Politics and Psychotherapy

A reader asks, “What happens if a client you see for therapy doesn’t agree with you on politics?”

Psychotherapy isn’t about politics. So there’s no need to ever discuss it, not in therapy.

However, politics is a branch of philosophy. Any view of politics immediately results from one’s view of ethics. And while it’s possible to claim no opinion about politics, it’s impossible to escape an opinion about ethics. “What should I do? What’s the right thing to do, and why?” These are questions one is faced with nearly every day, and any action one takes is, in some form, an answer.

In therapy, clients and I will not be discussing whether it’s valid for government to force citizens to be one another’s keepers. But you can better believe we’ll be discussing whether or not the client is his or her brother’s keeper.

“I want to do such-and-such. But it’s selfish. That makes it wrong, I know. But I want to do it.”

Therapy will consist of identifying what “selfish” actually is — rationally defined — and whether or not it’s therefore wrong to be selfish. I won’t be preaching certain viewpoints to people. But I will be asking questions to foster thought. And I’ll be asking them to place the burden of proof on the idea that self-interest and self-preservation are always wrong, even though life is not possible (including for those who preach self-sacrifice) without these qualities.

I won’t be talking with clients about whether it’s right for the government to take greater and greater percentages of your income, in proportion to your success.  But I will be talking with clients about whether it’s rational to feel guilty for what you’ve honestly accomplished, and whether people who pelt you with comments such as “must be nice” are reasonable people, or resentful parasites.

I won’t be talking with clients about whether government is right to consider medical care the ultimate property of the government. But I will be talking with them about whether they are sovereign over their own bodies and minds, or whether other people are.

I won’t be talking with clients about whether government has a right to be dictating every last little thing we do, such as the light bulbs we buy or the size of our diet sodas. But I will be talking with clients about whether confidence comes from using one’s own independent, reasoning mind — or going blindly on the will of others who claim, “Listen to me. I know what’s best for you.”

To me, it makes sense to pay attention to politics and government, because what government does to us eventually affects every aspect of our lives, including the personal and psychological.

However, it makes even more sense to pay attention to the subject of ethics. For too long, we have left important conclusions on that subject to people who have their own agendas for power, control and authoritarianism — be it psychological, spiritual or social.

If you ask me, it’s time for an entirely new and rational approach to ethics, one grounded in self-preservation and self-interest, equally for all.

The lack of such an approach is a major reason why so many find a need for therapy, in the first place.

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