Sympathy vs. empathy: Which suits drug counseling better?

Sympathy vs. empathy: Which suits drug counseling better?

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The terms sympathy and empathy are often interchanged among drug counselors. Those in the healthcare profession are constantly told to engage their patients in a more personal manner. Yet there is a distinction here that must be made. Mental health practitioners should understand that while these two feelings involve compassion, one is better suited for clinical care.

Sympathy is the ability to understand another person’s distress. A person feels compassion toward another individual; fully aware of the pain the other person is feeling. Empathy, on the other hand, takes the understanding on a deeper level. In this case, the counselor tries to feel the exact emotions the patient is feeling. There is a deeper bond between the pair as the patient recognizes a kindred spirit. Disclosure of personal information usually is easier and more seamless.

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That said, empathy can be considered an ideal way to communicate with a patient. Such practice is discouraged, however. There is a tendency among mental health professionals to become too emotionally involved with a case. Drug counselors are asked to maintain a certain level of distance and objectivity. This protects them and the patients. Treatment plans are designed with no bias or preconceived judgments.

As such, while having sympathy seems like the “colder” option, it is better suited for medical practices. Take note that interacting with a patient with sympathy is also a skill. An experienced drug counselor understands that they can still achieve the same great results with sympathy when applied correctly.

Heather Taras is studying to be a drug counselor. For similar update, subscribe to this blog.