Next in our series of collective conversations, we’re following our previous pre-Election Night conversation on the 2016 presidential election with a discussion of the election outcome and how it has affected both our patients and NYC therapy practice:
Matt: Many of our patients are devastated by the election outcome. I’m being reminded everyday that the shape of that devastation is different for nearly everyone.
By and large, I’ve been encouraging people, as a first step, to simply allow themselves to be devastated–to feel that and sit with it. I don’t feel there’s necessarily much to do just yet. It feels like a clear moment for us to take care of ourselves and one another, to grieve and get stronger.
What are your thoughts on how we can both grieve and get stronger in this moment? What have you been talking about in this regard in your practices?
Rachael: Matt, yes, this echoes in my practice next door. It’s important to be kind to yourself right now. Talking with a patient, I encouraged them to locate what the election results brought up from their own and their culture’s history. Locating where the fear, upset and devastation came from was immediately calming. They found the strength in being heard and supported to keep going and fight. They also let themselves grieve. Do not just spin–spinning will be what stops the grieving.
Heather: Rachael and Matt, you both use the word “grief” or “grieving,” which really resonates. For many, the election is a BIG loss so I have been encouraging folks to take it one day at a time and focus on what they need in that moment. It has also been helpful to acknowledge and name the BIG-ness. Dealing with the grief and any new devastating things that unfold is likely going to be a long and ongoing process.
So many folks have expressed a feeling of powerlessness, as well, and a desire to hit the streets and help in some way. So for some, coming up with some concrete ways to do that has felt therapeutic. But again, sometimes acknowledging and sitting with the powerlessness is necessary–to make space for such an uncomfortable feeling and not run away from it.
Rachael: Yes, Heather, sticking to the powerlessness, there is real sense of not looking past what the election is bringing up politically and emotionally in NYC and in America in general. It’s important to help people not just absorb it all or stay alone and isolated on social media. Instead, delving into it in therapy can offer ways to care for the emotional impact this has on them. It seems to create some power, even if there’s not an action plan yet.
In all the talks I’m having with patients around the election, they come in wanting an action plan. But, right now, it is important to look into the hurt rather than run past it.
Heather: Rachael, I agree it has been very challenging for folks that want an “action plan” and have said something along the lines of, “Gosh, I just wish there was something I could do.” It is such an expression of the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness many have.
As we move towards the holiday season, many need some concrete plans regarding celebrating with family who share different political views. I think the holidays can be triggering and stressful for many already, so the political climate really has exacerbated that stress.
Kiran: The words that you are using–”grieving” and “powerlessness”–are words that have come up in my practice. Some are also feeling angry, which is an emotion that folks feel like they cannot express. People are upset and angry with others who made alternate decisions in the voting booth. I have been encouraging people to express their anger or hurt in the room as well.
Heather, I have also been thinking about the ways in which people are preparing for the holidays and sitting alongside people who do not share their political views. There has been a lot of negotiating and preparation going on in my therapy room around the holidays.
Matt: I’ve been thinking a lot about grief–specifically how it is less a process that can be pushed along than one that works itself through, provided the conditions are right. There is an enormous pressure to avoid feeling grief. It is unavoidably uncomfortable. We have to just be sad. The desire to make sense of what happened or to immediately make a plan to move forward is a desire to move away from pain.
Rachael: Matt, I so agree. To experience the pain in your community, in therapy or with loved ones helps us. I think and have been conscious to not lose that in my therapy sessions. And I think to Heather’s point about going to see family/or people during holidays, who may or may not share our pain on the election, means we have to bring “our” people and their support with us (even symbolically). That way, if we feel pain, we can be with it, explore it and not lose it or ourselves in the process.
Karen: I have found that, in some cases, the election has served to push people to really look at and describe their white privilege and everything that comes with it. It has been an important moment for self-reflection for certain folks to take a look at how privilege in our society operates and has benefitted them. Even looking at ways they have taken advantage of this privilege and are not proud of that.
Kiran: Going back to what Matt and Rachael shared, there has been profound sense of sadness in the therapy room. Experiencing grief “together” has been a connection that some couples have described in therapy. In my work, this grief seems to be related to what you are discussing, Karen. The election has people thinking about different levels of privilege and access. It’s as if these recent events have opened up a different layer to sharing and healing.