Jan 16

“Citizen Therapists for Democracy” Forming

Several months ago I posted about Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, an organization founded by psychologist Bill Doherty during the presidential campaign. Now Doherty has announced the formation of its replacement, Citizen Therapists for Democracy, an international dues-paying association dedicated to newly evolving goals.

As Doherty stated in his launch-related email, goals of Citizen Therapists for Democracy include the following:

  • Learning and spreading transformative ways to practice therapy with a public dimension
  • Rebuilding democratic capacity in communities
  • Resisting anti-democratic ideologies and practice

Some excerpted points from the Citizen Therapists FAQ section:

If it’s partisan politics (vote for my candidate or party), then it doesn’t have a place in therapy. But if politics broadly means how people with different views figure out how to live together and govern themselves—and then the policies that emerge from this process—then it’s game for conversation in therapy.

To be quite concrete, if you treat anxious or depressed Latino or Muslim clients who are frightened about Trumpism (and anti-Semitism is on the rise), is your job only to treat their symptoms or to also oppose the public xenophobia? We believe the nature of our work inherently combines public and private.

Keep in mind that Citizen Therapists for Democracy is not an “anti” movement. We are promoting democracy and public mental health, and in those contexts will oppose threats from any quarter. Further, there is collective power when members of a healing profession engage the public domain in their role as professionals.

On the matter of the blank slate, it’s really a myth in therapy. If a client learns that his/her therapist is in an organization that opposes aspects of Trumpism, well, that’s probably not going to be such a big surprise based on lots of assumptions the client has already made (you drive a Prius and have the New Yorker magazine in the waiting room). In the same way, if a client worries out loud about family members being rounded up and deported, and the therapist agrees that this is a scary public policy, is this not a validation rather than a misuse of therapist power?

The social forces that allowed Donald Trump the man to become President, and that are rising around the world, are so much bigger than his personality that focusing on a diagnosis risks marginalizing the contributions of therapists. Once mental health professionals took a diagnostic position during the campaign, that’s all the media wanted to know from them—before the media moved on to more interesting topics.

“You’re probably NOT a good fit if any of the following is a big ‘yes’ for you” (from the website):

  • Your main focus for action now is making sure Trump is a one-term President with a Democratic Congress after two years.
  • You think that therapists must continue to beat the drum that Trump has a personality disorder that makes him unfit to be President.
  • Your main approach to Trump supporters in the White working class is help them see how they’ve been duped.
  • You believe that Progressive politics has most of the answers to our nation’s problems, with Conservatives having little or nothing to offer.
  • It would feel weird to have Conservative therapists share a social change organization with you.
Sep 05

Manifesto Against Trumpism For Therapists

A manifesto against Trumpism is now available for therapists. Many of us already are seeing its adverse mental health effects, broadly known as Trump Anxiety and political anxiety.

When I recently heard about  Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism I easily opted to sign it. Others, though, may have some doubts, so the creator of the manifesto, family therapist and psychology professor (University of Minnesota) Bill Doherty, has posted a FAQ For Therapists on the related website. A sampling of quotes:

We have to be concerned with public mental health and the social conditions that promote human flourishing or dysfunction, which means public involvement–a citizen politics…

There is collective power when members of a healing profession speak out together in their role as professionals. Society entrusts us with special responsibility in the arena of mental health and relationships. When we see public threats, we have a responsibility to speak up collectively and take action–and not be constrained by the inevitable opposition.

…(W)hy not also write about the risks of a Hillary Clinton presidency? For the same reason I did not feel compelled to write a manifesto about what Mitt Romney and John McCain stood for, even though I supported Obama. They represented political philosophies that have a legitimate place in the spectrum of public thought in a democracy. George Wallace did not. Donald Trump does not.

In an interview with public radio‘s Bob Garfield, Doherty explained how this manifesto against Trumpism came about in the first place: “…I visited a concentration camp. I toured Freud’s house and saw videos of him fleeing Nazi Europe. And I began to look into this and realized that mental health professionals stayed silent during a very dramatic time in the history of the Western world. I saw the rise of Donald Trump and what he represents as on that continuum, a movement that undermines the public good, public mental health and our democracy. So I felt that this time, this time, mental health professionals should not just stay in our offices and act as if the world is not threatening our clients.”

Trumpism is defined in the manifesto, by the way, as “a set of ideas about public life and a set of public practices characterized by such actions as ‘scapegoating and banishing groups of people who are seen as threats…’;’ degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics’; ‘fostering a cult of the Strong Man’; an ongoing lack of truth; subordination of women; nationalistic tendencies; and the inciting of violence.

The various effects of Trumpism, the manifesto states, include but are not limited to fear and alienation, “exaggerated masculinity as a cultural ideal,” “coarsening of public life by personal attacks on those who disagree,” and “erosion of the American democratic tradition.”

It’s important to note that therapists supporting the manifesto are not stating that we are against those who choose Trump as their candidate: “We understand the draw of Trumpism and we acknowledge that some of our fellow citizens, and some of our clients, may vote for Donald Trump not because they embrace all aspects of Trumpism but because they are frustrated with their circumstances and fed up with the current political system. We are against Trumpism and its architects, not against those who are inclined to give it a chance to change the direction of the country.”

On the website are also specific suggestions regarding other possible constructive actions.