The Chicago Empathy Project is Live!

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

Categories: domestic violence (DV), Emotions, Empathy, empathy consulting, Plato Not Prozac, talk therapy

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3 replies

  1. Dear Lou
    Keep up the good work on exploring and promoting the importance of empathy.

    May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

    Also, I invite you to post a link to your article about empathy to our Empathy Center Facebook page.

    I posted a link to your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world


  2. I wonder if empathy is nothing more than a facade that is generated by hubris? I would like to pose a hypothetical question to any experts reading this page. Would someone with empathy bring a lawsuit against a family member who is dying of terminal cancer? I contend that this shows a total lack of empathy and caring. Perhaps i am stating that empathy is more than “feeling”, it is actions. After all, do not actions make the individual? Would someone who would do something like this actually have empathy?

    • Thank you for the comment. Empathy tells one what the other person is experiencing whereas morality tells one what to do about it. So we disagree on the requirement for altruism (or other moral action) as a part of empathy. The example is without context so it is difficult to say. In some cases, dying is not a happy process, but it does not render one immune from past perpetrations or crimes. For example, if the person in question was a long time abuser of members of the family, had stolen or manipulated financially, perhaps the action in question was the only way of legally providing for the survivors. Nothing personal.Obviously legal entanglements are to be avoided. Whoever said “Shoot all the lawyers” did not have much empathy for them, but, once again, empathy tells us what the other is feeling, morality, what to do about it. Just a thought.

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