“My psychoanalyst said that he had never before had every one of his patients discuss national politics repeatedly, in session after session.” –Andrew Solomon, Preventable Tragedies
Over at Psych Today, I wrote a long, off-topic blog post on an amazing special issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology on what Trump is doing to therapy. I know the word “unprecedented” is bandied about a little too often these days, but really, what is happening may well be unprecedented.
One of my favorite parts of my original blog post was the ending, where I shared some of the therapeutic dialog that apparently was very effective in helping to mend a therapeutic alliance that had ruptured after Trump got elected. However, the Psych Today editors deleted that. They also deleted a note at the end pointing readers to articles that were on-topic, about singles, either relevant to therapy or more broadly. So here, I’m going to repost the first section of the original blog post, then refer you back to Psych Today to read the middle if you want to, then post my original ending (that Psych Today deleted) here.
I’ll be back to posting about singles topics soon.
The beginning of my blog post:
Susan Bodnar, a Jewish psychotherapist, prided herself on her ability to help anyone, regardless of race, class, culture, or religion. For example, she had bonded with a brilliant Black Obama-loving teenage girl and their work together was progressing nicely.
Then Trump got elected. The teen did not show up for three weeks. When she returned, she told Bodnar, “You’re nice and smart and you helped me a lot. But right now you are a white person. I can’t trust you, the world you came from, because that world is equal to the death of me.”
Before Trump, many psychotherapists would have kept the focus on the client. By training, their personal feelings and political beliefs would have no place in the therapy room. Bodnar did not see that as an option. November 8, 2016, she said, was “the day I became a White clinician.” To maintain her therapeutic alliance with her client, she had to distinguish herself from the president, and establish herself as a person rather than a White person. (To which one of her African American clients replied, “Welcome to my world.”)
In striking contrast to decades of precedent, therapists are now routinely making their political opinions known to their clients. In a recently-published survey of 604 psychotherapy clients from 50 states, only 32% said their therapist did not disclose their political beliefs. Thirty percent said their therapists divulged their views, and the other 38% said their therapists made their beliefs known implicitly.
Donald Trump is in the therapy room and he is blowing it up. Counselors, clinicians, and life coaches find that their clients are showing up with exacerbated experiences of “paranoia, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, somatic complaints, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and nightmares.” The therapists aren’t exempt, either; some say they just can’t stop thinking about Trump.
With increasing urgency, mental health professionals have been reaching out to each other to try to understand what is happening and how best to deal with it. Sessions of professional meetings have been devoted to the topic. And now, an entire issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology has taken on the matter. Columbia University Professor Barry A. Farber, who wrote the book on self-disclosure in psychotherapy, edited the collection of 10 articles, “‘Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right’: Politics and psychotherapy, 2018.” One of the articles describes the findings from the survey of therapy clients, eight more describe case studies, and the other is Farber’s introduction.
Political anxieties are not new to the therapeutic exchange, but Trump anxiety is uniquely unnerving
[to continue reading the middle section of my original blog post, click here]
How psychotherapy in the age of Trump is different for Clinton supporters and Trump supporters
The Trump-supporting client in a (mostly) progressive therapeutic world
Trump in therapy: exacerbating OCD, serving as a bad example, and inspiring activism
And now, here’s my original ending, including the conversation that got deleted by Psych Today:
How Susan Bodner reconnected with the teen who no longer trusted her after the election
For Bodner, the road back to a trusting relationship with her client who loved the Obamas was a long one. Eventually, she decided to open up to the teen. She shared that her father had struggled with alcoholism, and that the destructive effects had rippled through his life and the family’s. But he loved the natural world, and the family hikes he led through spectacular places are now among her most cherished memories. Trump’s eradication of environmental regulations, Bodner explained to her client, was personal.
Bodner conceded that to make such a disclosure, she had to defy “that voice in my ear telling me that I have done something terribly, terribly wrong.” Considering how the conversation unfolded, Bodner is not worried about that voice anymore:
Client: So you know what it’s like a little bit to miss your dad.
Bodner: For sure. Of course.
Client: And your dad messed up his life due to drinking?
Client: I thought that only happened to black men.
Bodner: Nope. I think it can happen to anyone.
Client: So, Trump is hurting everyone, not just black people.
Bodner: Actually, I think it’s worse for people of color – but if the president of the United States hurts any of us he hurts all of us.
Client: Didn’t Michelle Obama say that?
Bodner: I believe she did.
[Note: This post is, obviously, off-topic from my usual discussions of single life. To read Psychology Today posts about single people in therapy, click here. For posts about other topics relevant to living single, click here.]