Can politics and therapy mix?
The recent events with the Wet’suwet’en got me thinking about a conversation I’ve heard often about “not having a political opinion” as a therapist, and remaining neutral. But to be blunt, that’s just not how I operate. I’ve had all kinds of political conversations in the therapy room: my client’s fear of anti-immigrant rhetoric, the rising cost of living and poverty, concern about anti-black racism and police brutality, Islamophobic discourse in the media...and the list goes on. Although disclosing my opinions or political views is not at the forefront of my work as a therapist, especially if it is not relevant to my client, stripping myself of it entirely only adds to the oppression of many. You may be doing your client harm by being apolitical. When working with people of colour, refugees, or any minority, acknowledging the power imbalances, institutionalize racism, occupation, xenophobia (just to name a few) is something I strongly believe is a MUST. Keeping that outside of the therapy room (or any room for that matter) is what allows for these systemic issues to continue. In order to provide my clients with a safe, authentic space, I need to be willing to GO THERE if it’s what’s best for my client. Sometimes, they need to hear someone say “Yah, that was racist” or “what happened was not ok and you’re right, it isn’t fair”. If we are not willing to call a spade a spade for our clients, what’s the alternative? Self blame, isolation, reliving traumatic narratives? Politics has a direct impact on people’s lives. People live in a social context, and many therapeutic approaches acknowledge this. Some things I’ve found particularly powerful in the narrative therapy approach (one of my favorites) is re-membering conversations (who has a membership in your “club of life”, who matters most to you and has had an impact on you) and collective documentation (archiving collective wisdom of how to deal with a specific hardship). Essentially, it’s telling your client you’re not alone, and yes, the struggles and injustices you’ve experienced are real. Yet, they are also a testament to your values, skills and resilience, individually and as a collective group. Acknowledgment. Empowerment. Hope. If I can contribute to my client’s journey by making them feel seen, heard, empowered, or part of something larger, then I’m grateful for the opportunity. This is the work that attracted me to this field in the first place. On that note, what’s happening to the Wet’suwet’en is NOT OK, and if my client wanted to go there and needed to hear it, I would not hesitate to tell them it’s NOT OK.