The field of psychotherapy has long been synonymous with objectivity and neutrality. Since the days of Freud, many clinicians have been taught to be the “blank screen” in the room, merely reflecting back a client’s thoughts and feelings and avoid offering their own opinions in conversation. But with politics being such a polarizing, anxiety-provoking topic for so many clients, do therapists need to reevaluate their approach?

According to Bill Doherty, the founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy, clinicians are not only well-equipped to discuss politics with their clients, but in many ways, have an obligation to do so. In this video clip, Doherty explains how therapists can raise the topic of politics without compromising their ethical integrity.

As Doherty notes, leaving an open letter in your waiting room is merely “an invitation for conversation,” one that gives clients the option of raising the issue of politics should they deem it pertinent to their emotional well-being or anything they’re dealing with in therapy. But more than this, Doherty continues, should clients take you up on the offer to discuss politics, it can open the door for them to be more active in their communities and ultimately make the world a better place.

“The link between psychotherapy and the public domain,” Doherty writes in his recent Networker article, “is through seeing therapy as a form of democratic practice that starts in the consulting room. Our clinical work prepares people to be active shapers of their personal lives and also, if they choose, to join with others—in the Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam—to repair the world.”

William Doherty

William Doherty, PhD, is professor of family social science and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, The Ethical Lives of Clients: Transcending Self-Interest in Psychotherapy