Psychological Self-Help

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Although this is an excellent way to respond when someone has a
problem, there are pitfalls when using the method and misconceptions
about the method: 
When you empathize, you are inviting a person to "spill his/her
guts." Don't do that unless you are genuinely interested in
helping this person and are willing to spend hours dealing with
his/her problems. If you only have 10 or 15 minutes, let the
talker know exactly how much time you have. 
There is a possibility that the talker will feel worse after talking
about and reviewing his/her problems. This is especially true of
depressed and angry people. The hope is that the sadness or
hatred can be vented (by talking) and that the talker can then
move on to find solutions or, at least, to realize the crisis will
pass. But sometimes the talker stays (after 2 or 3 hours)
focused on increasing sadness or anger, in spite of excellent
empathy responses by the listener. Most empathizers
eventually nudge the topic towards the consideration of
possible solutions, but this may not work. Most of the time, if
you let the talker get all the hurt out, he/she will start looking
for solutions on his/her own. 
Sometimes empathy works so well that a person starts to use
the response excessively, turning every casual conversation
into a deep therapeutic session. Skills as a light
conversationalist are also needed. 
The talker may erroneously assume that your accurate
reflection of his/her feelings means that you agree with his/her
opinions or morals. Occasionally (not always), you may feel the
need to correct his/her misunderstanding. This can and should
be done briefly, then let the talker know you accept him/her
being different from you and return to empathizing. Example: if
a person tells you about selling pot to his/her friends and being
concerned about being caught, you might say, "I would feel
guilty about doing that but I understand your interest in it." 
As a therapist, you would give a lot of empathy responses and,
perhaps, few self-disclosures. As a friend, however, it is
important to share your feelings and disclose your problems
just as much as your friend does...or more. Otherwise, you turn
an equal friendship into a one-sided therapy interaction. 
When the talker is telling the details of a problem, you may feel
you should be saying more. This is needless worry, as long as
you show you are interested. A few words reflecting his/her
feelings is all that is needed to show the person you are
emotionally with him/her. 
Many beginners think it easy to empathize--all you have to do
is sympathize. This is not true. You have to detect the
unspoken feelings, communicate your understanding, and
provide new insights. In addition, there may be behaviors and
circumstances that you feel strongly are so wrong, so immoral,
or so disgusting, you may not be able to empathize (see
determinism, method #4 in chapter 14). 
At first you may think there is only one accurate empathy
response but, in fact, there are likely to be several. Example: a
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