How does your work as a therapist contribute to the wider world?

It’s a question couples and family therapist Bill Doherty asks his colleagues often. As the founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy, Doherty believes that therapists aren’t just professionals providing a service behind closed doors, but members of a democracy with responsibilities to the larger community and public health.

In the following interview with Networker senior writer Lauren Dockett, Doherty shares what it means to be a “citizen therapist” and what you can do to take your therapeutic contributions one step further.

Becoming a citizen therapist isn’t out of reach for most therapists, Doherty notes. After all, much of our work surrounds helping our clients become agents of their own lives and, through this, advocates for their communities.

But should we speak up when political rhetoric appears to threaten community goodwill?

“Political stress can be dealt with in therapy much like other types of stress,” Doherty notes. Leave an invitation in your waiting room letting clients know they can talk about politics with you if they’d like to do so. As long as it’s therapeutically relevant, suggesting active coping behaviors like getting involved in community organizations, volunteering, and advocacy can breathe new life into your work that’s as fulfilling for you as it is for your clients.

William Doherty

William Doherty, PhD, is professor of family social science and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project at the University of Minnesota. He’s the author of the forthcoming book, The Ethical Lives of Clients: Transcending Self-Interest in Psychotherapy


Lauren Dockett

Lauren Dockett, MS, is Psychotherapy Networker’s senior writer. A longtime journalist, journalism lecturer, and book and magazine editor, she’s also a former caseworker taken with the complexity of mental health, who finds the ongoing evolution of the therapy field and its broadening reach an engrossing story.  Prior to the Networker, she contributed to many outlets, including The Washington Post, NPR, and Salon. Her books include Facing 30, Sex Talk, and The Deepest Blue.  Visit her website at