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Is it OK to cry?

"Patients aren’t the only ones to tear up during therapy — sometimes therapists do, too."


Stashed in: Emotion, Sadness, Empathy, Psychology!, Psychology

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Research asking patients what they think about their therapists' tears is scant.

In a 2015 study in Psychotherapy, researchers Ashley Treat, MD, Jonathan Kelly, and Glenn Waller, PhD, surveyed 188 patients with eating disorders and found that about 57 percent had experienced their therapists crying. Most of these patients saw their therapist's tears in a positive light, but this wasn't automatic: It depended on how they viewed their therapist, researchers found.

If patients saw their therapists as having a "positive demeanor" (defined by researchers as showing happiness, firmness or consistency), they were more likely to view the tears positively and to want to continue therapy. But if they felt their therapists had a "negative demeanor" (characterized by anxiety, boredom or anger), they felt less positive about the tears and their therapy.

The type of tears mattered, too. Most described their therapists as looking or sounding close to tears. Some described therapists crying openly but still carrying on with the session. Much less frequent were open tears that caused a session to be paused or ended. These types of more extreme tears were rated negatively by patients.

"Therapists' crying cannot be assumed to be an almost universally positive or neutral event — it depends on how patients see the therapist as a person," the researchers concluded.

"Many graduate programs don't address tears in therapy, either in the classroom or during supervision. As a result, students may be led to believe that therapists must remain strong and neutral, and that tears are unprofessional and undermine a therapist's strictly defined role."

Perhaps it's time for graduate programs to address tears in therapy. 

There's lots of room for sincere empathy between crying and "must remain strong and neutral".

Yeah, that's true. Do they teach empathy?

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