• Alexandra Skinner Walsh, LMHC

Politics & The Therapy Room

At a young age we are taught that politics, religion and sex are never to be discussed at the dinner table. They are taboo. Discussing these topics causes conflicts, arguments and problems. We grow older still holding true to this until one day we ask ourselves, "but why? Why not get upset? Why not disagree? Why not ask?"

Todays political climate is tense to say the least. We are living in a world where the rights of disadvantaged groups are constantly under attack and a new day rings in a new crisis. From those actively working to remove transpeople from the military, to police brutality on the black community, to the threat of overturning Roe vs. Wade, just to name a few. Everyday is a new challenge. A challenge that affects much of the population, despite their disadvantaged status. Do these conversations of politics and the effect on the everyday person belong in the therapy room? I vote, yes, but with conditions.

Before we can even bring politics into the therapy room we must understand our role as a therapist. As a therapist, our job is to check our own views, morals and values at the door in order to provide the best care for our clients. Of course, this is not always possible as we are humans as well. However, we need to be aware of how our own belief systems play a role in the type of care we provide. First and foremost, our job is to help our clients process traumas that are a barrier to growth and establish new skill sets to promote success. A therapist's job is never to impose their own values, beliefs and ways of being on a client. Whether we are devote Christians opposed to same sex marriage or come from a long line of family members who are part of law enforcement, our job is to understand that our world views, beliefs and values are not the end-all-be-all. It is unethical to impose our own beliefs upon the client. To turn a client away from services due to conflicting belief systems is discrimination.

Politics in the therapy room is a touchy topic even among the mental health community and one that has to be navigated with great care. There is yet to be an agreed upon consensus in the mental health community, as to whether politics should be discussed with clients and, if so, how. My argument is that the discussion of politics is part of helping our clients heal, process and grow. Political stress affects us all and, in today's world, it affects many daily. Additionally, the implications and potential affects of politics can have a detrimental and long standing affect. In my clients, I have seen mental health being affected by higher levels of stress, anxiety, fear and discrimination since just November 2016. Thus, how as a therapist working to promote wholeness, healing and success, can we neglect such a large part of the client's world? I don't think we can afford to.

If we are to have a political discussion in the therapy room it needs to be done in a safe setting with a therapist who is able to set aside their own political beliefs in order to help the client. If this is not something a therapist can do, then I don't think the setting is right for this conversation. The focus of discussing politics in the therapy room should be to understand the impacts of politics on the client's mental health (e.g., increased anxiety) and ways the client can find healing (e.g., self-care, coping) and empowerment (e.g., activism, volunteer work) in the charged political world. I will stress that the focus should never be on converting the client to a different political belief system that aligns with the therapist's.

By avoiding the topic in the therapy room we are neglecting a large part of the client's world, especially in todays day and age. Thus, finding the right approach to the discussion of politics is essential. Please comment below on how you have discussed politics with others and what you found to be most beneficial. Hopefully together we can open the door for political conversations in places both in and out of the therapy room. Perhaps, one day, even at the dinner table.

Warning: All conversations need to be in a kind, respectful and open-minded way. If any comments are offensive, inappropriate or derogatory they will be deleted. No name calling will be permitted. Thus, I will stress the importance of communicating with respect and kindness when commenting below. I firmly believe that everyone will be able to do this. Now, onward we go, my M.A.D. friends!

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