Responding to the Whole Person: Using Empathic Listening and Responding in the Writing Center

Maureen McBride
Brady Edwards
Samantha Kutner
Ash Thoms


This article examines the role of emotions in writing center consultations, specifically the use of Carl Rogers’ (1951) empathic listening and responding strategies as a way to acknowledge and engage students’ emotions during writing support. Using survey research and analysis of observations, the training consultants in Rogerian strategies was determined to be an effective approach.

Key words: Rogers, empathic listening, empathic responding, empathy, survey research, observation, training


Even with data about emotional impacts in college, such as the 2016 annual report from The Center for Collegiate Mental Health (Pennsylvania State University) listing anxiety as the most commonly reported issue (61%), there is a tendency in higher education to downplay emotions and the correlations of attending (or not) to affective dimensions and student success (Beard, Clegg, & Smith, 2007; Morin-Major et al., 2016). This emphasis on the cognitive aspects of writing can make higher education seem like an “emotion-free zone” (Mortiboys, 2011), but this is not always in students’ best interests. Since writing centers are embedded in the larger institutional culture, the emphasis on cognitive concerns impacts our work. Writing center scholarship has examples of addressing emotive concerns and includes discussions about therapeutic approaches. In tutor training manuals, many of the suggestions regarding working with emotional students set up a cautious position for the tutor (Lape, 2008). For many years, our scholarship has leaned toward cognitive discussions (Agostinelli, Poch, Santoro, 2000), and even recent reviews of writing center literature still reveal a concentration on cognitive skills and the negative impact of emotions (Lawson, 2015).

Seeing students as emotional beings, acknowledging that academia cannot be an “emotion-free zone,” is important. The question for writing centers is to what extent should we address the affective elements inherent in writing center work. Certainly, consultants are not counselors. If they attempt to act as such, they make themselves and the students with which they interact vulnerable in ways that may not be healthy. Additionally, writing centers cannot provide the tools, training, and certifications to prepare peer-writing consultants to address all the emotional needs of all students. But there are still tools within psychology that can be used to acknowledge the cognitive and emotive elements of students in writing centers in ways that are supportive of them as people first and writers second. In this article, we explore the ways in which addressing emotions in writing center work has been discussed and then look specifically at how using Carl Rogers’ (1951) empathic listening and responding approach can support the inclusion of emotions in writing consultations as a way to lead into our study examining and applying empathic listening at our writing center.

Emotions in Academia

Research suggests that writing centers should allow for and encourage students to be emotionally vulnerable (Beard, Clegg, and Smith, 2007). Driscoll and Powell (2016) also conclude that for the students in their study, emotions were an important part of learning, even when those emotions, such as anxiety and frustration, weren’t necessarily positive, which is why they encourage a better understanding of how emotions impact writing and transfer. What’s more, affective moments are important to learning: specific emotions of pride and shame have been argued to relate to student success and failure because they contribute to students’ identities and sense of belonging (Scheff as cited in Beard, Clegg, & Smith, 2007). Beard, Clegg, and Smith (2007) argue that providing mental and physical spaces to allow and encourage students to develop their language skills and to explore their emotional understanding of themselves and others leads to learning. Writing center scholarship, however, primarily focuses on how to acknowledge emotions in order to move past them, noting the negative impacts of emotions and how they complicate writing consultations (Agostinelli, Poch, & Santoro 2000; Follett, 2016; Lape, 2008; Lawson, 2015).

While most writing center scholars eventually acknowledge where emotions can be used within a consultation, initial suggestions for how to respond to students’ emotions are focused on how consultants can move past them or how they can find ways to remove emotions from discussions about writing (Agostinelli, Poch, and Santoro 2000; Follett, 2016). Framing emotion negatively, or as something that impedes writing consultations, seems to be a common practice. Agostinelli, Poch, and Santoro (2000) in their chapter, “Tutoring in Emotionally Charged Sessions,” warn that conflict is always a potential outcome. The authors explain that emotions are problematic because they make rational judgments for the tutor and the student more difficult. Agostinelli, Poch, and Santoro (2000) suggest that emotions are to be controlled because they complicate writing consultations; in response to emotions, the authors offer listening as a way to allow for students’ emotions to be quickly acknowledged before focusing on writing support. This quick acknowledgement and subsequent move away from emotions suggests that writing support may often be disconnected from students’ emotional responses and states, which can create resistance from students.

Follett (2016) also addresses ways that writing center scholarship about emotions promotes how to mitigate or remove the writers’ emotions. Adding to the conversations about emotions, Follett (2016) discusses how anxiety can activate a student’s engagement and academic performance, suggesting that anxiety in writing consultations does not need to be viewed negatively. Follett (2016), like Agostinelli, Poch, and Santoro (2000), discusses how controlling emotions, such as acknowledging emotions with the intent to reduce or eliminate them from discussion, can be a way to guide students to act as independent writers. Follett (2016) concludes that negative emotions can impede the work of writing consultations and so should always be addressed by consultants. Follett (2016) cites Traschel’s (1995) discussions of how sensitivity to students’ emotions supports feminist writing center pedagogy. Follett suggests that writing consultants should have activities they can use to respond to students’ emotions that include “listening, sharing, visiting, celebrating, and supporting” (p. 40). Follett (2016) concludes her literature review by asserting that writing center scholarship needs to address how heuristics for writing consultants’ responses to students’ emotions impact the learning in consultations.

The importance of recognizing and allowing students to include their emotional responses, whether those are positive or negative, in consultations is important because of the vulnerability students experience due to elevated emotional states. Mills (2011) and Lape (2008) describe situations in which emotion may impact writing sessions and discuss ways to allow for emotion and to respond. Particularly, these scholars suggest that writing consultants should respond to each student’s needs, whether that is a conversation about punctuation or a tissue to wipe away tears. Yanosky (2003), a peer tutor and certified mental health counselor, recommends that consultants observe nonverbal behavior and posturing, acknowledge negative behavior, and ask questions to help alleviate any anxiety students may feel during writing consultations. These techniques may help consultants avoid sessions that focus solely on negative emotions while simultaneously moving the locus of control regarding the writing and emotional state back to students.

Having clear approaches to recognize and include emotions in writing consultations is an important consideration for writing center administrators. Using therapeutic strategies to address emotions has a long history in writing center studies. Murphy (1989) identifies a correlation between the psychoanalytic process and tutoring in writing centers in “Freud in the Writing Center: The Psychoanalytics of Tutoring Well.” Murphy (1989) notes several similarities between counselors and writing consultants, including dealing with issues of hurt feelings, anxieties, and judgment. Additionally, she claims that students may exhibit “anxiety, self-doubt, negative cognition, and procrastination” (p. 14), which may make difficult situations more difficult or frustrating. Further, Murphy (1989) compares a good tutor to a good psychoanalyst because they both help people realize their potential and move toward using their knowledge and skills to help themselves. She sees the central point of connection between tutoring and psychotherapy as the dynamic interactions between people, requiring trust and vulnerability to reach intended goals.

To create an environment that allows for student vulnerability by reducing anxiety, writing center administrators must consider how their training impacts writing center culture and the student support within it. Ashton-Jones (1988) created such a guide to help both experienced and inexperienced writing tutors better understand their own rhetorical situations when working with students in the writing center. Ashton-Jones (1988) claims that writing center directors need to encourage critical inquiry that avoids prescribing an ideal way of addressing emotional responses. She encourages writing center administrators to help writing consultants develop skills so they can apply a range of rhetorical approaches and tutoring strategies, including establishing rapport, exploring potential, discovering strategies, and ongoing self-review. Harris (2000) echoes Ashton-Jones (1988) by suggesting that a good goal for training consultants is helping them develop a toolbox of strategies to use in writing consultations.

Many of the discussions about emotions in writing center consultations parallel Rogerian (1951) approaches to therapy. Rogers (1951) encourages therapists (consultants) to provide a place for emotions in discussions and to respond in ways that develop a sense of agency for the client (student). Additionally, the Rogerian approach mirrors many of the suggestions of mindful listening, such as those discussed by Kervin and Barrett (2018). Rogers’ (1951) empathic listening and responding offer a potential structure for training writing consultants in order to recognize and create space for emotions in consultations.

Empathic Listening & Responding

Empathy may play a more significant role than other strategies for responding because if a student feels misunderstood, it impedes work toward anything else. Empathy allows emotions to exist, not discrediting or trying to remove them from a writing consultation, but rather acknowledging and helping the student to recognize and understand their emotions as they relate to being a writer, a student, a human. Additionally, empathy does not imply removing or mitigating emotions but rather acknowledging them; in fact, Rogers claims that counselors (or consultants) need to project attitudes of acceptance of “feelings” to create a space in which both the cognitive and the emotive can exist (as cited in Arnold, 2014, p. 357). While some people have questioned if empathy can be taught, Gerdes and Segal (2011) claim that empathy is trainable. The key to teaching empathy is helping consultants learn how to help students feel heard. If rapport, empathic understanding, and congruence are present, the Rogerian model may allow the student to see and adjust themselves, in ways that not acknowledging their emotions prevent. It is important to examine how empathy can be used for writing center training in order to focus on active listening, attending skills, paraphrasing, and summarizing.

The concept of empathy has evolved, taken shape in various disciplines, and been imbued with different meanings in academia. It is important to consider the source in its original psychotherapeutic context and the way Rogers (1951) understood it before applying it to other fields: being empathetic means that the person listening sets aside personal views and values to better understand another person’s perspective without judging that perspective; it does not mean just listening. Researchers define empathy as the ability to accurately gauge and reflect the emotional state of another (Gerdes, 2011; Gerdes & Segal, 2011; Hollan, 2012). Lucas (2007) suggests that there are five types of empathy used in composition studies: relational, pedagogical, critical, rhetorical, and discursive. For the purpose of this paper, we are focusing on what Lucas (2007) labels relational empathy: “the awareness of another’s internal states and perspectives. . .generally one-on-one” (p. 104).

Within psychology, Carl Rogers developed therapy methods that shifted practices to be more client-centered and focused on the individual (as cited in Kensit, 2000, p. 346), which aligns with most writing center values. Rogers (1951) claimed there is no way for one person to know what is right or wrong for another person; therefore, all interactions must be non-judgmental and focus on a reflection of the client’s (student’s) feelings. Interpretation of another person’s words is seen as judgmental, so it is avoided (Troemel-Ploetz, 1980). Paraphrasing what a student/client says is a common strategy in psychology and writing centers; however, it needs to be used to explain what the listener hears, rather than presented as what the student/client says (e.g. “What I hear you saying. . .” instead of “So, you are saying. . .”). Using a Rogerian lens means that writing consultants approach writing support with an expectation that students have a desire to grow and reach a point of self-actualization; the writing consultant role is to provide a comfortable place for growth, and the student develops and grows on their own. Essentially, the student must be listened to, respected, and trusted in order for self-actualization to occur. Rogers believed people seeking help know the best way to proceed (Brooks & Clarke, 2011), so the role of a writing consultant as a help-giver is to be genuine, accept students as individuals, and show sensitivity to students’ feelings through empathic understanding and responding. Put another way, the writing center and its consultants should serve all students and all writing projects without judgment (Birnbaum, 1995). Rogers’ approach is a generative model that requires the interaction of the consultant and the student and expects the student to be the decision maker and primary agent in discussions and goal setting (Arnold, 2014).

While Rogers’ approach has been criticized as overly emotional and subjective, it is acknowledged as supportive of growth and self-actualization. Other critics within writing center studies have noted concerns about using therapeutic approaches because they place writing consultants in the position of “counselor” (Bisson, 2007; Gillespie & Learner, 2004; Hudson, 2001; Kervin & Barrett, 2018). However, empathetic listening and responding are considered elementary strategies and easily used by people with little to no training or experience, and employ a non-directive approach (Arnold, 2014). Additionally, using empathy can offset places where writing consultants do not have as much expertise to respond to cognitive aspects of consultations (Arnold, 2014). For example, consultants can ask more about process and student engagement with texts, rather than focusing on content or even structural questions. A common application of this strategy in our writing center is when an undergraduate student works with a PhD student. The consultant may not have expertise with the forms, norms, and stylistic elements, but the consultant can focus on the student, including where they are at with the process and how they are emotionally engaged with their topic. Focusing on the emotional aspects may help the student with clarity concerns and also strength of argument.

With so much that writing centers have to gain by examining affective dimensions, it is important to have a targeted approach that writing consultants can use. When emotions are not addressed, opportunities to engage more effectively with students and to support them as writers, students, and ultimately people may be missed. Arnold (2014) claims that using empathetic listening and responding has three main goals: 1) help the student express their emotions and thoughts; 2) help the student understand their thoughts and emotions; 3) help the student understand and accept their motivations. Achieving these goals leads to clarity of thinking for students and recognition of their available choices, leading to confident independence (Arnold, 2014). Rogerian methods for empathetic listening and responding can benefit consultants by allowing them to 1) find a balance between acknowledging students’ emotions and supporting their writing and 2) develop listening and responding strategies that support nondirective efforts that honor student agency.

To better understand how emotions impact writing consultants’ approaches to students and to understand the opportunities for empathic listening and responding in our writing center, we designed a study to gather information about how our writing consultants understand empathy and emotions within writing consultations and then to apply targeted training in Rogers’ empathic listening and responding as a training strategy. This research project responds to the calls for more aesthetic examinations of writing center work, of how to cultivate the benefits of encouraging emotions as part of writing consultations, and how administrators can train staff to respond to emotions in positive ways that do not dismiss or diminish those emotions as part of the writing process and as part of the writer.

Methods: Surveys & Observations

To examine how emotional responses were being addressed in our writing center, the director, a graduate student, and two undergraduate writing consultants created and distributed a survey to consultants as well as analyzed existing data. The surveys were pre- and post-examinations of how consultants identified and defined empathy in their writing center contexts. The existing data included observation notes and feedback from students about using the writing center services. Since we had data about anxiety from students who had used our writing center, we focused on this emotional response. Additionally, in routine observations of our writing consultations, both new and experienced consultants noted either increased productivity in sessions when peer-writing consultants addressed students’ emotional states or negative impact of missed opportunities to acknowledge students’ emotions.

Prior to any discussions of empathetic responding or our initial survey, both experienced and new writing consultants observed writing consultations and assessed how well consultants addressed students’ emotional states. According to Micciche (2005), “Emotion is crucial to how people form judgments about what constitutes appropriate action or inaction in a given situation—precisely the realm of ethics. The idea here is that emotions, like reasons, move people to judge, decide, and act in certain ways” (p. 169). In enacting this decision to observe and respond to students’ emotional states, consultants were observed to see if they made students comfortable through addressing anxiety about the writing center or writing more broadly.

To examine what empathetic responding might currently look like at our writing center, we reviewed a set of sixty observations that had been a natural part of our new semester training and mentoring process. Consultants completed the surveys as part of our ongoing professional development workshops. Since the observations and surveys were a standard part of our training and required by all writing consultants, it was considered programmatic research and was deemed exempt research by our IRB office.

The two surveys were given six weeks apart. The second survey repeated many of the same questions from the first (see appendix for survey questions). One question in our survey was designed to test attendance skills within the mirror model. It was a true/false question designed to assess how consultants accurately reflect a student’s concerns while setting the agenda. For example, if a student uses a term like “grammar,” should a consultant interpret what grammar means to them personally or should they utilize their attending skills to better reflect a student’s needs? Since this understanding was demonstrated by the majority of consultants during the initial survey, the question was excluded from the follow up. Before completing the second survey, writing consultants received a 45-minute training that explained empathy and provided an overview of Rogerian strategies as they might apply to writing center work. The 45-minute training included definitions of empathy from Rogers (1951) and differences between empathy and sympathy, connections to rapport building, discussions of how empathetic responding was not intended as counseling, a discussion of the value of empathy in writing consultations, discussion and activities to build active listening, attending skills, paraphrasing, summarizing, and reflecting emotions, videos that reinforced the concepts of empathy versus sympathy and active listening, and finally small group scenarios.

As part of our examination, we wanted to see if consultants were making assumptions about students or attempting to perceive students as they perceive themselves and their writing experiences (Arnold, 2014). To do this type of responding, consultants need to set evaluations aside to respond empathetically (Arnold, 2014). We wanted to see if the survey and observation data would have examples of consultants using empathetic responding. Since one marker is using sayback strategies of students’ emotional attitudes and then providing those students with opportunities for revision and clarification, we also looked for this in the survey responses and the observation notes (Arnold, 2014). We specifically wanted to see if consultants were just reflecting students’ perceptions and motivations or if the consultants were testing their understanding of students’ emotional states and perceptions to better align with the students (Arnold, 2014).

As part of this process, we reviewed observation notes looking for examples of notes about students’ emotional states, such as comfortability or anxiety. We used an open-coding method of reading and looking for examples and then compared our findings. The survey responses were put into an Excel spreadsheet, and then we read the responses using the open-coding method to identify patterns for responses, such as a consultant demonstrating empathy by explaining a similar situation they had experienced. Once categories were identified, we ran queries in the Excel file to identify all of the examples. This process was used for both of the surveys, which were similar with only slight variations [see appendix for copies of the surveys].

Results: Examining Survey and Observation Data from a Rogerian Lens

The results of the surveys and the observations are reflective of the scholarly conversations of empathy by Rogers (1951), Murphy (1989), Follett (2016), and Lucas (2011). The results also suggest that training for empathetic listening and responding can be effective.

In our initial survey, many of our consultants were able to explain definitions of empathy:

  • “Being understanding and lending an ear to whoever needs it. Not trivializing any concerns someone has”
  • “Listening and hearing, understanding and sympathizing with someone. Putting oneself in their shoes to understand their experience”
  • “I perceive empathy as a means in which you feel with someone as opposed to feeling for someone. It’s when you try and understand what they’re going through and imagine that you are going through the same, and then feel the emotions that they are feeling”

On the survey, of our writing consultants who responded (90% of our peer writing consultants) were able to provide a definition of empathy that suggested understanding and possibly feeling emotionally what another person is feeling. Several responses noted a distinction between sympathy and empathy.

Our survey also asked what empathy looks like in a writing consultation. These responses prompted a little more variation and deviated from Rogers’ (1951) definition of empathetic responding—trying to first understand the other person by using active and reflective listening—“I usually share personal experiences that make them feel as if they are not alone in nerves and also knock me off ‘holier than thou’ expert pedestal.” This connecting through shared personal experience illustrates the advice of Harris (2000) in which she encourages consultants to share relevant personal experiences with students, but contradicts the advice of Rogers (1951) that to be truly empathetic the focus must remain on the student (i.e. the consultant sharing their personal experiences may detract from the focus on the student). One of the respondents wrote, “I think it’s important to validate a student’s emotions. You have to be vocal and let them know that they’re not wrong for feeling the way they do.” While this second response illustrates acknowledging the student’s emotions, it includes a judgment about those emotions, which would be in contrast to Rogers (1951). Understanding the variations of how empathy is understood and applied in our writing center allowed us to target our training, specifically introducing Rogers’ (1951) concept of empathic listening.

In observations of writing consultations in which empathy was noted, one observer stated, “She [the writing consultant] was empathetic; because he [the student] was writing about a traumatic event in his life; she made sure that he wasn’t uncomfortable.” Another observer wrote, “The student seemed at ease and conversation flowed naturally without any awkward pauses.” Other comments relevant to our examination of empathetic understanding included the following:

  • “Since the session was focused on brainstorming, developing rapport proved effective in helping the student feel comfortable articulating ideas”
  • “He [the consultant] was quite forthcoming with praise and encouragement. This helped the student feel confident in asking questions and guiding the agenda”
  • “She [the consultant] was a good listener”

All of these responses on the observation forms suggest that even new consultants were observant of emotional impact in consultations, relating these to several key empathetic responding strategies, such as listening and validating emotions.

While there were several noted positive moments of empathetic responding, the observation responses also noted missed opportunities: “Rapport building could’ve made her feel more comfortable. She seemed very tense and nervous since it was her first visit to the WC;” and “. . . missed opportunities to build rapport; namely to ask him about himself, to delve deeper into his time as a student or the details he rattled off about his family.” Both of these observation notes highlight the writing consultants focusing more on the writing and not on the students as individuals first. The notes from these observations suggest that students’ emotions were not encouraged or acknowledged, which both observers noted as impeding the effectiveness of the sessions.

We also asked our consultants what it feels like when rapport, defined by writing consultants as “setting a student at ease,” is effectively established. Consultants explained that effective rapport is “[l]ike you’re trying to take up an interest in a new person and learn about them;” “It makes the student feel more comfortable and like they can trust me;” “It feels like both the consultant and the student are more comfortable.” Such responses suggest that many of our consultants already connect rapport with a student’s emotional state at the beginning of the consultation. Using this knowledge to connect rapport and empathy in training may help writing consultants make shifts in their practices.

In the second survey distributed two months after the first survey, consultants used the language that was presented in the 45-minute training, incorporating “active listening,” “attending skills,” “body positioning,” “validating,” and “reflecting” into their responses. Three shifts were noted between the first and second surveys. Most notably, writing consultants’ definitions of empathy dropped all references to sympathy and many added explanations of validating and reflecting students’ emotions. New definitions of empathy from our writing consultants included:

  • “Empathy refers to legitimate reciprocity of feelings between individuals”
  • “Understanding what a person is going through and accurately reflecting it”
  • “Showing genuine concern towards another and making an effort to validate their feelings”

Second, examples of demonstrating empathy shifted. In the first survey, the majority of consultant responses included the sharing of personal experiences to establish common experiences, while consultant responses in the second survey addressed validating students’ concerns, using active listening and employing summarizing/paraphrasing techniques. Specifically, the consultants stated, “By actively listening to the student and clarifying what they’re telling me by repeating it back to them [I can demonstrate empathy;]” and “[You need to] hear what the student is saying and actively respond to what they are saying.” These shifts illustrate how consultants’ views of empathy shifted from sharing of experiences and emotional responses to focused listening with the intent of learning more about the student (not necessarily more about where experiences overlapped).

The third shift was slight and occurred in how consultants addressed student anxiety. Consultants went from a strong paper or content focus to a stronger focus on the student, reassuring the student’s feelings and validating their experiences. Such a shift was brought to our attention with responses like: “Ask them to talk to me about what’s worrying them, be supportive, express confidence in them, point out what they do well;” and “I let them vent any frustrations and provide positive reinforcements. I avoid any instance of self-reference or generalization.” These adjustments to their understanding of empathy and how empathic listening can be employed in writing consultations suggests that the training had an impact on the behaviors of the writing consultants.

Discussion: What Does Empathy Training Mean?

Micciche (2005) claims that examining similarities and differences among people when power is not distributed equally among them requires finding a balance between keeping boundaries between self and others, and blurring those boundaries enough to achieve empathy. By allowing our consultants the ability to observe and scrutinize consultations, seeing the emotions that students bring with them to the writing center, we helped them to see the power of empathy and by default, the reality that the emotions students bring with them to appointments are not at all different from the ones the consultants themselves have on a daily basis. This ability to empathize naturally offers writing consultants an accessible route to responding to the emotive states of students without judgment; additionally, it may potentially allow, and even encourage, the students using writing centers to be emotional beings as academic writers, unifying the cognitive and motive aspects of the person.

Prior to training, our consultants often defaulted to sharing personal experiences as a way to demonstrate empathy and establish a sense of shared experience in consultations, which deviates from Rogers’ (1951) theories of empathic responding. Rogers (1951) would claim that the writing consultants are removing a student’s sense of agency, pointing out that this kind of sharing is not an effective way to validate the student’s emotional experiences—thus, not a good way to demonstrate empathetic responding. Such responses suggest that in an effort to validate the emotions of others, our consultants unwittingly bring themselves into the conversation in order to support the student. The frequency of sharing personal experiences suggests that training is important in order to move consultants from sympathetic to empathic responding. Shifts in language and examples between the first and second surveys demonstrate that even minimal training can have an impact on how consultants acknowledge students’ emotional states.

The observation notes about missed opportunities illustrate the problems created when emotions are not acknowledged or intentionally included as part of a writing consultation. These missed opportunities highlight the value of pursuing this type of training in order to development our consultants’ range of strategies that they can employ in consultations. As Driscoll and Powell (2016) noted in their study results, writing consultants may be able to help students harness emotions to be generative and help them practice ways to deal with naturally occurring negative emotions.

Ultimately, we determined that Rogerian therapy principles are closely aligned with our rapport building and non-directive question asking strategies. More specifically, training our writing consultants to better understand empathetic responding strengthened our consultants’ understanding of how to reduce anxiety for students and how to set up a writing consultation that recognizes the unique cognitive and emotive needs of each student. This approach supports non-directive approaches and student agency. Certainly, there are limitations to our study, such as the time frame. We will return to empathic listening in future semesters to determine if the shifts we were able to create have had a lasting impact. Additionally, adding interviews of writing consultants would add more depth to our understanding of how consultants respond to emotions and how they employ the Rogerian strategies. Student perspectives could also expand the scope of this study.


Our recommendations for other writing centers are to implement more intentional strategies, such as Rogerian empathetic listening and responding, and to train writing consultants to be better responders to students’ emotional states. Specifically, we recommend including differences between empathy and sympathy and developing paraphrasing skills to acknowledge students’ emotional states. Helping our consultants realize that shared experiences are helpful but that the focus needs to remain on the student helped improve our staff’s ability to maintain a non-directive, student-centered approach. Incorporating these discussions and strategies as an integral part of training can lead to writing centers being places where students can receive writing support and learn emotional management (Driscoll & Powell, 2016).

While our staff looked at Rogerian methods of using empathy as a way to reduce anxiety, moving forward we will be looking at ways to nurture all emotions in our consultations to allow for the whole student to be a participant in the consultations, implementing what Trachsel (1995) has called an ethic of care in which people are able to merge professional identities with their emotional/caring selves to better work toward whole versions of self. Additionally, we will continue to assess how the new training we have implemented impacts our ability to acknowledge affective dimensions of tutoring and what that can mean for students using our writing support.


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1st Survey

Short Answer

  1. What does empathy mean to you?
  2. How do you demonstrate empathy during a consultation?
  3. What are common fears and/or anxieties you see during consultations?
  4. How do you go address these fears and/or anxieties?
  5. What have been some of the most effective skills (either taught or picked up on your own) you have gained in working with student writers?
  6. What does it feel like to establish rapport?
  7. What are consultations like when initial rapport/trust is only partially established?

Multiple-Choice & True/False
8. If I am genuine, positive, and empathetic in my responses in consultations, then the students I work with are more likely to. . .

[please select all that apply]
_____develop more realistic goals in their writing
_____be more responsive and engaged in sessions
_____be more open to challenging themselves and trying new things
_____take ownership in their abilities as a writer
_____trust more in their abilities as a writer

  1. When a student says that they want to work on grammar, I write grammar and then help them with my interpretation of what I think they mean.



10. Agenda setting is a chance for me to. . .

[please select all that apply]
_____empathetically listen to their concerns
_____accurately reflect what their concerns are
_____confirm that what the student wants matches what I have put on the agenda
If I create a welcoming, non-judgmental environment, then student’s initial anxiety about writing generally may decrease.



  1. A senior psychology major is working on a major research project. She is struggling to meet her deadline and is unsure about APA format, in addition to major content issues in her paper.

Choose the best two questions a consultant might ask themselves.

_____How can I help this student grow and develop their voice as a writer?

_____What caused this person to procrastinate their paper?
_____Why does this senior not know how to use APA format?
_____How can I help this student grow and develop their ideas within the limited time frame of our session?

  1. Our sessions are. . .

[Choose 1]

2nd Survey

Short Answer

  • What does empathy mean?
  • How do you demonstrate empathy during a writing center consultation?
  • What are effective ways to address students’ fears and/or anxieties?

Multiple-Choice & True/False
If I am genuine, positive, and empathetic in my responses in consultations, then the students I work with are more likely to. . .

[please select all that apply]
_____develop more realistic goals in their writing
_____be more responsive and engaged in sessions
_____be more open to challenging themselves and trying new things
_____take ownership in their abilities as a writer
_____trust more in their abilities as a writer
If I create a welcoming, non-judgmental environment, then student’s initial anxiety about writing generally may decrease.



A senior psychology major is working on a major research project. She is struggling to meet her deadline and is unsure about APA format, in addition to major content issues in her paper.

Choose the best two questions a consultant might ask themselves.

_____How can I help this student grow and develop their voice as a writer?

_____What caused this person to procrastinate their paper?
_____Why does this senior not know how to use APA format?
_____How can I help this student grow and develop their ideas within the limited time frame of

our session?

  1. How does reducing student anxiety help you as a writing consultant?
  2. Explain if and how Rogerian strategies can effectively be applied to consultations in our Writing Center to help reduce student anxiety.