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  • Writer's pictureJess Rice

Therapy is Inherently Political

Many people say that politics have no place in therapy, but the reality is that therapy is

inherently political. There is power and privilege within the therapeutic relationship; numerous

issues that clients individually bring into therapy that are politically related can impact therapy; and finally, larger social issues also impact the therapeutic process and relationship.

A determined woman stands with arms crossed at a protest, with diverse activists and signs advocating for change in the background

Therapeutic Relationship and Individual Differences

There are no taboo subjects to bring up in therapy; therapists are trained to reflect on our

biases and be able to hold space for differing beliefs from our own. Regardless of our

awareness of our biases and beliefs or personal identities we hold, as therapists, we still hold

greater power in the room—we take what is presented to us in therapy and help you make

sense of it through our lens. Our identities are a component of what shapes your treatment and your goals, which is why having a therapist who you connect with on multiple levels is an

incredibly important element of starting therapy. Without a solid therapeutic relationship, the

techniques and training of your therapist won’t matter.

The events that happen worldwide, even if not directly to you, impact you just as they impact

us. We all see and hear—and work with—issues of oppression and marginalization on a daily

basis. Mental health stigma and disparity are some of the top issues, often unintentionally

heightened because of communities we belong to, such as race, poverty, disability, and gender norms (as a non-inclusive list of issues that factor into seeking or avoiding therapy). Our practice’s choice to accept insurance is also inherently political—it can and sometimes does limit what we can do, as we have to work within a medical model for insurance. Still, it remains important to us as it makes therapy more accessible.

A focused person in a wheelchair participates in a protest, with diverse activists and signs calling for change in the background.

Social Issues

Mental well-being, or perhaps the lack thereof, can also be heightened by traumatic issues

worldwide, exacerbated due to accessibility to content on social media, such as bearing witness to the genocide in Gaza and the extreme humanitarian crises in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It can be increased because of legislation targeting the core of who a person is, as with the increase in anti-trans and general anti-LGBTQ+ bills that states are passing, and even with our country’s top elected official voicing opposition to gender affirmation for youth, the population that arguably needs the most affirmation. 

At NHCG, one of our core values is anti-oppression and inclusion. To not acknowledge ongoing displacements and genocides around the world, including here on Turtle Island, goes against our core values as a practice. It is a great privilege not to consider systems of oppression that maintain poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, or religious marginalization.  It is a great privilege to believe that people can change their circumstances if they try hard enough. This mentality furthers the systems of oppression in place. As therapists, we do have a responsibility to acknowledge and support our clients as they navigate through the systems that may heighten mental health issues they experience or even be the source of those issues. For clients, it is our goal that you ultimately feel supported and empowered as you face these injustices. 

A passionate protester speaks into a megaphone, raising a fist, with diverse activists and signs demanding change in the background.

What Can We Do?

As a client, don’t hold back on sharing your personal beliefs for fear of upsetting your therapist. Your therapist may not share theirs, as the therapy space in which you are together is yours and not theirs. However, sometimes, particularly when it is clinically relevant, a therapist may share more about their personal background. Your therapy space is yours. 

As a client, when screening your prospective therapists, do feel free to ask them about what

kinds of advocacy they may engage in outside of their work as a clinician. If you want to know

how your therapist shows up for their profession or their population of choice, it’s within your

right to ask. Chances are we may be doing things such as advocating with legislators for

expanding service areas or being included in more insurance panels. We may be volunteering at rallies, encampments, or for social issues we strongly believe in.

As a therapist, ask your clients about their intersections. There are many different identities and even more interests and lived experiences than can be consistently tracked. Ask your clients what about their core personhood is the most important to them; just because this may not be known or shared by you does not make you the right therapist for your client! 

As a therapist, always continue to consider your power and privilege. The minute we stop self- reflecting, we give into our biases, and can cause harm in therapeutic relationships.

As a therapist, advocate for what’s important to you. Want to accept insurance but feel like the rates are low? Organize other therapists to advocate with you to your panels or insurance boards. Want to be an ally for a particular population? Find an event and go! You can always make your voice heard from the other side, and it’s easy to feel insignificant with the great disparities but remember: Your voice matters.

A step that anyone can take is to contact your local congress person to demand an immediate ceasefire to the genocide happening in Gaza and/or to stop arming the Israeli army.

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