Let’s hear it from our counsellors – the master of this skill!

Empathic confrontation is one of the many influencing skills that are used by counsellors when a sense of stuckness is encountered by the client. Stuckness, a term that has its origins in Fritz’s Gestalt theory, refers to being in a state of lack of creativity. A “Stuck” client finds themselves feeling blocked, restricted, limited, as characterised by an inability to resolve conflict, and see and overcome incongruencies.  Happy Ho organizes best Meditation and Tarot classes in Noida and Delhi NCR area in India.

Empathic confrontation is a tool that is used to aid the client in examining and addressing these incongruencies. These discrepancies could be internal in terms of contradictory ideas stemming from the client, or external in terms of contradictions between the client’s stance and the outside world. Confrontation, if done well, enables the client to look beyond what they have been able to see so far. 

In colloquial terms, the word “confrontation” is often interpreted as being a harsh term. However, the skill of empathic confrontation, is quite the opposite. It is a rather gentle skill, and like the term goes, is done with a lot of empathy. The counsellor is to ensure that he/she respects the client and their stance, listens carefully, and then artfully phrases the confrontation. In essence, the client must not feel attacked, belittled, or unheard. 

Several other skills go hand-in-hand with this one, and are required to ensure an effective empathic confrontation. Listening and observing are essential in taking note of incongruencies- discrepancies are sometimes verbally evident; however, at other times, body language and other non-verbals are where they lie. Paraphrasing and summarising are useful in bringing together different conflicting messages and expressing them all together. Reflection of feeling is necessary for issues where the incongruence lies in the emotions. Sometimes, interpretation and reframing can be useful, in that the counsellor’s words can be additive when relevant. 

Empathic confrontation is a tailor-made skill, in a sense. It cannot be used in the same way with every client. A narcissistic client will most likely resist this confrontation, a client who acts out will require a firm confrontation, individuals from outspoken cultures might be perfectly fine with confrontation, while individuals from cultures that place emphasis on subtlety might require much more polite and indirect confrontations. 

For clients who are working through difficult issues, or who tend to feel attacked a lot, non-judgemental empathy is essential. This entails taking a stance of neutrality: body language, vocal tone, and non-verbals should be neutral, and not seem approving or disapproving. For clients who require non-judgemental empathy, this is crucial to the maintenance of the relationship. However, it should be used only when required, because sometimes judgement helps facilitate exploration of new ideas. 

There are three stages to the process of empathic confrontation:

  1. Listen to identify conflict and incongruencies. 
  2. Summarise to bring to light the existing discrepancies.
  3. Evaluate progress using the Client Change Scale (CCS)

The Client Change Scale helps understand where the client is with regard to acknowledging, accepting and working on incongruence. Level 1, denial, refers to a client who does not even acknowledge the existence of the incongruence. Level 2, partial examination, is where the client may acknowledge some dimensions of the discrepancy, but not others. Level 3, acceptance and recognition, is where is client acknowledges and accepts the existing conflicts, but makes no effort to overcome them. Level 4, creation of a new solution, speaks of a client who understands and interprets the situation in a new way, whilst working towards resolving incongruencies. The final level, transcendence, refers to a client who develops larger frameworks and overarching concepts to understand the incongruence and the subsequent resolution.