Guidelines for Empathic Therapy
by Peter R. Breggin, MD
Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education & Living
With guidance from Executive Director Ginger Breggin and Members of the Advisory Council
including Bart Billings PhD, Doug Bower PhD, Joanne Cacciatore PhD, Mathy Downing, Thomas Cushman PhD, Dorothy Cassidy MEd, Nadine De Santo EdS, Pamela Glasner, Howard Glasser MA, Adrianne Johnson PhD, Jennifer Kinzie LMHC, Jodi Mullen PhD, Wendy West Pidkaminy LCSW, Gerald Porter PhD, Michael Shaw MD, Stuart Shipko MD, Doug Smith MD, Tony Stanton MD, Sarton Weinraub PhD, Piet Westdijk MD and Charles Whitfield MD.
The Guidelines for Empathic Therapy apply to every human relationship. In therapy they are codified and then applied with care by the therapist under the special conditions of therapy. Therapy is as complex and subtle as life itself. You don’t have to accept every one of the Guidelines for Empathic Therapy to belong to the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living. Each of us must find our own particular understanding of these principles, emphasize one or another, and perhaps modify some. We welcome an open and continuing dialogue about these guidelines and plan to include new ideas.
As Empathic Therapists –
(1) We treasure those who seek our help and we view therapy as a sacred and inviolable trust. With humility and gratitude, we honor the privilege of being therapists.
(2) We rely upon relationships built on trust, honesty, caring, genuine engagement and mutual respect.
(3) We bring out the best in ourselves in order to bring out the best in others.
(4) We create a safe space for self-exploration and honest communication by holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards, including honesty, informed consent, confidentiality, professional boundaries, and respect for personal freedom, autonomy and individuality.
(5) We encourage overcoming psychological helplessness and taking responsibility for emotions, thoughts and actions—and ultimately for living a self-determined life.
(6) We offer empathic understanding and, when useful, we build on that understanding to offer new perspectives and guidance for the further fulfillment of personal goals and freely chosen values.
(7) When useful, we help to identify self-defeating patterns learned in childhood and adulthood in order to promote the development of more effective choice-making and conduct.
(8) We do not treat people against their will or in any way use coercion, threats, manipulation or authoritarianism.
(9) We do not reduce others to diagnostic categories or labels—a process that diminishes personal identity, over-simplifies life, instills dependency on authority, and impedes posttraumatic growth. Instead, we encourage people to understand and to embrace the depth, richness and complexity of their unique emotional and intellectual lives.
(10) We do not falsely attribute emotional suffering and personal difficulties to genetics and biochemistry. Instead, we focus on each person’s capacity to take responsibility and to determine the course of his or her own life.
(11) We recognize that a drug-free mind is best suited to personal growth and to facing critical life issues. Psychiatric drugs cloud the mind, impair judgment and insight, suppress emotions and spirituality, inhibit relationships and love, and reduce will power and autonomy. They are anti-therapeutic.
(12) We apply the Guidelines for Empathic Therapy to all therapeutic relationships, including persons who suffer from brain injuries or from the most profound emotional disturbances. Individuals who are mentally, emotionally and physically fragile are especially vulnerable to injury from psychiatric drugs and authoritarian therapies, and are in need of the best we have to offer as empathic therapists.
(13) Because children are among our most vulnerable and treasured citizens, we especially need to protect them from psychiatric diagnoses and drugs. We need to offer them the family life, education and moral and spiritual guidance that will help them to fulfill their potential as children and adults.
(14) Because personal failure and suffering cannot be separated from the ethics and values that guide our conduct, we promote basic human values including personal responsibility, freedom, gratitude, love, and the courage to honestly self-evaluate and to grow.
(15) Because human beings thrive when living by their highest ideals, individuals may wish to explore their most important personal values, including spiritual beliefs or religious faith, and to integrate them into their therapy and their personal growth.
Copyright Peter R. Breggin, MD 2011