Joy in Compassion

It was never my job to be a counsellor, but I did it anyway.

People came to me at my office, seeking help with concrete problems, and my job was to advise on that. They had been found not entitled to benefits, mostly incapacity benefit and disability living allowance (now both abolished, and replaced with other benefits which are far harder to get and so not paid to those incapable of work, or disabled, who would have got IB or DLA).

And they came with the emotional fallout of that. They had physical difficulties, to which they had often not adjusted, so that a man after a heart attack would say that sitting down he felt fine, and so would go to get up as he would have before, and be breathless with chest pain before he was standing. Their physical health problems distressed them, and then the benefits office did not believe them, and their income was disrupted, producing uncertainty and further distress.

It seemed to me that while I made them feel better by proposing a course of action and offering help with it, I also relieved distress simply by listening, and accepting what they had to say. I felt I could earth their distress, which passed through me and out into the void. I could leave their problems behind: I rarely felt bad about them for long, though sometimes I had consciously to let go of a particular issue.

I did a course in person-centred counselling, and learned the theory of Carl Rogers. To him, counsellors benefit clients by showing congruence, that is, being themselves; empathy, showing that they understand the feelings communicated; and unconditional positive regard- perhaps better called Love. Acceptance without judgment allows the person to know and accept themself. Seeing person-centred counsellors, I found this worked for me: I unpacked and discovered truth about myself, enabled to recognise and accept it by the acceptance and empathy of my counsellor.

The thought that I was benefiting people in this way warmed me. Seeing myself as worthless, I valued myself for what I could achieve, and this was a big part of that.

Later, the funders decided we should work more efficiently, and strictly limited the time we could spend on each case. Of course- they want the best result for their money, and my expertise was legal not emotional- and yet often the clients seemed to want acceptance, and would not answer my questions on relevant facts according to the rules before they had felt their distress was heard.

I exercised empathy. I felt, alongside another human being. This reduced their distress, and gave me a sense of self-worth.

Rossetti, The BridePart of 1000 voices speak for compassion.

2 thoughts on “Joy in Compassion

  1. Being heard is important – it’s a simple thing I think is often forgotten with “client service” today. I think of the centralizing of government services here in Canada and the fact that everyone now calls a 1-800 line and gets triaged – for everything from need for employment insurance to Veterans benefits and what is missed in all this when you get to the puzzle of “client satisfaction” is the simple fact that there is that lack of connection and belief that there really is someone who listened and understood your issue – even if they couldn’t directly help. It is the act of being heard that is helpful in and of itself.


    • Yes.

      At one time, I staffed a telephone helpline doing much the same as I had been doing face to face. By that time, the time we had to do the work was being limited, and I found that it was easier to keep people to the bare facts rather than the emotional content behind them. But, yes. One could do a time and motion study on it: allow some helpline workers a minute to listen and express sympathy; allow others such time as they feel is required; and press a third group to stick to the facts and express no sympathy at all. I am sure the third group of workers, the “Efficient” group the masters are looking for, would be the slowest and unhappiest, and produce the least customer satisfaction.


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