VIDEO: Bill Doherty on Becoming a "Citizen Therapist"

How to Have a Conversation About Politics in Therapy

William Doherty

Given the ever-present turmoil in today's politics, it's no surprise that we're seeing more and more clients grappling with anxiety, uncertainty, and exhaustion more than ever before. Whether their clients are Democrats or Republicans, many therapists report that a new political climate has meant new goals for therapy, whether mending a strained relationship or reevaluating a client's civic duty. But should therapists even discuss politics, or does this constitute an ethical breach?

According to Bill Doherty, the founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy, clinicians are not only well-equipped to talk about the effects of politics on their clients' mental health—should they indicate it has relevance to their work in therapy, he specifies—but they have a moral obligation to offer their help as safekeepers of democracy.

In the video clip below, Doherty explains what it means to be "citizen therapist."

William Doherty, PhD, is a professor and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota. His books include Take Back Your Marriage, Take Back Your Kids and Medical Family Therapy with Susan McDaniel and Jeri Hepworth.

As Doherty notes, therapists need to understand that their political and personal worlds are inextricably linked, and that they're no strangers to repairing relationship fissures that can arise between people with very different views and backgrounds—political or otherwise.

"At this time of fragmentation and division," he says, "we need to recognize that we’re in the glue business. We know something about helping people connect, about how to form a healthy 'we' out of self and other. We also know something about how to depolarize conflict. But first our society needs us to recover our conviction and passionate intensity as a profession, our belief that we have something to offer beyond symptom reduction."


Stay tuned for more of Doherty's clinical wisdom in our upcoming video blogs!

Did you enjoy this video? You might also want to check out Doherty's article, "Psychotherapy's Pilgrimage," from our January issue, in which he recounts the highs and lows of psychotherapy's mission over the past 40 years, and makes the case for therapy as a form of democratic practice.

Topic: Cultural, Social & Racial Issues

Tags: bill doherty | doherty | William Doherty

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Saturday, May 6, 2017 3:57:09 PM | posted by daisy swadesh
Thank you, Bill Doherty--That's a very condensed and complex statement that could be developed into a series of concepts. I won't try to do that here. I'd just like to say how much I agree that our nation has become increasingly divided--over the last 50 years-- and that Trump merely embodies it, takes advantage of it. Trump embodies a specific type of domestic violence of primarily psychological abuse and is practicing it on a national level. Violating essential, healthy social norms but condemning others who don't strictly follow the rules; lying to confuse, threatening, changing direction constantly--a series of contradictory actions that leave people in a state of shock and disbelief. For example, finally saying appropriate words concerning the Holocaust--while at the same time playing chicken with South Korea and nuclear war. And there are virtually no checks or balances if the president decides to use nuclear weapons. That is not just "a danger to self or others" but a danger to the whole world, and his example encourages others who yearn for power as he does. Someone recently read to me the XXVth Amendment to our Constitution. It's a start, but we really do need citizen therapists now.

Monday, May 1, 2017 9:01:59 AM | posted by Brewster Fay
It is empowering to convert our gripes and discontents into smart goals that we strive to accomplish by targeted advocacy. We are exercising our power as the people to take next steps in the journey of forming a more perfect union. With the combined forces of consumers with severe and persistent mental illness, their family members and well informed professionals, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill continues to make important strides in making life better for those with persistent mental illness and their families.