VIDEO: Addressing Political Stress in the Consulting Room

Reevaluating What's Appropriate to Discuss in Therapy

William Doherty

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 the video clip below, Doherty explains how therapists can raise the topic of politics without compromising their ethical integrity.

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, 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."


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: 2017 | activism | bill doherty | Cultural, Social & Racial Issues | culture | doherty | ethical boundaries | ethical issue | Ethics | ethics in therapy | Networker Symposium | politics | rapport | Symposium | therapeutic ethics | therapy ethics | volunteer | volunteering | William Doherty

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Thursday, August 17, 2017 10:44:48 AM | posted by Concerned Practitioner
Daisy, You had me until your last few remarks in your third post that show you have some work to do to balance out your perspectives on the 2nd Amendment and White Supremacists. Since I am a supporter of the 2nd Amendment to protect against a possible tyrannical government or a criminal trying to break into my home I find it disconcerting that you equate NRA members as white supremacists. I suspect you lean toward the liberal side of the aisle. I find myself on the right side of the aisle. I suspect that we cannot completely differentiate from either of these two sides but we can get more defined and objective over time. I would look at the works of Jonathan Haidt (many videos on YT) as his work has helped me understand the different value types involved in politcal affiliation that I tend to tempermentally related and has been discussed in detail by the work of Dr. Jordan Peterson and his work on political affiliation and The Big Five model.

Thursday, June 29, 2017 4:15:39 PM | posted by daisy swadesh
Recently we've been witnessing groups of people involved in irrational thinking--violating healthy social norms--in a widespread crisis of public mental health. (For example we're seeing groups of people accusing their opponents of atrocious behavior and ignoring that they themselves are doing the same thing--and of hating them to the point that it's tearing apart the foundations of our nation and our society). Mental Health professionals have a crucially important role to play in countering this crisis (such as Dr. Allen Francis' point of focusing on mental health instead of mental illness). It would be impossible to fully trace in this brief comment the historical breakdown of our social relationships and our sense of fair play in those human relationships, but let me mention a few things here. One of the foundational ethical principles of humanity, one that dates back 3000 years or more is that of the reciprocity of human relations--the ethical principle, found in virtually all ancient religions, is some version of the Golden Rule of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (See Hans Kung and a Declaration for a Global Ethic). Or the modern version of it which is, 'what comes around, goes around.' Or we could blame the central executive perpetrator of the most recent divisions, but the fact is these divisions have been developing over decades. For example, look back to how first TV, then the internet and now cell phones have altered and undermined face-to-face human relationships. This is a neglect of our essential social infrastructure that could be compared to the similar neglect of the infrastructure of our phone systems and the electric grid, which have become essential to human communications. Or consider how, after the Black Civil Rights Movement took our country an important step forward in social justice, extremists took over the NRA and made the 2nd Amendment the cornerstone of their understanding of the Constitution. Were these white supremacists claiming the right to overthrow our nation because they rejected those changes? And why did a white supremacist became a major advisor to the sitting president? However, the most important thing to remember is that fighting back by using emotional and physical violence will only make the violence worse. What is more effective is to insist on, and act on, in positive and constructive ways to rebuild those social norms of justice and fair play.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 4:53:24 PM | posted by daisy swadesh
Cont. Bill Doherty has spoken accurately of the problem, referring to public mental health. We need to consider how to maintain public mental health to not let it devolve into public mental illness.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 4:49:38 PM | posted by daisy swadesh
How today's politics are affecting individuals is an issue that needs to be addressed. But also needed is an explanation of how the dynamics of today's politics are affecting politicians themselves. Gregory Bateson and his colleagues explained how double binds were used to control through contradictory demands and confusion without the use of obvious coercion. Paul Gibney used the pop term in his 2006 article--Double Bind: Still Crazymaking After All These Years. We're acquainted with the concepts of herd behavior and mob dynamics. And we've been seeing large groups of people take on distorted thinking because long-developing crises have been ignored (such as the loss of decent-paying jobs in manufacturing and people's loss of their homes in consequence). When a dominant person imposes his/her beliefs, no matter how unreal, some people under them will go along outwardly to keep the peace. But others will take on these beliefs as if they were their own in what's called a Folie a Deux. We are seeing a whole cabinet submitting to a Folie a Plusieurs. Witnessing the abandonment of reality to distorted/delusional thinking is distressing, especially for people who whose lives are affected by these beliefs in some way--either by not being able to question or reject them effectively or having to accept how they affect them in reality. And this dynamic is not so unusual. It's found frequently in families of alcoholics when a family member complains about the negative effects of the drinking and the alcoholic insists with absolute conviction that they 'don't have a drinking problem.' To see this happening on a national level is far more overwhelming--truly crazymaking.