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September 10, 2015
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Empathic and Non-Pathologizing Counseling

Empathic Therapy and Non-Pathologizing Counseling

Article by M. Joy Young, LCSW, ACSW Portland Oregon
(503) 309-1163

There are so many different types of counseling or therapy out there. I have spent years studying the helping professions and I still get overwhelmed by how much information there is. I guess I am going to add to the pile and share about another perspective. As a therapist it is important to share my mission and philosophy with others but it is also important for those seeking therapy to know about a potential therapist’s approach and perspective before you begin a helping relationship

In my work I support and practice empathic therapy and non-pathologizing counseling. It is at the core of my approach, mission and philosophy. In essence empathic counseling means that the therapist has and demonstrates genuine empathy, concern, and respect for those they are working with. Empathic counselors view and practiced counseling as a sacred trust.

At the core of empathic therapy is the highest regard for the therapeutic relationship. It sounds more complicated than it is but it basically means that the relationship between you and the therapist or counselor is primary. An empathic counselor works very hard to assure that the relationship is safe, respectful, and ethical. This requires trust, honesty, caring, and mutual respect.

In empathic therapy the counselor helps the client become empowered by identifying patterns of helplessness and overcoming them by taking responsibility rather than blame, shame, avoidance, or other self sabotaging or self defeating behaviors. The therapist offers empathic understanding to help others discover new ideas, perspectives, and their own new or renewed values.

An empathic counselor does not reduce issues and life challenges to a diagnosis or a label. This is very different than most therapy or counseling out there. Mental health and other helping professions have reduced many issues of life to an illness or disorder this is what is known as pathologizing. As I practice empathic therapy I believe people have unique stories not necessarily chemical imbalances, disorders, or bad genetics. Empathic therapy invites others to explore their own stories, find their own definitions, and their own unique solutions through self exploration, personal growth, empowerment, and personal responsibility.

Psychoactive drugs are prescribed A LOT. There are people who swear by them and others who would never use them. There are those who use them and struggle with how to get off them. And there are those who used them, were not helped by them, and were able to successfully get off them. There has been much research to show that psychoactive drugs have horrendous side effects that are often far worse than the issues they are meant to treat. At the worst people don’t get better or get worse and at best people’s “symptoms” end up being basically medicated rather than healed. In my practice I do not decide for others or recommend that they try psychoactive medications. I leave that to each person to decide for themselves. However the research shows that if you are going to use psychoactive medications it is better to use them in conjunction with counseling or psychotherapy. Also psychotherapy or counseling without the use of psychotropic drugs is a valid option that works for many.

In empathic therapy feed back during the counseling session is given with respect, care, and good will. In therapy or counseling inevitability the therapist will provide others with feedback to help facilitate insight, understanding, and growth. In my counseling practice I strive to share feedback in a respectful, caring and real way. I seek to find and share feedback in the language that speaks best to each unique individual yet is authentic and real to me. Many people have the idea that a therapist or counselor is “perfect” or should be perfect and get everything right. Since counselors and therapists are human, this type of expectation is bound to bring frustration, misunderstanding, and disappointment.

If misunderstandings arise it is my goal to provide you with a safe and respectful therapeutic relationship where your issues can be discussed and resolved with mutual respect. Therapy should be about you and not the counselor or therapist.

You can find out more about empathic therapy by checking out the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education, and And Living at

For this article I referenced information from The Guidelines for Empathic Therapy by Dr. Peter R. Breggin, MD.