When politics enters the therapy room

How do therapists understand and experience politics in their work with clients?

This was the central question of a study led by psychologist Laura Anne Winter of the University of Manchester in the UK. Remarkably, despite the impact of politics on our personal lives and well-being, not to mention the world we currently find ourselves in, clinicians generally lack training in how to navigate their clients.

To further investigate how clinicians make sense of politics in the therapy room, Winter recruited participants who were interns and practitioners in psychotherapy, counseling, and psychology. In the final tally, 32 participants answered open-ended questions that probed their understanding of the policy, their feelings and thoughts in response to the policy, the impact of the policy on them and their clients, and to what extent they felt ready to navigate politics in their work. . From there, Winter analyzed the interviews for themes.

What did his team find? The data yielded five themes, identifying the ways in which politics permeates therapeutic work, both internally and externally. A selective overview of the results is provided below.

1. Swimming against the tide: Working against politics in therapy. The therapists in this study reported that politics had a negative influence on their clients and on their own well-being. Analyzes revealed that therapists saw that their clients’ problems often stemmed from politics. A therapist said: “Many of the problems of my non-private clients come from poverty, [and] are aggravated by austerity. It’s hard to foster self-esteem when their environment treats them like garbage.”

2. Therapeutic work as politics. The therapists in this study viewed their work as political, both in individual practice with clients and systemically. One therapist remarked: “Politics influences me a lot as a practitioner because I want to hear the voices that are not heard. For me, counseling can be about empowerment and giving a voice to the voiceless. »

3. We need to park our impressions of politics at the door. Clinicians in this study reported that the policy was implicitly evoked or was evoked by the client. The therapists also felt that if politics were to enter the room, it should be initiated by the client out of respect for their autonomy. As one participant said: “We need to put our own impressions on the door policy and focus on the customer experience. It is not on our agenda and therefore we need to be even more attentive to the needs and experiences of customers without displaying any of our concerns.

4. Professional ethics and politics: finding a balance. Therapists have sometimes experienced a tension between their professional ethics and their politics. A participant shared: “I find politics very difficult to manage in practice. I am often torn between respecting the individual rights and beliefs of the client with what I can perceive as the danger of certain types of politics to the well-being of people in our society.

5. A culture of silence: Lack of training and support. Participants also reported feeling unprepared and unsupported when politics entered the therapy room. Therapists also noted that politics does not enter into the discourse of the wider profession. A therapist said: “Psychology has traditionally ignored politics. There’s a culture of silence, a sense of apprehension about talking about these issues. In short: it’s a solitary process.”