Kyra Mesich, PsyD earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 1995. Due to her own empathic experiences with clients she started to explore the energetical and empathical side of therapy and found little information in classical psychotherapy. Her frustrations with the limitations of traditional talk therapy spurred her to research and study extensively in the field of alternative medicine. Her holistic training includes Reiki energy healing, aromatherapy, flower essence therapy, yoga, hypnotherapy, meditation, intuition development, and nutrition. Her book, The Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, is available in print and kindle format through amazon.com. She provides holistic psychotherapy at Sirona Spring Wellness Clinic in Hudson, WI, USA, and delivers classes and workshops on emotional & empathic sensitivity, flower essences, meditation, and intuition development throughout the Midwest USA. Learn more at her website,
Interview by Evelyn Einhaeuser
In your experience what is happening on an energetic level between therapist and client in a therapy session?
There is a lot happening. First of all you have to think about what makes it different to a typical superficial interaction with another person. The client comes in with some kind of pain that they want help with. They are also nervous and don’t know what to expect. You are in this fairly small room together. And then there is also the time involved. You have 50 minutes together. It is really different from other everyday encounters. So in my opinion for people it is a very intense energetic experience to have a therapy session. And usually in the third to fourth session, when the trust and relationship has been established, people start really opening up and that is when the energy will again ramp up because people start to really uncover.
Can you share some of your experiences how the emotions of a client were affecting you on an emotional and physical level?
When I first graduated with my doctoral degree in psychology and became a psychologist, initially what I experienced is that I would feel drained at the end of a workday. I would feel tired, and I attributed that to ‘I was thinking all day, I was dealing with everybody’s problems, I didn’t have much time for me, I didn’t have a big lunch, etc.’ That’s also where most therapists are going to leave it. But then I began to realize that actually much more was happening. There was a particular incident that really made that crystal clear and helped me realize that I was actually picking up on the individual emotional experience of particular clients. I was experiencing them within myself as if they were my own. That is called an empathic experience. I talk a lot about these experiences in my book “The Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide”. At the time I came to this realization, it was extremely overwhelming. I had no idea how to control it, how extreme it was going to become and most importantly I had no one to talk to, because obviously my colleagues would have reacted negatively. In traditional Western medicine to have said that I was experiencing a thought or feeling coming from someone else, that would be diagnosed as a psychosis, a delusion, a hallucination.
The turning point example happened with one of my clients, lets call him Dan. This is the experience that made my empathic sensitivity crystal clear. One night after work when I was home, I was suddenly overcome by severe depression, out of the blue. So at first I thought, ‘I am tired, maybe I am depressed’. I noticed that specific thoughts were going through my mind, which were ‘My life is hopeless. I am such a failure.’ I remember feeling that those were odd thoughts to have. It was not typical of me. I was starting my career, I was getting married, everything was good. So there was no reason for me to have those thoughts. As the evening progressed, I’d tried playing some music to distract me, but one song in particular came on that made me even sadder, such that I couldn’t bear it. I turned the music off and feel asleep in tears with all these strange thoughts in my head. When I woke up the next morning, the feelings had passed and I felt okay, so I went to work. I checked my schedule with the secretary as I did every morning. Dan, a client I had seen previously for a couple of sessions, had asked to be fit into my already full schedule, because he urgently wanted to speak with me. So I fit him in over my lunchtime. When Dan came in he said to me: “Dr Kyra, last evening I had one of the worst episodes of depression.” He had been rejected romantically and it sent him spiraling downward to a really bad depressive episode. So I said to him: “Tell me about the events of last night;” He replied: “I am so tired of being rejected. I can’t take it anymore. Last night I kept thinking, my life is hopeless. I am such a failure.” Those were the exact thoughts that I had had! So it really grabbed my attention. He showed me a poem he had written to express his pain. I asked him what prompted him to write the poem, and he told me that he had taken out a specific cd and had listened to a particular sad song that inspired him to write of his pain too. That song was the same song that had overwhelmed me the evening before! So when Dan left the session, I asked the secretary to give me a few minutes before the next session for myself. I had to sit there and had to realize, logically, that I had an empathic experience. The thoughts I had, the mood, the quality of the feeling, even the song was exactly the same. In retrospect, I realized that I was lucky enough to sit as a psychotherapist with that person and have him describe exactly what he went through so I would know without a doubt that I was experiencing the same thing that he was experiencing. That was extremely fortunate. If he was my coworker or just some random person in my life, I would never have known the depth of the empathic experience. So that was the defining moment in my career.
Then, of course, I realized it was also happening with other clients, sometimes even their panic attacks. But I quickly learned that if I was feeling something that was not related to my experience or my life that it must be empathically picked up from one of my clients. I would note down the feeling and the time and always a client would come in and tell me that this experience had happened to them at the time that I had noted down. These recurrent experiences helped me understand that I was empathically sensitive. It didn’t matter if society thought of that as possible or not. It happened, and I had to accept that and honor my own experience.
Does psychotherapy offer a perspective on energetics between client and therapist?
In traditional training, energy is not addressed. In more integrative programs it is, but I had not been trained that way. In our society, no one is prepared to understand the energetic exchange that often happens. In the diagnostic manual for psychological disorders, the belief that thoughts are transmitted into your mind from one person to another is seen as hallucination or psychosis.
Can you define which of your clients you pick up on and which of them you don’t?
That is a good question. I haven’t figured that one out yet. I think that this is an energetical experience that we don’t really understand yet. For some clients I am very easily able to sense what is going on with them and some not as much. As far as I can tell, that has to do with resonance. It is like in everyday life when you may meet someone and you just click. Other people you don’t. In the end, I, as an empathic therapist, just have to deal with whatever comes to me and acknowledge that the information is important for some reason, even if the reason is not revealed until months later.
Modern medicine tries to explain the capacity of deep empathy of a therapist by the presence of mirror neurons. Can you say a little bit about that?
The theory says that there are neurons in the brain that fire when one is observing someone else doing something as if one is actually doing it themselves.
What I find interesting about that theory is how the media has grabbed on that concept. Our society wants to say: “Look, there it is! The answer! It is physical neurons in the brain that explain everything about the feely stuff we don’t understand.”
My take on it is that hopefully researchers will eventually start investigating how not everything is up in our brains, and that our entire body is part of our emotional and social experience - and maybe even how our magnetic field is part of who we are and how we interact with others. Misunderstanding and fear limits our culture’s understanding of the expansive nature of empathy. It is frightening for people to not know what is happening to them. An empathic experience or even just the concept of not having total control over what one is feeling is so scary that people don’t want to even acknowledge it exists. Fear is a huge motivator and unfortunately motivates people to believe in physical, observable explanations.
In Yoga the Upanishads (a collection of ancient sacred texts) say that we all have a deep layer of existence (the so called ananda maya) that holds our most fundamental feelings and the capacity to feel another person without judgment or conditions. If we can feel someone from such a neutral and profound place it also implies a capacity to see and understand people very deeply. Yoga says that our inability to perceive from that layer stems from having created too many boundaries. In one of your articles you also refer to that depth of empathy as a psychic ability. Do you think the capacity of deep empathy or psychic ability depends on the lack of boundaries? And is a lack of boundaries not perceived as a problem in modern psychotherapy?
A beautiful thing about yoga philosophy is that the connection between self and others is acknowledged, whereas in day to day environments it is not acknowledged.
Sometimes when trying to understand things, I look up the definition of a word really precisely. So what is it that we are saying when we use the word “boundaries”? The definition of a boundary is “a line where one thing ends and the other begins.” There are some open minded theories of psychology which discuss that it is really peoples feeling of separation that creates their suffering, it is that perception that we are alone in the universe. I am separate from nature; I am separate from anybody else. This is an illusion that is very, very strong, especially in American culture, yet how completely illogical this concept of boundaries is. Think about it! Does any living thing in nature have a strong boundary, where one thing begins and another ends? No! We are permeable! Everything about us is permeable! Our skin for example is a very important boundary; it keeps our insides from spilling out. But it is permeable to a certain degree. You can place a hormonal compound on your skin that has a small molecular structure and it will absorb through your skin straight to your bloodstream. Boundaries are permeable and that is what people misunderstand.
So empathy is not a lack of boundaries, rather it is based on recognition that boundaries are permeable.
If I can feel another person’s emotions like my own as a therapist, how do I know if what I am feeling is actually my own emotion or instead an energetic residue from another person?
This is the number one question I receive from readers and also in the workshops I teach. Initially I tell people that it is a matter of trust in yourself and self-awareness. I often recommend empathic people to keep a journal and track what is happening. But there are indicators. If a feeling comes on out of nowhere and is not related to what is actually happening, then it is probably not from you. If it feels unusual, that is another clue. Then it becomes a matter of really trusting your intuition. There is something about it that feels odd and not fitting. In my practice I also work with flower essences, which are not aromatherapy, but an energetical herbal remedy. I recommend particular essences that help people feel more clearly what is theirs and what is not. This is such a foreign concept for people, especially in America. We are taught that everything you sense within your own body, that is from you. You are causing it, you are doing it. I recommend flower essences because this energy from nature can help us deal with what we have never been taught. It is not an intellectual issue, it is an energetical issue. So if you have an empathic experience, it is not helpful to overthink it, you have to go with how it feels.
Last week someone argued with me in preparation for this interview that if someone senses the energies of others it must be because that person hasn’t established a firm sense of self and is therefore prone to absorb other people’s energies. What do you say to that?
This goes back to what people’s perception of boundaries is. So again it is that completely illogical belief that we are separate from each other and that if we are healthy, we remain separate! But the truth is that every living thing in nature has a permeable boundary. It is actually the stronger sense of self that can maintain a sense of self (myself) while also understanding that we are all constantly energetically connected and that this is okay. I can be who I am and you can be who you are but there is energy exchanged and that is fine. And it doesn’t have to be scary. And that is where 98 percent of the population is not there yet to understand that it is actually normal and that it is actually how it is supposed to be to have this permeability.
How do you deal with the energetic side of therapy in your own professional life? Do you prepare yourself in a certain way for sessions?
My experiences are now quite different than 15 years ago. Now my primary foundation is to take care of myself and make sure my own energy is balanced. So I eat well, I exercise, I sleep enough. Normal things. I have recognized and accepted that I am an empath and that it is useful information that I am picking up. What is different now is that I am able to catch more and more subtle information when it comes to me. I am more aware of what is happening, and I accept that information as intuitively and empathically correct. It is not so intense nor painful anymore, it is a tool that I use. I specialize in working with sensitive clients and my own experience also helps them, because sensitive people usually are all empathic or psychic.
Can you protect your own energy field?
Protection is also a word that I try not to use when I am working with empathic people because of the images that this word creates for people. When you think of protection you think of wearing a suit of armor or you think of soldiers, etc. It is not helpful to think of it in that way because of what we have been discussing earlier, the boundaries are permeable. It is more about having knowledge and being aware and trying to have a healthy energy yourself.
How do you get rid of negative emotions that you have absorbed from other people?
If you are aware of your empathic abilities and you use and express them, the negative emotions are unlikely to stick with you. In a therapeutic setting you can say “I have a feeling in my gut” or “My heart is beating a little bit faster- is that something you feel for yourself”. So in that sense the energy flows into you and out again. So it is a constant movement, like the ocean, so it is not likely to stick with you. But if you are at work and you just want to get that account done, you can hardly say to your coworker: “Hey I get this feeling, you have some serious anger issues going on.” So that is where empathic ability gets tricky. I find that flower essences can help a lot, for example Yarrow, to understand what is yours and what is not or Mountain Pennyroyal to help you unload negative energies. It is also about making choices. First of all you need to see what that feeling is triggering in you. So you need to investigate that emotion to process your own baggage. And then sometimes it can also be that the person is simply toxic for you, so you should try to get away from them.
How open are other psychotherapists when you discuss with them about energies?
In the USA there are areas where people are more open minded, but in general there are three camps of psychotherapists. One camp wants to have nothing to do with it, it is ‘woo woo’ and ‘weird’. Then there are people sort of in the middle that say, ‘sure, you influence me and I influence you’, but they don’t really want to know more about it. And then there are maybe three percent of people that have had that happen and have found their ways with it. Among these people what is lacking is a conversation, people in the USA often have an attitude of saying: “Oh, I figured it out by myself. Thank you”. Americans are often close-minded about there being more and acknowledging that the knowledge is always changing. It would be nice if there was more dialogue, not just about acknowledging empathy but also how people deal with it and about sharing experiences.
How must psychotherapists be trained differently in your perception so that they can holistically understand and address what is going on in a session? What is lacking in the education and how could that be changed?
I feel I had very good training where we learned a lot about working with clients. It wasn’t as research focused as some PhD programs. Nonetheless focus was always on the client, how to help the client, how to do this intervention, etc. I don’t remember one word ever spoken about taking care of myself as a therapist. So before you even get to empathy and psychic ability there needs to be training in all the helping professions about self-care for the provider to acknowledge the fact that you are human and that this work is going to affect you. In my training, it was only said that all psychotherapists should be in psychotherapy too, but the reasons were not discussed. So that would be a number one. And it again comes down to the false notion that you should believe as a therapist that you are separate from the other person. So even if what the client says affects you, you should be able to get therapy and wash it off. Because you are separate. That’s what we are told. In a lot of training programs the term that is used is ‘blank slate’, so you as a therapist should be a ‘blank slate’. Now how therapeutic does that sound? Then the client could also only talk to a rock. You can’t be a blank slate, you are a human being, and it is impossible. You are going to react to what they say, it might trigger you or you might feel you want to help them, it might raise a whole lot of issues for you. And I am not even talking about energy. We should acknowledge that we as human beings affect each other and we are not separate from each other, we are connected.
Let’s use that to help each other and that would make a huge difference.