Home > social work > Compassion vs. empathy.

Compassion vs. empathy.

For the last several weekends, I’ve been reading up on trauma-informed practice so I can be a better social worker. This studying also gives me time to reflect on my practice in a way that I just can’t during the work week. Direct social work practice is by far the most challenging work I’ve ever done, and I’m often knocked out by the emotional and mental strength I need when facing certain situations and conversations. While reading Creating Sanctuary by Sandra Bloom (1997), I became fixated on four sentences :

“Compassion, at least, allows a little distance from the pain. Empathy is a far more dangerous personal experience. Empathy requires that we vicariously experience the trauma that our patients have survived. Empathy is not conscious or willed–it just happens.” (p. 111).

It’s making me think of how I try to connect with my clients and the effort I exert in attempting to understand their perspective and experiences. I think where I’m stuck is figuring out what happens with all the information after the session is over, after the treatment plan is created, the intervention is implemented, the work is contracted. What do I do with each person’s story? I don’t know quite where to go with that yet, but the idea of compassion verses empathy is a good place to start.

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  1. February 26, 2013 at 14:03

    I really like this one Lori. This helped me think about my job as well. I have often wondered what happens to all that love and caring and energy I give and take during my day from my clients. I am grateful that exchanges with my clients are usually most positive, filled with love and caring. Exhausting none the less.

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