On 24 Jan 2020 we looked at the subject of empathy and ethics with a review of Christian Keysers Book “The Empathic Brain” focussing on the chapter on empathic ethics and Psychopathy. The questions we looked with this chapter included :

What is the basis of empathy, Can empathy be learnt, Is empathy derived from the unconscious due of our mirror neurones or is it simply operant conditioning.

We started with a reminder of how the discovery of mirror neurones and has impacted on our understanding of neurobiology and sense of self by watching three short videos  from Dr Dan Siegal.

Dr Dan Siegal Mirror Neurones   :





DR Dan Siegal The basis of empathy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnvSRvmRlgA&list=PLqwFctTE_-O2t8er6kBsmjqYNMP4QsCD5

Dr Siegal describes how a sense of empathy comes from the unconscious interaction of our mirror neurones downwardly connecting with our Insula which is involved in perception and sense of self down through the brain to the body and back to give a sense of interoception.

We explored how our mirror neurones inform our  ethical decision making and the question of do emotions fog our ethical decision making.

We continued to look at Keysers observation that to change someone’s mind you have to make them see the problem from a perspective that is linked with other emotions to make them feel differently.

This led to a discussion on how to use grounding techniques to help those who feel suicidal and the importance was recognised of not just doing a cognitive process of remembering how things were in better times to really engage with an emotional element of when they felt well. We also looked at the risk of using grounding photos that may feel distressing and to use a bespoke assessment of client needs.

We agreed that an empathic approach to relating can be learnt but that our mirror neurones enable this also.

We looked at Keysers assessment that genuine empathic feelings and moral sentiments can co exist in a person along with brutal aggression and the “golden rule” of “do to others as you would have them do to you reframed from thinking about a  mirror neurone perspective of “I shall do to you what I wish would be done to me”.

We looked examples of clients who are challenging in their communicating and presentation and how our mirror neurones may give away a sense of how we are reacting.  Also the importance of relational depth in the moment and being careful not to be intoxicated by momentary deeply felt empathy but recognise it has to be strived for from moment to moment.