Reflections and the Empathic Moment: What Happens

Chapter 1

Reflections and the Empathic Moment: What Happens

[This is an abridged article written by Dr. Klein in 2001. References to on-going work are preserved as part of the original article. At the Center for Interactive Focusing, we hope one day, with the help of members of the Interactive Focusing Community, to carry on some of the ideas for further study that Dr. Klein describes in articles like this one.]
By Janet Klein, Psy.D.

I am in the midst of doing a study about how different kinds of listening responses are experienced by both the Focuser/client and Listener/therapist.

This is part of that study:

Kevin McEvenue and Janet Klein explore reflections and the empathic response, experientially.


I had left a message for Kevin about a week ago telling him about a project I am working on and asking him if he could get something to process with me interactively, hopefully, something between us.

My project-

My project design was simple, but what I am tracking is the most complex part of the therapy process: If our intention is to listen with empathy, and if we think that empathy provides a good enough environment in which healing can occur, how is this conveyed? What do we do in the form of our listening presence and praxis that provides that which will be experienced as an empathic container? And it would be important to note that empathy needs to be experienced on both sides, on the side of the Focuser/client and on the side of the Listener/therapist.

The design-

The design was based on the feeling I have that, in the Interactive Focusing process, there is a distinct difference between what is done and what happens during the reflective responses and what is done and what happens during the empathic response of the double empathic moment.

I wanted to track this experientially. I wanted Kevin to choose something to process with me. I wanted to first listen with reflective responses. I then wanted to continue to the double empathic moment and share our empathic responses. When we came this far, I wanted to experientially process how the listening was for him, what happened for him and what happened between us in terms of feeling heard, feeling understood and in terms of relationship. I, of course, wanted some comment on the quality of felt empathy. I wanted him to comment on the reflective responses first and then on the empathic response.

In addition, I wanted to experientially process what happened for me, the listener, in both instances, following the same set of questions I asked of Kevin, the Focuser.

Chapter 2

The Interaction-

When I called Kevin yesterday, he did have something. It was about my setting up an appointment to call him to have an Interactive process some weeks ago and then forgetting or missing it.

Initially, I think he tried to say it with less of a sting than it had for him, but as he fully entered into his process, he was able to touch into how distressing it was for him. As I continued to reflect, staying as close to his words as possible, he spun a web that wound back to something like the feeling of getting himself all prepared, revving up his engine, and then there was no phone call…then there was no place to go, and he didn’t know how to damp down his engine. He was full and empty at the same time…full of anticipation and preparation, empty of the fulfillment of the promise.

As he peeled away the layers, he felt a lack of respect. That was an old and tender place for him which he attributed to being the last of six children by ten years, probably unplanned and possibly unwanted. Then he touched into a place where the “having nothing to do” often left him…a critical voice about being a slacker.

As he went deeper, he realized that he had an honest and true way of finding his way and that was by getting to the “nothing to do.” It was his time, and now he could do anything he wanted…which made him almost gleeful.

He found two opposite and contradicting things coming up for him. First came the “Oh, no” of disappointment about the missed appointment and the feeling of being disrespected. He interpreted the missing of an appointment as a loss of interest or a devaluing of what he was offering. This was based on his work as a therapist when he would notice clients start to come late and miss appointments and then stop coming completely. He took it as a personal criticism without weighing in all the possible other factors such as not having the money, becoming too busy with essential jobs to fit the appointment in and so on.

Next, it came to him, “Oh, good.” A missed appointment meant that he could do whatever he wanted with his time…after he got over his initial inertia. He had some fear of not doing anything which came with self-doubt and self-criticism. He described himself as having the kind of energy described by Newton’s Law of Inertia: A body at rest tends to remain at rest. A body in motion tends to remain in motion. Sometimes his body in motion was filled with “should’s” and “ought’s”. But his body at rest, his meandering, was at his own pace in his own way.

As I listened, mostly reflecting his exact words but occasionally paraphrasing, more and more came to Kevin. He got an epiphany, actually…not easy to come by, but not that infrequent in our Interactive Focusing sessions. He realized that these missed appointments, these disappointments could actually be filled with opportunity and possibility…and it required a right attitude on his part to accept them as such and welcome them.

I listened out of a grounded place, a place of neutrality toward the issue even though it raised quite a bit of feelings and touched my own ancient woundings. I could do this because I wanted to hear Kevin empathically, from his side, because I knew it was my job as a listener to hear his voice and not my own and because I knew that I would get a chance to tell Kevin my story in relation to all this…not whine and wheedle…but to share my experience, my pain, my struggle. And when I did, I knew that Kevin would be listening to me and not himself.