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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Counsellor empathy or “having a heart to help”? : an ethnographic investigation of Chinese clients’ experience of counselling Ng, Chi Ting Connie


Multicultural education has become an integral part of professional training in counselling psychology. Empathy refers to one’s ability to hear, to feel, and to acknowledge others’ experiences, and has been regarded as an essential counsellor skill in psychotherapy. However, current understanding of empathy is almost entirely based on Western culture and may not match with non-Western clients’ expectations in cross-cultural counselling. As well, research regarding counsellor empathy in cross-cultural counselling has often focused on counsellors’ self-reports, and clients’ perceptions of empathy are scarcely investigated within any cultural group. The present qualitative research, namely, ethnographic interview, examined the concept of counsellor empathy from Chinese clients’ perspectives by exploring their experiences of therapeutic relationships. Eight informants, two male and six female, ranging in age from 40 to 55, were interviewed in-depth about their experiences of seeing Chinese counsellors. Elements of counsellor empathy were examined with the interview data obtained. Nine themes emerged from data analysis. They are: (a) Counsellor Professionalism, (b) Counsellor Attitudes, (c) Empathy, (d) Counsellor Disclosure, (e) Client Confidentiality, (f) The Counselling Process, (g) Chatting, (h) Roles of Clients and Client-Counsellor Relationship in Counselling, and (i) Perceived Importance in Counselling. Based on the results, it is found that the concept of counsellor empathy existed, but not commonly, in informants’ perceptions. Also, it was not considered as a priority in counselling according to informants’ perspectives. It is conjectured that counsellor empathy might exist in Chinese counselling relationships as a different phenomenon linguistically and conceptually. Implication for practice and future research are delineated.

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