Brodie Butler | An Insight into Empathy

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor
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The other week, I had an interaction with one of our homeless outreach clients and she was very elevated. At one point, she got up off the floor and threatened to beat me up. She even postured as if she was going to do so. 

I have found that when clients present with this behavior, there is always an underlying need that just hasn’t been addressed. Due to the trauma they’ve experienced and their substance use disorders, the part of their brain that controls executive function has essentially been damaged, so they can’t always choose how to respond to certain situations. 

When they’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, they often express it with anger and aggression. In that moment, instead of being frightened or just really put off by the situation, I simply asked, “How can I help you?” 

Within five minutes, we created a list of items that we could work on together to create solutions so she no longer feels the way she does. Sometimes, you need to be able to de-escalate clients like this very quickly. I have found that when you know clients well, you can do it quicker because you can anticipate their needs and how you can possibly help them. 

The reason why I share this is because it is important to recognize how trauma and addiction can affect the brain and a person’s behavior. Sometimes we need to look past the angry and aggressive behavior and just see someone who is deeply hurting and has needs that just have not yet been addressed. 

That can help us have a much more compassionate and empathetic response, not only to the homeless population, but just people in general.

Brodie Butler


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