As you read this, the 2008 presidential election is behind us, and we therapists must decide what to do with our civic-minded impulses, which seem to peak and then subside every election cycle. Many of us have talked politics every day for a year. Some have hosted fundraisers; others have devoted long hours working on candidates' campaigns. (This being the therapy field, I leave it to you to guess which candidate received more empathy and support.)
In the recent past, once the votes had been counted, many of us retreated to our practices and hoped that our worst fears for the country wouldn't be realized. Like Chicago Cubs baseball fans, we consoled ourselves with a lame "Wait till next season!" But this time, something more seems to be stirring in the country and among discouraged therapists, and it isn't just anchored to the outcome of the election.
As I think back to the presidential contests of my adulthood, beginning in the late 1960s, it's clear that I've placed too much importance on who gets elected. With many of my therapist-friends, I've been on a bipolar ride between idealization and cynicism, sometimes reversing affectively within a given administration, and always hoping that the next election cycle will bring the great new leader. This election year at first seemed no different: the first choice was between a superhero and a superwonk (both good people; don't get me wrong), followed by a choice between the superhero and a war hero tethered to supermom. But as with any idealization, it's a setup: these leaders will always disappoint because we expect them to do work that only we can do for ourselves.