JESSE D . GELLER, Ph.D. in
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.