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Workshop Series, Practice Groups and Mentoring

A Client-Centered Empathy Based Approach to Animal Communication & Healing:
The philosophical foundation of the workshops, mentoring and practice groups

by Teresa Wagner.

The role of healer is a sacred trust in which the healer holds the space for another to find their own way. A healer's role is to shed light on another's path, not to push them onto the path we think they should take, or to even gently tell them which path to take. A healer's job is to merely shed light, however lovingly and skillfully, so others can find their own way.

     Whatever skills, gifts, abilities or healing modalities we have to offer, they must always be given only with the permission of the client, and must fit the needs and goals of the client. In a client-centered, empathy based approach to animal communication and healing, we meet the clients where they are, not where we are, or where we want them to be or think they should be.

     Our spiritual maturity and poise as healers and our ability to create a healing presence for our clients is heightened when we refrain from imposing our judgments, values or favorite healing modalities and solutions, and rather, trust in the wisdom of the other being's soul.


What Is It?
Why I Use It
Specific Descriptors
How This Approach Differs from Other Approaches
A Story of Empathy Between a Famous Flautist and a Whale
Special Note of Thanks

Image copyright Nancy Bright, used with permission and gratitude.

What is it?

In the 1950's the late Dr. Carl Rogers created a revolution in the field of counseling and psychotherapy in developing the client-centered approach to helping others.  It contrasted sharply with predominant counseling theories of the time: the Freudian psychoanalytic view that people are basically neurotic with little chance for change, and that the therapist's role is to project their analysis onto the client to help them adjust to life as it is; and the Skinnarian view that emotions are irrelevant to growth, that we are products of environment only, and that behavior modification is the only thing that induces significant change.

What Rogers believed, researched, practiced and taught for several decades is that the helping relationship, when it includes certain qualities on the part of the helper, which allow the clients to feel safe and to completely be themselves, can in itself facilitate significant growth and change for clients. The qualities he spoke about were later found through repeated research studies (Carkhuff and Berensen) to be core facilitative characteristics, which impacted growth and change for clients more than other therapeutic approaches or techniques:

  • Acceptance of clients exactly where and how they are, without judgment

  • Empathy: active attempts to understand the clients' world from their frame of Reference

  • Authenticity: remaining humble and genuine as a fellow being with a client, without creating a hierarchy or barriers based on roles, degrees, titles, position, cultural or gender differences, etc.

Why I use it

As a young undergraduate and graduate student of counseling in the 1970's I felt like I had "come home" when I was introduced to client-centered counseling. I resonated deeply with the belief that effective helping is not about projecting our beliefs onto others about what is wrong and what they should do. But that, rather, as counselors we are there to help them discover, uncover and understand for themselves what is not in balance, what is beneath what hurts emotionally, and to support them in finding their way through the healing process.

Over the next thirty years, the energy of the client-centered approach has driven and guided my work through several careers: in counseling delinquent adolescents, managing a staff and program in a group home for adolescents, teaching counseling skills for a national training institute in the juvenile justice system, as an internal training and organization development consultant and division manager for RCA, as an external training and organization consultant for corporations and government agencies, as a hospice grief counselor, a pet loss counselor and support group facilitator, and as an animal communication consultant. The context of my roles changed, but my passion for using a client-centered approach in each has never wavered. The client centered, empathy based approach seems to act like a fertilizer for growth when used with others. It allows others to open to significant self-acceptance, learning and deepened self-awareness, without being pushed, pulled or directed. I have seen this approach work quiet little miracles of helping animals and humans open to love—from others and for oneself, soften rigidity, melt down barriers, release held in pain, and feel release from a sense of isolation, deepened intimacy in relationships, easier reconciliation of differences and collaboration, and problem solving. The client centered, empathy based approach helps us effectively communicate the deep compassion and love we as healers so very much want to convey to our clients, and want them to feel for themselves.

A client centered, empathy based approach is one in which practitioners:

  • Are empathic—seeking always to understand the inner experiences of clients from the clients frame of reference—without needing to fit, force or understand the clients' experiences into their own worldview.

  • Approach their work with humility, with no need to boast to their clients, peers or the public about their abilities, titles, degrees or status in their field to feel confident or competent.

  • Clarify the concerns, feelings, needs and goals of the client at the beginning of a consultation

  • Clarify for the client what to expect in a session and describes any specific healing modalities available for the session, so the client can feel comfortably informed from the beginning, as well as have the opportunity to say yay or nay to any healing processes, modalities or resources the practitioner has described as available

  • Focus on the goals and needs of the client throughout the consultation, offering healing tools, suggestions, of other information only when relevant to the goals and needs of the client

  • Facilitate an interactive discussion between the animal and human clients, helping them more clearly hear and deeply understand each other's issues, sharing all the subtleties and nuances that are part of telepathic messages from the animal for the human, allowing the human client opportunity to respond to these—rather than providing mere declarations of information

  • Treat each client and consultation as unique, setting aside all assumptions about species, breed or past experiences with the issue at hand. Keeps these assumptions in one's "backpack of knowledge and experience" to be taken out and used only after careful consideration about whether there is a relevant match to the client's energy and situation.

  • Apply healing modalities with great discernment of relevance to the beings and situation involved. Client-centered, empathy based practitioners do not apply healing modalities indiscriminately, however comfortable and skilled they may be with them, or however successful the modalities may have been with other clients.  They do not assume that what worked for some will work for all. Whatever skills, gifts, abilities, or healing modalities we have to offer, they must always be given only with the permission of the client, and must fit the needs and goals of the client.

  • Always, always make suggestions versus imposing any solutions, ideas, beliefs, ideas, philosophies, or referrals. The client-centered practitioner respects the wisdom of the client and the right of clients to make decisions of their own.

  • Listen for and gently probe for the unique story, feelings, and underlying causes of issues from each individual animal and human in each consultation. A client-centered practitioner never assumes the root cause or solution of one client's issue will be the root cause or solution of another client's situation.

  • Do not foster dependency; rather look continually for ways to empower clients become more informed, educated, linked to resources, and able to help themselves.

  • Know that all good healing is grounded in compassion and love, and, that skills to effectively communicate these qualities must be developed and strategically applied to allow that compassion and love to effectively facilitate healing for another being

  • Meet and accept clients where they are—emotionally, behaviorally, spiritually, value system wise—not where we want them to be, think they should be, or where we are.

  • Understand that the role of healer is a sacred trust in which the healer holds the space for another to find their own way. The degree to which we may hold another's hand as they find their way varies with the maturity level and needs of that person or animal. And sometimes in a crisis we may even need to "carry" a client for a temporary time. But this is always done with the intent of helping them get back on their feet to find their own way. A healer's role is to shed light on another's path, not to push them onto the path we think they should take, or to even gently tell them which path to take. Our job is to merely shed light, however lovingly and skillfully, so they can find their own way.

  • Learn to be comfortable in the face of others' pain, and do not attempt to hurry up to somehow lessen the pain of a client so they as the practitioners can feel comfortable, competent, or a sense of completion of having fixed the problem. Client-centered, empathy-based practitioners also help their clients learn to be comfortable with their pain, guiding them to discover root causes, and long term healing for those, rather than offering only quick fixes to alleviate the pain of symptoms.

  • Understand the critical important of keeping their personal opinions and values about animal care practices and their spiritual beliefs to themselves during consultations, to prevent inappropriately or unduly influencing clients to make decisions based on the practitioner's values and beliefs. Rather, they assist clients in clarifying their own beliefs and come to their own conclusions about what is best for them and their animals. This is especially important when clients are in crisis and more vulnerable to influence from others, such as an animal communicator, healer, or therapist whom they trust and may see as a person of expertise or authority.

How is a client-centered, empathy-based approach different from other approaches?

Whereas the client-centered approach focuses on the beliefs, needs, interests, personality and unique situation of the client, the practitioner -centered approach emerges from the beliefs, needs, interests, personality and situation of the practitioners:

Client-Center, Empathy-Based Practitioner-Centered, Ego-Projection-Based
Focus is on clients
Help clients understand problem
Meets clients where they are
Make suggestions
Offers possible solutions
Works with clients' work view
Healthy humility
Comfortable with ambiguity
Focus is on practitioner or technique
Tell clients their analysis/conclusion of problem
Expect clients to be "somewhere" in their
Give direction
Imposes solutions
Imposes their own worldview
Need to "be right", an authority, expert
   ("guide on side") ("sage on stage)
Need to fix things

Client-Centered, Empathy-Based Consultant Approach:

In animal communication it involves having an actual conversation with an individual animal and their person, involving telepathic translation of facts, feelings, energies, and images, while providing emotional empathy, soul empathy, and acceptance and understanding to both animal and human.

It is not only an "intuitive reading" of another's heart or situation, it is meeting the other being exactly where their heart and soul is at that moment. "Reading" someone's energy is like taking a picture and then describing it. The client centered practitioner provides this gently and lovingly. When we empathically meet another being where they are, not merely reading them so we can tell them
what we see, but when we honor them by caring where they are, caring about what hurts or is a dilemma, then the "reading" we offer, the telepathic information we translate for them, has the potential to facilitate real healing.

Practitioner-Centered, Ego/Projection-Based Approaches:

  • Psychic analysis:
    An analysis or "reading" of an animal's or human's energy or situation. Done well, psychic analysis provides a clear picture or "x-ray" of a situation, providing the client with clear information on which to make further decisions, etc.

    When psychic analysis is used as a stand alone method, if often includes information beyond or irrelevant to the goals, needs and concerns of the client When not done well, psychic analysis is offered without regard for the client's goals, needs or desire to participant in the practitioner's particular healing methods which may be imposed. At its worst, it is projective information seen through the filter of the psychic's values, belief systems or their favorite or most comfortable healing modality. It may be void of meaningful interaction with the client, and providing more of a declaration of the information gleaned, without attempt to help the client understand, digest or integrate the information in a way that is relevant and useful to the client. This approach is done from the third eye chakra without connection to the heart chakra. Psychic training often focuses on third chakra abilities--see and get the information —without regard for how to safely and lovingly help the client receive and make sense of the information.

  • Archetypes or Breed/Species Stereotype:
    This occurs when the practitioner is dependent upon and or focuses primarily on their information base about archetypes or particular problems for particular breeds, species or situations (i.e. assuming that most cats urinate out of a box for the same reason, that all whales are the carriers of the earth's wisdom, assuming all animals go to a rainbow bridge when they die, etc.) , rather than entering a conversation with an individual being completely open to that individual's unique story, feelings, or root causes at the base of a problem.

    Having good information bases about the culture of particular animals can be extremely helpful in understanding and supporting a client. However, in a client-centered, empathy based approach this information remains in our "backpack of information and techniques" only to be pulled out when we discern that it may be relevant in a particular situation. In a client-centered approach, information is always sought from the individual being consulted, never making assumptions that what is right for one animal or person will be right for all.

    While it's true that archetypes about animals, such as in Native American cultures, can be a respectful and even reverent way to view animals, they are completely irrelevant to and can skew information received in telepathic conversation with individual animals.

    Any archetypal information gathered about wild animals is completely out of the mind of a client-centered practitioner during any conversation with an individual animal. If we don't do so, every time we talk with a rabbit we will expect to hear messages about fear, messages about joy from every dolphin, messages of sage teaching from every wolf or messages about all the wisdom of the universe from every whale. Because of my love for whales and my continuing journeys to be with them in the water, I talk with a lot of whales. One of the very first things I learned from them is how silly it is to believe that every individual in s group fits a stereotype. They've told me that yes there are many whales who are very wise, old souls who are here to help the planet in highly significant ways. And, that there are souls in whale form who are here simply to experience the whale way of life on earth, not to heal anyone or save the earth.

    Cultural information about breeds and species should remain just that-- information to be used when relevant and appropriate to help in a specific situation. To assume it applies to all individuals is as insulting to animals as sexist and racist assumptions are to women and people of color.

    It can help us help animals if we know something about their natural history—how they bodies work, what their needs tend to be physically. But it does not help them if we make assumptions about them related merely to the group they were born into, and forget to see them and speak to them as individuals.

  • Imposing Solutions:
    In this approach, the practitioner is more comfortable imposing solutions for clients than in helping them explore what they see as the best solutions themselves or with providing them with tools to do it themselves. They may assume it's appropriate and that it may actually be helpful to impose ones' beliefs, values, and solutions onto others:

    • I'm the expert. Here's my tool and I'm here to fix you with it
    • I know what's best for you and your animals; Here is my advice and analysis.
    • If you don't follow what I say there is unlikely to be progress or healing.

    Real Life Example: Human client was concerned about best thing to do about her new kitten crying at the door. Animal communicator told client: "Your cat wants to go outside. All cats need to roam freely outside. It is natural and necessary for them. It is cruel to keep them inside. If your ten week old kitten
    cries to go outside, even at night, you need to let him outside. Cats are nocturnal.  It's wrong to keep them inside." The human client, despite his instincts to keep the tiny kitten inside, let him out when he cried late in the evening. He was killed by a predator.

    Real Life Example: Person upset with dog urinating in the house. Dog tells animal communicator that he does not like waiting until his person opens the door for him to go out. Animal communicator, without discussing this with the human client, told the dog that his person would install a doggie door for him.   Then she lectured the human about how imperative it is that this dog have a doggie door. The communicator did not seem to care that the client already explained that in her rental home installing a doggie door was not allowed. The client now had a disappointed dog who expected a doggie door she could not provide, along with the original problem of inside urination.

  • A greater need for attention, status or fame than to genuinely serve others
    With the practitioner-centered, ego/projection- based approach, there is often bragging or arrogance involved, a need for ego stroking or to receive "credit for the healing." May be more interested (even unconsciously) in the drama of nontraditional healing work and getting noticed for it as someone special, than to simply quietly going about the work of helping. They tend to not have much humility and may have a need to boast about their abilities and achievements.

    Real Life Examples:
    A web site with huge letters on the home page stating, "I have a gift from God that no one else has, come to me and I will heal your animal."

    A healing circle facilitator and genuinely gifted healer needed to provide a boastful run down at the beginning of each circle that usually sounded like: "On Tuesday I cured a woman of breast cancer. On Thursday I saved a marriage through my gifts of giving God's love to a couple. On Friday I did psychic surgery and removed tumors from a man's lungs." Exaggerated as it sounds, this is a true story. The facilitator's arrogance began to get in the way of the love and light of the group to such an extent that people stopped coming.

  • Assume that the particular values, paradigms, theories, techniques that they prefer will be just right for perhaps every client or situation. This is particularly sensitive when a client has lost their animal loved one:

    Real Life Examples:
    An Animal Communicator, in an effort to be supportive, sends flyers to clients and colleagues with information that blatantly proselytizes fundamentalist Christianity, including statements that belief in reincarnation is the work of Satan.

    An Animal Communicator, in an effort to be supportive, sends the Rainbow Bridge poem to all clients who lose their animals.

    As common as Christian beliefs may be among some clients, a client-centered practitioner is acutely aware that all clients do not share the same spiritual beliefs. As comforting as the Rainbow Bridge story may be to many people, the client-centered practitioner keeps in mind that the beliefs it presupposes (i.e. when all animals die they do not immediately go to heaven or continue their own unique soul journey or development, but stay in a beautiful place called the Rainbow Bridge and wait for their human to meet them when they die) may not be the beliefs of every client. The client-centered empathy based practitioner also knows that stating or sending sentiments of sympathy contrary to one's belief system can be offensive to the receiver and create even more pain. Client centered, empathy- based practitioners do not impose their beliefs on clients, but rather, helps them clarify how they may find comfort in their own beliefs, They are sure to write or state sympathy comments that are aligned with the particular client's beliefs, or are careful to keep them neutral regarding spiritual belief systems.

    When I know a client is Christian in orientation, I may send them a copy of the Rainbow Bridge poem.  When I know their orientation is metaphysical, I may send them a copy of Penelope Smith's tape Animal Death, A Spiritual Journey, as it is metaphysical in examples and philosophy. In any case, or when I am not sure of their beliefs, I often send a copy of my own tapes, Legacies of Love, in which I intentionally kept out reference to specific spiritual beliefs.

  • Feel it's perfectly OK to shame, bully or ridicule clients.

    Real Life Examples:
    An Animal Communicator tells a client whose indoor cat accidentally got outside: "Well, here is the location where I see your cat, and you should find him easily. But if you don't it is your own fault if someone else finds him and keeps him. It is terribly irresponsible to not tag and microchip your cat.

    An animal communicator and healer whose web site boasts in large letters: "I have a rare gift from God that only a very few people have" tells her client: "Your dog has cancer because of your problems with your marriage. Your dog has taken on all your emotional pain. I can cure your dog but you need to leave your husband. If you don't I will not help your dog." The client left her husband, then later felt this was wrong and reconciled with him. The healer refused to do any more healing on dog unless the woman got a divorce. This example is the antithesis of a client-centered, empathic approach.

  • Misuse of the mirroring theory:
    "Whatever issue your animal has, you better look at yourself because you have it and your animal is mirroring it back to you". A client-centered practitioner believes that though this sometimes occurs and when it does can be a powerful means of learning, it is not present in every problem or in every relationship. To assume it does is overly simplistic and could be irrelevant or even harmful to impose on clients.

  • Misuse of the emotional sponge theory:
    "The purpose of companion animals is to absorb our emotions to help us through life." The client-centered approach believes that while it may be true that there are animals who may do this, and certainly there are many co-dependent humans who do this, it is a gross stereotype to assume—before even speaking with an animal and feeling the specifics of the animal's energy and story—that all animals are "mirroring" their human's issues. This is an example of having a favorite tool and applying it to every situation whether it fits or not with the unique issues of an individual.

    The belief that the core purpose of animals on earth is to absorb human pain, or that even if they have additional purposes all companion animals sponge up our emotions, seems a terribly condescending and limited view of animals. The client-centered, empathy based approach is one in which it would never be assumed that the core purpose of every individual in an entire species is the same, or that a life purpose for any individual is pre-determined servitude to

A Story of Empathy between a Famous Flautist and a Whale

     Some years ago I had the pleasure of attending a live concert with Paul Horn, held at the Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel, California. By some stroke of blessing, my friends and I were seated in the very front row. As this great musician told stories between performing his pieces we felt as if we were with him in the informality of someone's living room. He spoke with gentle humility and with great spirit. When he announced that one of his stories was about a close encounter with a whale, my heart quickened with anticipation because of my great love of whales. My friends looked at me with concern that I might jump out of my seat. I didn't, though I sure was excited. I just listened, then cried.

     Paul told us that he had a close friend in the Northwest part of the United States who was involved in training and caring for Orca whales held in a Seaquarium. During one of Paul's visits to this friend, he was asked if he might come play his flute for a whale. One of the two captive whales who had been living there had recently died. The surviving whale seemed to be deeply grieving. She would not eat and would barely move. The people involved in her care were afraid she would die. Several medical and social interventions were tried but nothing worked. It was a last resort to ask Paul to play music for her. They asked him to play lively, happy music to attempt to bring her out of her very depressed state. And so he did. Song after song he played for her and there was no response.

     At one point Paul said he got this feeling that all the upbeat, happy music may feel completely irrelevant and perhaps even annoying to someone in deep grief. And so, he began to play soulful, poignant music that spoke of suffering and angst. Some of the humans tried to stop him from playing this, expressing concern that it would make the whale feel worse. But Paul continued playing, song after song. Soon, the whale began to move after days of remaining still in one corner. Then he moved a little more. Then he actually faced Paul and looked at him.  Slowly he approached him, then turned and swam and swam and breached with the grace and vigor. Then he approached Paul and opened his mouth for food. His human care team cheered and cried. It still took some time, but starting that hour this whale began to heal. From empathy he began to heal.

     This is a story for all of us, in any situation where we wish to help someone. Offering empathy to another being's overwhelming or negative emotional state does not make it worse. It acts, rather, as an agent to help the depth of that emotion emerge to full expression so it can be released--allowing healing to continue and balance to be restored.

Special Notes of Thanks

We all need teachers. We all need guides from time to time to help us figure out what path to take, and the tools we need to travel it, survive it and thrive from it. I have been abundantly blessed with such teachers and guides regarding client-centered work.

I give my deepest, heartfelt gratitude to Carl Rogers for creating a model of helping that addresses the heart of soul of others—especially having done so during an era where this was practically heresy. Thank you Carl Rogers, George Vogel and Lewie Losoncy for inspiring and teaching me client-centered counseling so long ago. It's been in my blood from the very first class and will never leave me.

I thank Jeri Ryan for inspiring me to enter the world of professional animal communication.  Without your personal modeling and teaching in a client-centered way, I may never have begun the work. Your gentleness, wisdom, immeasurable commitment to the animals and a client centered, empathic way of helping will always be my model. Thank you. You are a gift to the animals on earth and the people who love them.

I also thank Ruah Bull for being a living model of a superlative, client-centered counselor and healing arts professional. You've helped me back to the true home of who I am through traumatic dark nights of the soul and everyday stresses of life on earth with the love and skills of your work. You know precisely how to shine a brilliant light on others' paths with true healing presence. You are the real thing Ruah. You teach it and you live it. How blessed I am to receive your help. Thank you and bless you.

Thank you all for starting me and keeping me whole and inspired on the client-centered, empathic-based path of service.

© Copyright 2006 Teresa Wagner.

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