Emotional presence is a much-needed characteristic of an effective group leader. Christian Counselors should spend time praying and thinking about each group as a whole, and each participant individually to ensure involvement on an emotional level.
Empathy is unconditional acceptance of another person. This quality allows the group leader to develop rapport by seeing a situation, or experience a feeling, from the group members' perspective. This may be easier for leaders who have had experiences similar to those of they are counseling.
For example, this may explain the understanding that recovering alcoholics have for other alcoholics, divorcees for other divorced people or ex-convicts for people just released from prison. However, it does not mean that leaders whose experiences are different cannot express the unconditional acceptance of the participant. If a lead counselor is emotionally present, that will happen naturally.
Jesus became fully man in order to understand the world. That is incredible, and one of the best examples of being emotionally present and merciful. In Christian counseling, Jesus is the model, and he says in Romans 9:15 “For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
In Strongs concordance, the word mercy in this particular passage means, “To show kindness and concern for someone in serious need, feel compassion for, have pity. Those who take care of the sick are known as showers of mercy. Mercy is not merely a passive emotion, but an active desire to remove the cause of distress in others.”
It is more than just being moved by people. To the Christian it is an act of mercy.
But remember, it is vital that a counselor avoid blurring his or her identity by over-identifying with the participants. The core of the skill of empathy or mercy lies in being able to openly grasp the group members' experiencing and at the same time maintain separateness.
Being co-dependent is not the same as being emotionally present. Effective counselors can experience and know the world of the participant, yet their empathy is non-possessive. This is the ability of counselors to know themselves in a way that allows them to put their own needs aside long enough to truly understand the circumstances and issues of people they counsel.