Empathetic listening when practiced by a substance abuse counselor, enables him to understand, to comprehend the experience of another person, not in terms of his own “take” on life, but as the other person sees their situation.
To have empathetic listening skills, a substance abuse counselor needs to have an ability to suspend all of his own beliefs, opinions and values, in order to really hear the other person’s experience. Once we allow the intrusion of our own “value judgments”, empathetic listening, and its benefits are irretrievably lost.
We are not “at one” with the other person’s experience when we superimpose our own opinions, values and judgments onto the situation.
Looking at another person’s experience through their eyes means accepting, for the purpose, their opinions, values and judgments even though we might, in our own mind, consider them to be inappropriate, criminal, or immoral. Empathetic listening means suspending validation, censure or approval of the other person’s experience, allowing ourselves to become informed about a viewpoint that might be different to our own.
When we listen with empathy we begin to understand where the other person is coming from. People gain confidence in the counselor, and the counseling process when they feel understood.
Empathy is often confused with pity or sympathy that involves an emotional response by the substance abuse counselor to the experience of the client. An emotional response by a counselor, whether it is a negative, or positive can be seen as a way of influencing, controlling or directing the client’s behavior. Empathy needs to remain objective, the counselor needs to be at once both detached, and yet compassionate to create an alliance with the client to bring about therapeutic change.
The intention of substance abuse counseling is to identify what attitudes in the client contribute towards continued substance abuse, and how these might be changed. Pity and sympathy get in the way of helping the client to make the positive changes that they need to achieve to get substance abuse out of their life.
The practical tools that the substance abuse counselor uses to enable therapeutic change can be used to best effect when the counselor has empathy with the client’s way of thinking, and understands what aspects of change the client will find most confronting.
When the client finds it hard to continue, might even want to give up, an empathetic substance abuse counselor knows how the client is feeling and can provide the client with specific help to get over his particular hurdles. A client will find much relief if an empathetic counselor can pin point his problems – and set him back on track. Working with an empathetic counselor will seem like magic to a client. “He knew exactly how I was feeling – how could he know that!”
The reassurance of being accepted and understood is the essence of good relationship – the more skilled the counselor is in being empathetic, the better the working alliance is as between the counselor and the client, whatever the counseling techniques that are used.
When a substance abuse counselor * has confidence in the therapeutic tools that he uses, and develops empathetic listening skills – the counselor client relationship will be a strong bond and working alliance – something essential to drug counseling when people want to fully recover from substance abuse and addiction.