We Often Take Therapists’ Politics For Granted
Many of us take therapists’ politics for granted. We think that either politics shouldn’t matter in the therapy room or we should just expect that our therapists will be with it. Often people seeking therapy think:
“In a place like New York, pretty much all therapists are liberal.”
“Therapists’ politics aren’t supposed to matter. They’re supposed to be objective. Politics don’t have anything to do with therapy.”
These assumptions are understandable–therapy and politics are not commonly discussed together. But, both in the therapy room and the world at large, we make choices all the time about how we express our politics. Every four years, we do this in the most public and consequential of ways. This election, with all of its drama (and trauma), brought many jaw-dropping reminders of the dangers of taking politics for granted.
Every Therapist Has Politics
By politics, I mean two things: First, every therapist has politics. This includes not only where they locate themselves on the electoral spectrum, but also how they understand issues of equity and fairness on a broad level. There is a relationship between these broad-stroke politics and the values they bring into the therapy room.
How a therapist’s politics affect the therapy they practice is similar to the 1960’s sentiment that “the personal is political.” As a therapist, you can’t engage in matters of helping people be better humans, navigate conflict, raise children, lead businesses, etc. without expressing a politic in the context of that work. In many ways, I see my task, as a therapist, is to be transparent about that.
Therapy Itself Has A Politic
In addition to a therapist’s individual politics, the practice of therapy itself has a politic. Speaking of human maladies in the diagnostic language of disorder and dysfunction versus a strengths-based, humanistic approach is a politic. Maintaining a “therapist-as-all-knowing” stance rather than being open to creating a collaborative experience with a patient is a politic. Supporting patients to discover who they want to be in the world and helping them get there as opposed to imposing an outside view of what’s best is a politic.
That being said, part of my politics as a therapist is a rejection of dogma–a valuing of an individual’s right to make decisions for themselves. My politics don’t need to be your politics. That’s not how this works–there’s a politic to being humble about your politics too. At its best, politics, like therapy, is a conversation. The best way both work is if everyone enters the conversation prepared to grow.