Care + Empathy

Brie Scolaro

Out of the group of readings this week, what stook with me the most was walking through the Connection Established simulator. What came up for me is viscerally remembering my own anxiety of that specific time, early pandemic, and the decision trees I myself had to navigate. As a therapist during that time, I also supported 20+ folx a week navigating their own early pandemic decision trees, and with that I absorbed part of the anxiety transferred from my clients onto myself. I thought the simulator was a brilliant way to highlight precarity and care in academia from multiple perspectives / levels of power. Having the reader / user walk through and make their own decisions forces investment in the outcome as opposed to passively observing scenarios. I would say this cultivates a sense of empathy, which as per the Empathy as Ideology Zine, is actually code for a slew of an unlimited set of emotions, experieces, etc (fear, excitement, anxiety).

I am grappling internally with the idea that empathy is a negative thing or tool for further oppresion. I am a therapist, and I do recognize that empathy alone is not enough. But perhaps my definition of empathy is different than the general public. In the therapuetic space, I create a small world, a bubble free of judgement for folx to show up and navigate their tensions. It isnt about empathy – or me prioritizing self over the emotional response of my clients. It is about reflection, being a blank slate for my clients to imprint on, but with that, I represent so much more. I am White and many assumptions can be made about me without my sharing. I take that into the space with me. Culturally, the role of the therapist is also different. For instance, with a Chinese client, my role is to support problem solving and solutions analysis – compared to my queer and trans clients, where the most therapeutic aspect of my work is to sit with them and just see them as the humans they are. I appreciated the Empathy Zine’s evocative nature and how it has left me reflecting on my own relationship with Empathy.

3 thoughts on “Care + Empathy

  1. Jen Hoyer (she/her)

    Brie, your comment that empathy is code for a lot of other things really resonated with me. I’m curious whether you think that increased conversations about empathy in the last few years (I’ve seen that in a lot of classroom teaching spaces I’m connected to, as well as in professional discourse in the library/archives field) has led us to ascribe a lot more meanings to “empathy” than it was meant to hold. When we talk about empathy, are we misusing the word sometimes for things it didn’t originally mean? Should we be more nuanced about what we’re talking about when we talk about empathy?

  2. Adrianna Rios (she/her)

    Hi Brie, thanks for sharing your perspective as a therapist. The simulator also made me recall my experience as an MA student during the pandemic. In the simulator I chose not to grade my students. This was sort of my experience as a student back then, all my professors stated that we will all end up with A’s (as a pandemic bonus). I really liked how the simulator immediately prompted me to an online resource where I could learn more about ungrading. All in all I just wanted to call attention to the format in Connection Established. It has a lot of intention and that entails care.

  3. diana ballesteros (she/they)

    Thanks for sharing, Brie; I can’t begin to imagine how challenging it must have been for you to hold space for others during a pandemic, and like Jen, I’m wondering if the idea of “empathy” was forced to be bigger than what it originally was meant to be. In your description of your therapy spaces, I found myself wondering, do you ever feel yourself “become” your clients? Davis’ zine made me think that empathy as ideology is almost a usurping of marginalized people’s lived experiences. What you described — being a blank slate, witnessing your clients, providing support and guidance — are those strategies a part of an empathy practice? Or is empathy something else altogether?

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