Concrete self-care strategies for the therapist; compassion versus empathy

ARTICLEGeuzinge, Renate - 53–3 (2015)


Empathic attunement is essential for the person-centered psychotherapist. However, when
we are ‘too empathic’, the client’s emotions or traumatic stories may overwhelm the therapist.
Traumatic experiences of a client can have a negative and lasting impact on ourselves
and our worldview. Clients’ stress may even turn into personal distress of the therapist. I
argue that a thorough understanding and competent application of empathy is not only
crucial for treating clients, but also is the basis for self-care strategies for the therapist.
Indeed, empathy requires more than an ability to share one’s affective state with the other.
It also consists of the ability to distinguish the feelings of oneself from the those of the
other, as well as the competence to regulate one’s feelings. The described strategies are
the fruit of an in-depth analysis of the concept of empathy, combined with an integration
of developmental and psychotherapeutic theories. The strategies are supported by recent
neurobiological findings. The self-care strategies in this paper offer tools to therapists to protect themselves without losing the capacity to be empathic.


self-care, secondary traumatization, empathy, neurobiology

The tPeP (Journal Person-centered experiential Psychotherapy) is the scientific journal for Dutch and Flemish psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, that work from, or are interested in a client-centered perspective.