Expressing empathy and building a therapeutic alliance

Dr. Ani Kalayjian continues post-traumatic healing sessions


The Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention (ATOP) organized and hosted an all-day training on International Post Disaster Humanitarian Relief and Post Trauma Healing & Meaning-Making on June 9, 2007.  Participants gathered at Dr. Ani Kalayjian?s office in New York City for an intimate training session geared toward understanding the six step Bio-Psychosocial & Spiritual Model developed by Dr. Kalayjian to assess, identify, express, explore, and work through various aspects of traumatic exposure.


A diverse group of trainees began their day with a meet and greet over breakfast, and reviewing prepared training materials.  A power-point presentation aided Dr. Kalayjian?s lecture and didactic information on how ATOP came to develop and how the six-step Model was born out of the over fifteen Mental Health Outreach Programs (MHOP) around the world, and how the Model is utilized to aide those who have been directly or indirectly exposed to mass trauma.  Photographs from various MHOP were shown to give the flavor of being in the field, working with grass root NGO?s, and observing the rehabilitation of the communities torn from human-made or natural disasters.


Trainees eager to continue discussing thoughts and reactions from the didactic session, headed to lunch together.  Upon returning, Dr. Kalayjian mediated an experiential session where participants first wrote about a personal traumatic experience and then were invited to share what they wrote.  As participants shared experiences ranging from the impact of 9/11, parental abandonment, parental drug addiction, and parental death, all learned how to be empathetic, encouraging, and offer validation to participants? trauma.


Empathy is defined as identifying with and understanding someone's feelings, situation, and motives.  Initially the group approached being empathetic with providing descriptions of their own similar feelings and situations, and provided suggestions and solutions based on their personal experiences.  The group evolved to realize that being empathetic did not mean sharing, and especially did not require having similar experiences as others.  As Dr. Richard Friendman wrote in a recent New York Times article, “What is critical to understanding someone is not necessarily having had his or her experience; it is being able to imagine what it would be like to have it.”


At the end of this powerful exercise, participants shared remaining thoughts and what they learned from the day's training.  Trainees were especially grateful to come to an understanding of the type of questioning and responding required to express empathy and to build a therapeutic alliance, and for being given the opportunity to recognize the phases people go through after experiencing a trauma by the stories shared.


Dr. Kalayjian closed the training session with an explanation of the seven chakras (energy centers), demonstrated how to engage in physical release, and an invitation to meditate.  Participants received a lesson on essential healing oils and essences, received the oil that was appropriate to their emotional state, and situated them to comfortably meditate. 


Afterwards, all trainees and Dr. Kalayjian came together in a circle joined by hands to reflect on the day?s revelations and to express gratitude.  Some of the expressions included: Grateful for the knowledge, experience, learning, sharing, openness, honesty, healing, self nurturance, trust, inclusion, intention, validation, and most of all the empathy.


The next training will be held in the fall season.  For more information kindly visit:


Azad-Hye related subjects:
Post-traumatic healing