Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Deepening Empathy in Men Using a Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Deepening Empathy in Men Using a Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song

Article excerpt

One of the more salient features of successful personal and professional relationships is an individual's capacity for empathy. Empathy, which counselors often characterize as the ability to step into the experience of others and understand that experience from the other person's point of view, is a fundamental skill commonly discussed in counseling practice (Rogers, 1957; Wei, Liao, Ku, & Shaffer, 2011). In this article, which is grounded in the literature on masculinity and empathy, the authors review common dynamics that influence men's empathy and outline an innovative approach using music to facilitate empathy development with a male client. Using music that tells their stories gives men an opportunity to revisit important life events and reconsider their perspectives about these events.

We outline a Musical Chronology and the Emerging Life Song, a counseling process that was developed by the first author and adapted in this article for counseling work with men (Duffey, 2005). A Musical Chronology blends music and the therapeutic approaches of narrative therapy, cognitive therapy, and relational cultural theory (RCT). As described in this article, when applied within the context of a counseling relationship, a Musical Chronology is used to help men who are challenged in their capacity for empathy to (a) revisit their histories; (b) connect with past and current emotions, impressions, and beliefs; (c) develop compassion and empathy for themselves and others; and (d) map out goals for their future.

An essential premise of this work is that music can be a powerful resource for helping men develop their empathic capacity. Increased empathy can promote caring, respect, cooperation, the appropriate use of power, and the commitment to the well-being of each person in a relationship (Wei et al., 2011). A deidentified case example with the circumstances modified for confidentiality illustrates a Musical Chronology in action. This case example demonstrates how this intervention was used with one male client who was struggling with addiction and grief issues; the approach in his aftercare following inpatient treatment helped him gain perspective, personal awareness, connectedness, and empathy. This case example highlights innate challenges that some men face with respect to empathy. It also illustrates creative means by which some men can identify personal and interpersonal goals and develop new capacities for compassion and empathy toward themselves and others.

Definition of Empathy

Empathy is a multidimensional and complex social phenomenon (Dadds et al., 2009; Decety & Jackson, 2004), consisting of cognitive, affective, and relational processes (Smith, 2006). Carl Rogers (1957) introduced empathy as one of the necessary conditions of successful counseling, and humanistic counseling practice places empathy as a core value (Association for Humanistic Counseling, 2012). Additionally, empathy is an important skill for counselors (Norcross & Wampold, 2011) and a fundamental relational skill (Cohen, Schulz, Weiss, & Waldinger, 2012; Jordan, 2010) that can enhance interactions between and among people. RCT conceptualizes empathy as a bidirectional experience, integral to developmental growth and relational resilience (Jordan, 2001, 2010). RCT scholars have defined this process as mutual empathy. Additionally, RCT defines self empathy as "the ability to bring an empathic attitude to bear on one's own experience" (Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, 2012, para. 40). Self-empathy is necessary for authenticity (Jordan, 2010).

One premise of this article is that when men experience mutual empathy and develop both self-empathy and genuine concern for the impact their choices have on others, they may better access their creativity, consider innovative ways of managing difficult challenges, and move toward valued goals. Given the personal and relational benefits of sustained empathy (Cohen et al. …

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