Eye contact to see motives.

One day an adolescent client with a very wounded history told me how annoying it was when I would express empathy for her rough life.

(“That sounds really hard.”  “I’m sorry it was a difficult time.”  etc.)

“I hate that!” she confessed.

I thanked her for being honest.  Then I shared with her the story of a career professional in her 50s who came in for a similarly troubled early history, and also was uncomfortable hearing empathy from a counselor (or from anyone, including her family.)

My younger client asked, “Didn’t she hate your saying ‘I’m sorry’ all the time?”

I replied, “Yes, but she started to look at my eyes and see that I was not being sarcastic or making fun of her, as people used to in her childhood.  Then it felt safer.”

That story seemed to help, and the young client went on to do very good work.