VIDEO: Bill Doherty on Becoming a “Citizen Therapist”

How to Have a Conversation About Politics in Therapy

Given the ever-present turmoil in today’s politics, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing more and more clients grappling with anxiety, uncertainty, and exhaustion more than ever before. Whether their clients are Democrats or Republicans, many therapists report that a new political climate has meant new goals for therapy, whether mending a strained relationship or reevaluating a client’s civic duty. But should therapists even discuss politics, or does this constitute an ethical breach?

According to Bill Doherty, the founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy, clinicians are not only well-equipped to talk about the effects of politics on their clients’ mental health—should they indicate it has relevance to their work in therapy, he specifies—but they have a moral obligation to offer their help as safekeepers of democracy.

In this video clip, Doherty explains what it means to be “citizen therapist.”

As Doherty notes, therapists need to understand that their political and personal worlds are inextricably linked, and that they’re no strangers to repairing relationship fissures that can arise between people with very different views and backgrounds—political or otherwise.

“At this time of fragmentation and division,” he says, “we need to recognize that we’re in the glue business. We know something about helping people connect, about how to form a healthy ‘we’ out of self and other. We also know something about how to depolarize conflict. But first our society needs us to recover our conviction and passionate intensity as a profession, our belief that we have something to offer beyond symptom reduction.”

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