How Empathic are you?

One of the tools helping professionals use to build rapport and connect with their clients is empathy. How well do you think you connect with your clients? How do you think your client would rate you?

I attended a 2 day workshop this weekend with Dr David Burns and he shared some very surprising (well maybe even shocking) research with us.

For those who don't know who Dr Burns; He is an adjunct clinical professor emeritus at Standford Medical School and author of numerous books. He is most known for -  Feeling Good; the New Mood Therapy and Ten Days to Self Esteem. The workshop focused on rapid treatment techniques for depression and low self esteem. 

So what did he share that was so surprising? The fact that clinicians are only 10% accurate when it comes to assessing the therapeutic alliance. Only 10% …What???? That means they are wrong 90% of the time. 

This was based on both clinician and client filling out a questionaire after each session and then measuring the correlation between the two. It included questions like: My therapist seemed warm, supportive and caring, My therapist treated me with respect, My therapist did a good job of listening, My therapist understood how I felt inside. There were also questions about the helpfulness of the session, satisfaction with the session, commitment to homework and ability to share negative feelings during the session (like anger at the therapist).

Now you can imagine that all of the attendees believed that they would be in the 10% who assess accurately. Counselors and coaches alike pride themselves on being good listeners and being very empathic.  What followed were some very interesting role play's in which the role play clients graded their  role play therapists. Pretty much everyone got "D's"  It was a wake up call.

Of course he didn't leave us hanging – we received excellent instruction throughout the two days on how to communicate effectively and empathically with our clients. What I walked away with most (besides a bucket load of techniques) is  the importance of regularly asking your client for feedback and not assuming all is well. Another option is to form small peer groups to practice and get feedback. Feedback would include the "grade" but also what worked and what didn't. If we don't have a strong and trusting alliance with our client none of the tools and techniques we have will work.

I'm wondering how coaches would do in a similar research project. Any researchers out there? This would make a great research project.