The differences between empathy and sympathy.

Sometimes we might talk to a sympathetic friend when we struggle with something. When we talk to friends we are often reassured about our problems and how we deal with them. 

Talking to friends can be useful as they are often sympathetic. We have probably all found it soothing and reassuring to talk to someone who we feel really knows us well. 

Often we learn to cope with things that trouble us in ways that avoid confrontation. A friends comfort can give us the support we need to know that we are doing OK. 

Our sympathetic friends therefore express condolences or sadness for our plight. Sympathy might include pointing out a silver lining or something to distract from the difficulty. 

Sympathy

Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

Working with a therapist is a very different experience. Therapy is I believe a mixture of challenge and support. As therapists we aim to be empathic not necessarily sympathetic.

Empathy

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Part of your therapist’s role is to help you to challenge your thinking and to help you connect with your feelings. This is not always done through reassurance. Therapy can be tough and challenging at a deep level. 

Perhaps a strong challenge will be the only way we will truly see something for what it is and perhaps only a strong challenge will give us the opportunity to grow and change.