Friday, 5 October 2012

Empathy: Pulsating alongside

Less than a week ago, I was in Birmingham.  Tomorrow I'll be in Leeds.  My work has rarely before involved travel to such glamorous locations.  This weekend represents the penultimate workshop in a series I have delivered with colleagues on behalf of the national charity Missing People.  As police continue to investigate the disappearance of little April Jones, my work for the organisation feels as poignant as ever.  It will be a privilege to return to Yorkshire, where I presented an introduction to mindfulness over 3 weekends for families of missing persons earlier in the year.  I am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, and to meeting new ones.   
This aspect of my work, which has grown considerably over the last 18 months, has been both a challenge and a delight.  Having thankfully never found myself in the situation where someone I love has disappeared without trace, I am stretched to truly empathise with the family members I encounter. 
There is a big difference between sympathy and empathy, and bridging the sometimes enormous gap is crucial in the work.  I have learnt more than I could ever have imagined or foreseen, and still view this as something of an 'edge' for me, both personally and professionally.  I am constantly in awe of the resilience I bear witness to, every time I meet someone who has been left behind. 
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
The capacity for hope, and its preservation is something that keeps me alive to and in my work.  Working with the families and friends of missing persons is a very real reminder of why I trained to become a therapist - to meet people, where they are, and to remain with them in that space, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable.  My training taught me lots.  My work teaches me more each day.   

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