Politics and religion. These two things have the potential to derail any conversation. And therefore, you shy away from discussing these topics in most situations. But you should feel safe enough to discuss politics in therapy when that matters to you.
Therapy and the Blank Slate
Therapy had it’s beginnings in the work of Sigmund Freud. In Freud’s view of therapy, the therapist acts as a blank slate. The therapist shares nothing of themself, nothing of their emotions, and nothing of their beliefs. This view has carried forward to other modalities of therapy and ethical codes.
But therapy has evolved since then. In fact, research suggests that the relationship between you and your therapist is most important for helping you change. Some people prefer that their therapist is “real” to create that relationship.
Politics Impacts Lives
Politics encompases more than just who you vote for. While human rights shouldn’t be political, different parties carry different views on those rights. Politics impact your ability to live your life without facing discrimination. Human rights become a political issue when one party supports discrimination and another doesn’t.
Naturally, if you are part of a marginalized community, you want to believe your therapist supports your community. As an example, imagine being an LGBTQ+ client and finding out your therapist is conservative and donates to anti-LGBTQ causes. This would likely cause a rupture in the therapy relationship, leading to other unfortunate consequences.
When major political events happen, you want to feel comfortable talking about your emotions with your therapist. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, I was grateful I knew where my therapist stood on the issue of abortion. I needed validation that a therapist on the opposite side of the spectrum would never be able to replicate.
Silence Is Complicity
The blank slate approach might be helpful in some situations. However, when it comes to human rights, a therapist can’t stay silent. Silence means that on some level, the therapist is okay with whatever injustices are happening to these marginalized communities.
Furthermore, a therapist’s silence when treating a bigoted patient sends a message that this is acceptable behavior in society. Silence sends the message that it’s okay to say bigoted things and act in a discriminatory way.
Politics in Therapy
Imagine if you knew before working with a therapist that their political beliefs were drastically different from yours. At that point, you can make the choice if you want to work with someone who shares your political beliefs or if you’d benefit from a therapist with different political views. Therapy Den even offers a section for therapists to share their beliefs so that clients can choose.
Informed consent involves disclosing both risks and benefits of participating in therapy. One of the risks of therapy with a therapist with differing political views is that their views impact your care in some way. This could range from a rupture when you find out they feel differently from you to outright discrimination.
Most likely, you won’t set out wanting to discuss politics in therapy. But life happens. Sometimes, politics impacts life.
If your therapist is one that shares their political views with you, it’s important that they maintain a balance between sharing and respecting your autonomy. For example, a therapist should never tell you who to vote for or not to vote for. They should never tell you what to believe on any particular issue or what is right for you.
Instead, if you choose to discuss your vote in therapy, they should support you in making your own decisions based on your worldview. They should help you evaluate the pros and cons of any decision without regard to their personal choice. Likewise, they should help you process political events which impact your life.
However, if you’re seeing a therapist with different beliefs than you, you should expect that therapist to point out areas where those differences don’t seem to be serving you. For example if you believe that the 2020 election was stolen and you’re talking about “taking back the country” you should expect that your therapist will help you explore the veracity of your beliefs and the efficacy of any actions you’re planning to take.
Final Thoughts on Politics in Therapy
You deserve a therapist who will support you the way you need to be supported. I know that I could not authentically validate bigoted experiences or someone’s excitement about abortion being banned. And you deserve to know that I’m not the best therapist to serve you if you hold conservative beliefs. Politics in therapy isn’t taboo, and you have the right to choose the best therapist for you with the knowledge of your therapist’s beliefs and biases.