Psychological Self-Help

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friend says, "It is so frustrating to have so much to do--I've got
three exams, two papers due, 250 pages to read, and band
practice! Besides, I want to party!" You might respond, "It's so
irritating because it's impossible to do it all" or "It really is
stressful to have so much to do" or "You are scared you won't
do well" or "It is disappointing that school work isn't nearly as
interesting as partying" or "It is hard to decide what to do." All
these responses and others might be accurate. 
The accuracy of an empathy response can't be judged until the
talker responds, indicating if he/she thinks the empathizer has
understood. The talker is always right! Your comment may be
correct according to all the psychology textbooks, but if the
talker doesn't agree with your observation or interpretation,
you get a low empathy rating. This approach is called "non-
directive" or "client-centered," meaning it attempts to free the
other person to explore his/her own feelings. Such therapists
wait until the client discovers "the truth" for him/herself and
develops his/her own plan of attack. It is assumed that the
troubled person will profit more from learning he/she can
handle his/her own problems than from believing the therapist
is a clever analyst and problem solver. Have faith in the person
to solve his/her own problem, if you can help them feel save
enough to explore their situation, their history, and their
Effectiveness, advantages and dangers
Empathy responding is one of the better researched treatment
methods. It has been demonstrated to be an effective way for
therapists to respond (Egan, 1979). If it works in therapy, it should in
friendships. Often there are a cluster of therapeutic traits associated
with being empathic, such as having unconditional positive regard,
being genuine, warm, open, specific and concrete, self-disclosing and
so on. It isn't just that empathy is helpful but these various responses
replace less sensitive or harmful responses. There are no dangers,
except for the few minor pitfalls mentioned above. 
Additional readings and reference
Ciaramicoli, A. P. & Ketcham, K. (2001). The power of
empathy. Plume.
Nichols, M. P. (1995). The lost art of listening. San Luis Obispo,
CA: Impact Publishers. 
CareerTrack (1-800-334-1018) offers an expensive listening
skills training program (audio or video) and also
communications training tapes for teams in the work place. 
Assertiveness Training
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