Caregivers Forum – Is There More to Empathy?

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is There More to Empathy?

Empathy helps us understand the perspectives, needs, and intentions of others. To state the obvious, it helps us put ourselves into the shoes of someone else. In our next Caregivers Forum, on Thursday, 6/29, we will explore three different types of empathy and look into what role empathy plays in seeding and bringing forth a compassionate and sustainable response in caregivers.

Empathy has two components: emotional and cognitive. Both have to be considered when talking about its importance and how to balance and sustain empathy whenever we are caring for others. It is our ability to imagine we understand what another might be thinking or feeling and the willingness to feel what they might be experiencing.

Emotional Empathy allows us to be moved by the emotional needs or suffering of those in our care but when emotional empathy is unbalanced we can easily be overwhelmed and swept away on the one hand or shut down and isolated on the other. It is one of the main causes of BURNOUT in caregivers and first-responders.

Cognitive Empathy, by comparison, is sometimes called “perspective taking” and refers to our ability, as caregivers, to UNDERSTAND the emotional perspective of those in our care. When cognitive empathy is expressed positively, we learn to recognize if we’re about to tip into overwhelm or are about to shut down.

Stand Alone Empathy refers to a strong resonance with the suffering of another without allowing compassion and altruistic love to grow in us or be expressed. This kind of emotional reaction is what’s known as “empathetic distress” and is often mislabeled ‘compassion fatigue.

In this Forum we will explore the pros and cons of these 3 different types of empathy and talk about how to balance our natural empathetic responses in order to cultivate a sustainable and compassionate attitude for those in our care, as well as for ourselves. Everyone is welcome. If you are currently providing care to a friend or family member or are a professional caregiver or have served as a caregiver (in any capacity) or simply have an interest or experience to share about this topic, please join us. These ‘Forums’ are for you.

About the Facilitator
Robert Cusick - new jpgRobert Cusick trained at Stanford University in the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) and has studied extensively in a number of different contemplative traditions. He is a Certified Stanford CCT (Compassion Cultivation Training) Instructor and teaches at Stanford University, the University of CA, San Francisco (UCSF), Kaiser Hospitals and in multiple other venues. As a former monastic, he ordained in Burma under the renowned meditation master, Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw, and trained with him from 2003 to 2012. He provides bereavement support for adults and children at Kara where he also teaches and co-facilitates ongoing training for Adult Services, Youth & Family Services and the Caregiver’s Forums. Robert also sits on the board of directors of the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies.