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The Perils of Empathy at Full Throttle

Four Strategies to Protect Yourself Against Vicarious Traumatization

Babette Rothschild

By Babette Rothschild -  It's our gift for empathy that draws us to our work. And yet, empathy at full throttle—felt and projected 100 percent with our bodies, hearts, and minds—has its risks.

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Dealing with Trauma Anxiety on the Spot

The Mechanics of Fight-or-Flight Responses in Trauma Clients

Babette Rothschild

My approach to trauma work is rooted in an experience I had in college. A friend asked me to teach her to drive---in a new car my father had just given me. Sitting in the passenger seat next to her as she prepared to turn on the ignition, I suddenly panicked. I quickly realized that before I taught her how to make that powerful machine go, I had to make sure that she knew how to put on the brakes. I apply the same principle to therapy, especially trauma therapy.

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Empathy Becomes a Physical Force

The Wonders of Engaging Mirror Neurons in Therapy

Babette Rothschild

Empathy is the connective tissue of good therapy. It's what enables us to establish bonds of trust with clients, and to meet them with our hearts as well as our minds. Empathy enhances our insights, sharpens our hunches, and, at times, seems to allow us to "read" a client's mind. I first recognized the physical force of empathy as a college student. When I copied the swaggering gait of a cocky young man, for example, I'd momentarily feel more confident---even happier---than before. I found this secret street life fascinating and fun, but I didn't think much about it until a few years later, when I started practicing clinical social work.

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Mirror Mirror

Emotion in the Consulting Room is More Contagious Than We Thought

Babette Rothschild

Far from the therapy office, in the precisely measured environment of the research lab, brain scientists are discovering that a particular cluster of our neurons is specifically designed and primed to mirror another's bodily responses and emotions. We're hardwired, it appears, to feel each other's happiness and pain--more deeply than we ever knew. Moreover, the royal road to empathy is through the body, not the mind. Notwithstanding the river of words that flow through the therapy room, it's the sight of a client looking unhappy, or tense, or relieved, or enraged, that really gets our sympathetic synapses firing.

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Applying the Brakes

In Trauma Treatment, Safety is Essential

Babette Rothschild

My approach to trauma work is rooted in an experience I had in college. A friend asked me to teach her to drive--in a new car my father had just given me. Sitting in the passenger seat next to her as she prepared to turn on the ignition, I suddenly panicked. I quickly realized that before I taught her how to make that powerful machine go, I had to make sure that she knew how to put on the brakes. I apply the same principle to therapy, especially trauma therapy. I never help clients call forth traumatic memories unless I and my clients are confident that the flow of their anxiety, emotion, memories, and body sensations can be contained at will.

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