (Rogers, 1957). Central to Rogers's formulations was his definition of empathy, which emphasized the accurate perception of the emotional components and meanings of an individual's internal frame of reference. In sensing the private world of a client, the counselor or therapist attempts to convey an empathic understanding of the person's experiencing. In the years since Rogers proposed his definition of empathy, the meaning of the construct has markedly shifted from one that reflected an attitudinal and internal state to one that reflects a communication and perceptual process (Bozarth, 1984; Hackney, 1978). Rather than empathy being viewed as a way of being that attempts to capture the perceptual field of an individual, various operationalized definitions have altered and oversimplified the original meaning of the construct (Bozarth, 1984; Pearson, 1999). Hackney (1978) pointed out that by 1968, there were 21 definitions of empathy that had been documented in the counseling literature; from a more contemporary perspective, definitions and mechanisms of empathy continue to vary, and they remain unclear (Crutchfield, Baltimore, Felfeli, & Worth, 2000; Duan & Hill, 1996; Hartley, 1995).

The operational definitions presented by Carkhuff and Truax and their associates (Berenson & Carkhuff, 1967; Carkhuff, 1969; Carkhuff & Berenson, 1977; Truax & Carkhuff, 1967) and others are seen as differing from Rogers's empathic sensing of a client's experiencing (Corcoran, 1981; Hackney, 1978). A focus on explicit communication methods has also resulted in the technique of reflection being equated with empathy, which tends to diminish the potential role of a broad range of other empathic counseling interventions (Bozarth, 1984; Feller & Cottone, 2003). At the same time, the emphasis on conceptualizing empathy in observable interpersonal terms has enabled counselors-in-training and practitioners to clarify what is primarily an abstract construct and thereby implement its technical aspects. Bozarth also recognized that focusing on communication exchanges and associated clarifying techniques limits the empathic intuitive functioning of counselors and therapists. In this regard, Rogers's (1957) definition of empathy does not seem to include the subjective or intuitive dimension of the counselor's experience and, in this respect, may be subject to criticism.

Despite the proliferation of publications and subsequent debate on the topic of empathy, it is interesting that scant attention has been given to an illuminating article written by Rogers (1964), in which he addressed empathy in the context of ways of knowing. In that incisive work, Rogers discussed the capacity of individuals to use empathy as a way of knowing from a three-fold perspective: subjective, interpersonal, and objective. From a subjective point of view, one directs one's own empathic attunement toward him- or herself. In the interpersonal mode, a person's empathic orientation is directed toward grasping the internal frame of reference of another individual. From an objective point of view, an empathic understanding of another person centers on an external source in the form of a reference group. It was also apparent to Rogers (1964) that the three ways of knowing must be appropriately interwoven in order to confirm or disconfirm evolving hypotheses.

The purposes of this article are (a) to discuss Rogers's conception of three ways of knowing with respect to empathy and (b) using the three ways of knowing, to expand on Rogers's view of empathy, presenting implications for counseling. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.