The commitment of the Chicago Empathy Project (CEP) is to expand the application of empathy in human relatedness. In particular, the commitment is to provide an opening for the exchange of ideas in a context of empathic human relations by delivering motivational presentations, inspirational conversations, training, workshops, and psychotherapy services to the professionals in the mental health, education, and business communities. This post is a call for participation and an invitation to provide leadership in designing and implementing the Chicago Empathy Project (CEP).
The CEP project acknowledges and promotes the value of empathy engaging competing approaches to restoring emotional well being including Talk Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and psychopharmacology. All three benefit from a foundation in empathy. The possibilities for interdisciplinary networking and interdisciplinary research are significant based on a foundation in empathy. Lining up the optimum therapy with a given individual remains an interdisciplinary art requiring experience, skill, and learning. However, the pendulum has swung far-too-far away from the breakthrough results of the work on empathy (initiated by Heinz Kohut and his colleagues including Michael Basch, Arnold Goldberg, Mark Gehrie, and Ernest Wolf). Empathy is alive and well at dedicated centers of excellence such as The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis where Kohut made his mark. But few know about this or have access to it, notwithstanding generous out reach programs. Other dedicated mental health professionals are becoming the shoe maker’s children, living off the worried well. Even psychiatrists (MDs) with a psychodynamic interest find it hard to practice talk therapy (psychotherapy) due to market pressures, declining insurance reimbursements, and the mis-education of the public to expect behavior modification and psychotropic pills to be a silver bullet. Personal dissatisfaction, emotional upset, and despair over the future are growth industries.With apologies to Melanie Klein (a famous psychoanalyst), the CEP refuses to endorse the paranoid position. There is nothing wrong. However, there is something missing – empathy. Expanded empathy is the requirement and commitment.
The Chicago Empathy project bears witness to one fundamental approach: absent a warm, generous, empathic listening, psychotherapy is hard to distinguish from dental work. It can be painful. A gracious, generous, empathic listening provides access to the inner, emotional life of the other person and, with conditions and qualifications, can jump start the process of emotional healing and recovery. This extends (once again with conditions and qualifications) to applications of CBT and psychopharmacology, especially given the side effects of the latter. Though empathy is not a silver bullet (even as the search for one continues), empathy makes a profound difference in the quality of the caregiver-patient experience, the quality of the student-teacher relationship, and the quality of the consumer-business engagement. As every mother of a newborn, every parent, and every caretaker knows, empathy is a natural ability with which all human beings are born; no university degree or license is required to be empathic, though training and education can make a substantial difference in developing the competence. The Chicago Empathy project empowers people through conversations, presentations, workshops, and one-on-one psychotherapy to expand the use of empathy in human relatedness. The result is developing zones of human understanding, possibility, relatedness; the unblocking of obstacles to personal growth and the restarting of human potential and growth; and the transformation of suffering and emotional upset into creativity, humor, wisdom, and expanded empathy. Full disclosure: This project is a work in progress and its creation and implementation are the result of the contributions of the engaged, participating community. Full disclosure: as I write this, I do so as someone who has been on both sides of the therapist/patient interface as well as the therapist/client one. It is going to sound a tad like bragging here at the backend but if not now when? … Additional qualifications for commenting on what to look for in an empathy project is that my works on empathy are footnotes in Goldberg, Wolf, and Basch (see bibliography below). This project charter is not complete nor is my knowledge and experience; all the usual disclaimers apply; so the reader’s [your] feedback, criticism, experiences, impertinent remarks, and contribution are hereby requested. This project needs – a web site of its own; a high profile leader with name recognition; individual narratives of how empathy makes a difference; brain storming; speaking opportunities; consulting engagements; training assignments; community engagement. Please let me hear from you.
Agosta, Lou. (2010). Empathy in the Context of Philosophy.London: Palgrave/ Macmillan.
__________. (1984). “Empathy and intersubjectivity,” Empathy I, ed. J. Lichtenberg et al.Hillsdale,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.
__________. (1980). “The recovery of feelings in a folktale,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 1980: 287-97.
__________. (1976). “Intersecting language in psychoanalysis and philosophy,” International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 5, 1976: 507-34.
Basch, Michael F. (1983). “Empathic understanding: a review of the concept and some theoretical considerations,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 31, No. 1: 101-126. (See p. 114.) .
Gehrie, Mark (2011). “From archaic narcissism to empathy for the self: the evolution of new capacities in psychoanalysis,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 313-333.
Goldberg, Arnold. (2011). “The enduring presence of Heinz Kohut: empathy and its vicissitudes,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 59, No. 2: 289-311. (See pp. 296, 309.) .
Kohut, Heinz. (1984). How Does Analysis Cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wolf, Ernest S. (1988). Treating the Self.New York: The Guilford Press. (See pp. 17, 171.)
This post and all contents of this site (c) Lou Agosta, Ph.D. and the Chicago Empathy Project