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Genuineness without empathy is no gift - on congruence and authenticity

genuine girl amongst flowers

As a trainer in Motivational Interviewing (MI), I meet many people working in helping fields (ie) social services, treatment centres, schools, and charitable organizations. In my trainings, it is very common to talk about the difficulties of helping others and how we are personally affected by the work we do. Some feelings that come up in my groups are joy, inspiration, gratefulness, and pride, but unfortunately feelings of frustration, guilt/shame, anger, sadness, and resignation are most common. Here are some of the things expressed.

  • He/she provokes me so much!

  • I feel so angry when he/she describes their child like that!

  • Jag tycker så synd om hen som aldrig får rätt hjälp!

  • What more can I do? We’ve done everything we could!

  • I shouldn’t talk about him/her like this.

Big, strong feelings come out. What should the individual administrator, social worker, teacher, therapist, and counsellor do with these feelings? And what do I with a group that feels this way because of their job, especially when I am meant to train people in MI.

This isn’t an easy nut to crack. I am currently reading a book about what makes a helper helpful, and I realized that I am doing the “right” thing by allowing participants to dive deeper into these thoughts and feelings. After that, we can focus on how to treat the clients with respect, empathy, and genuineness. The book I am reading is called Effective Psychoterapists. Clinical Skills that improve client outcomes (2021) written by Bill Miller and Terry Moyers. I highly recommend it.

Genuineness - congruence and authenticity

three genuine faces with their eyes closed

What does it mean to be genuine?

Being genuine means that a helper’s personality shines through in their work. The therapist is a person, not only their profession. It means being true to yourself in your helping role and within that relationship. There are two parts to being genuine – congruence and authenticity – which are explained below.



  • The helper’s inner experience.

  • When the helper’s internal experience converges with their self-perception/self-awareness of the situation or conversation.

  • Understanding any feelings and thoughts as they arise in the conversation.

  • Being able to convey this inner experience in a way that is helpful to the other person, or for your relationship.

  • The purpose of empathically and respectfully conveying this inner experience must be in the clients’ best interest – a compassionate action.

Example- Negative Feelings towards clients

Feeling provoked by a client during a session.

Instead of focusing on the client (“OMG…this person is so annoying” or “This person has something against women”), it can be helpful to engage in some self-reflection. Being able to recognize and accept negative feelings towards those we work with is the first step in responding empathically.

  • What is happening in me right now, in this conversation?

  • Do these feelings have something to do with my own background, personality, or values?

  • How is this affecting right now?

  • To what degree am I willing, ready, and able to accept this inner experience?

Increasing awareness of helpers’ inner experiences is one of the reasons that therapists and helpers participate in their own therapy and why MI-coaching is needed.

Example- Negative Feelings towards clients

Conveying those feelings authentically to benefit the client or your relationship.

Withold saying, “I feel really provoked by what you are saying right now” because even though that may be clear and straight-forward, it also conveys judgement and accusation. In addition, it can result in dissonance as the person may feel accused.

Instead, we can convey a desire to understand the deeper processes that take place in the conversation with the client. This would help strengthen the alliance and steps are taken forward. Invite the person into your inner experience by generally exploring your collaboration.

  • How are you feel about our collaboration?

  • How do our conversations work for you?

  • What feelings does our collaboration evoke?

  • What do you need to reflect on your behaviour and your perspective?

In summary, genuineness involves congruence (recognizing and accepting your inner experience) and authenticity (accurately conveying your inner experience with empathy) (Watson, Greenberg & Lietaer, 1998).

Are you genuine in your conversations with others?

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.



Miller & Moyers (2021). Effective Psychoterapists. Clinical Skills that improve client outcomes. New York: Guilford Press.

Watson, J.C., Greenberg, L.S., & Lietaer, G. (1998). The experiential paradigm unfolding: Relationships and experiencing in psychotherapy. In L.S. Greenberg, J.C. Watson & G. Lietaer (Eds.). Handbook of experiential psychotherapy (pp.3-27). New York: Guilford Press.

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