Pity, Suffering, and Psychotherapy


American Journal of Psychotherapy , Vol. 60, No. 2, 2006

Every day psychotherapists are called upon to assuage and give meaning to human suffering. This report examines the ways in which therapists and patients attitudes towards giving and receiving “pity” can advance or interfere with the realization of these goals. Clinical observations, introspective analyses, interviews, and questionnaires are used to investigate the following questions: What feelings and thoughts are encompassed by the state of pitying a person or an aspect of a person? What are the similarities and differences between pity and compassion? How do pity and empathy interact in the therapeutic situation? When is taking and showing pity therapeutically beneficial? Is pity a force that brings people together, or is it a way of distancing ourselves from those whom we regard as “other?” Based on the phenomena brought to light by investigating these questions, the author proposes that pity is an inevitable and integral component of our reactions to the ordeals suffered through by individuals facing tragic situations. As a background, an overview of the two radically different conceptions of pity that coexist in our culture is presented.

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About S. R. Zelenz 119 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.