Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Elephant on the Couch

[posted by dinah]

So anyone who reads this blog regularly must have figured out that I spend my Sunday mornings with The New York Times and a pot of coffee.

An article in today's style section, The Elephant in the Room, caught my attention because I have a mixed marriage: one of us is a Democrat, the other Republican, and after lots of years together, we've managed to accommodate to life with an elephant chronically in the room. As the article notes, keeping quiet about political views helps friendships, it also keeps this marriage happy.

A gentleman interviewed for the article notes: "People just assume you are a Democrat, and turn and look at you and say, 'Can you believe what this nut in the White House is doing?'

Elsewhere in the piece, it is noted:

Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who conducts focus groups nationwide,
agreed, saying, "In most parts of this country it is very difficult to have a
civilized conversation between two people that fundamentally disagree."
Which, while perhaps invigorating for television ratings, is proving less so
for the nation's social fabric.

Interesting. That particular Republican pollster was a guest at our wedding, but since this is a psychiatry blog and not a political blog, I won't burden you with which side he sat on.

So patients come to therapy-- not exactly where conversation is limited to polite chatter-- and they do talk about their political views, often quite vehemently. Without fail, they assume I share the same views and the question of What that Nut is Doing in the White House pops up, over and over again. I sit quietly and listen, though not infrequently questions are posed to ellicit not so much my opinion, but my explicit agreement. I find it a funny dynamic, not because I either agree or disagree, but I do feel psychotherapy is someplace people should feel free to express their opinions without the burden of the therapist's political/religious/cultural beliefs; it's therapy, not an opportunity for conversion. If I were to agree (which sometimes I imagine I can't help but convey) it's a conversation; if I were to disagree, I can't imagine that it would be anything but troubling to a patient. Who wants to confide in someone who feels strongly opposed to the things you might believe in as part of the core of who you are? And even when I do agree, I'm left with the fact that the person I love and respect most in the world (that would be my husband) holds views that oppose mine and the colluding patient's-- it leaves me with too much cognitive dissonance to buy into the idea that all members of the other political party are Evil & Stupid.

Mostly, I'm quiet, and when I get drawn in in a way that makes me uneasy, I try to say something noncommittal, such as, "It will be an interesting Election Day."


Sarebear said...

I find myself automatically assuming my therapist has similar world-views to mine, and when I find out otherwise, in the manner of his comments or other stuff, it's rather jarring.

I guess it's such an intimate experience, opening up to somebody like I do in therapy, that part of the trust process, part of what happens inside me to help encourage me to trust him is a subconscious categorization of him "he's like us". Anyone who is like us is easier to trust and stuff. I mean me, what's this us crap lol. I've found myself speaking of myself in the plural like that these last 7 or 8 months, it's wierd. But, that's kind of a given, that I'm wierd.

Anyway. There's other times, where he reveals something that makes me think he has an anxiety disorder, too, and then I'm like, "He's TOO much like us, ewww." That's jarring as well.

my word verify is adthd. Take out the t, and there you go.

Sarebear said...

Wish me luck, tomorrow (Tuesday) at my disability hearing. Mebbe I shouldn't ask for a personal something like that, but I'm pulling for all straws (friends, not in a professional capacity) I can find right now.

I'm frightened.

Back to your regularly scheduled shrinking blog. If you really are head-shrinkers, I saw a post today on carving faces into peeled apples, then dehydratin gthem and they look like shrunken heads. Not TOO gross, though. Probably would keep ok in shrink wrap (ha ha, me and my bad puns).

jw said...

We all have our views. Generally speaking I see some good in most political viewpoints and most people are decent enough if given a chance.

Yet, there are times in a culture's evolution when some viewpoints cross the line into intent to harm. That has happened many times in our culture's past and will likely happen in our future: This must be a part of any thinking on the topic of the elephant.

For instance, I must as a part of my disability insurance go to occasional meetings with a social worker ... about every other year. The social worker (MSW) deeply believes that all males are "patriarchist animals" out to oppress every female. Nothing unusual about that particular sexism ...

Obviously, there can be no communication between us. All discussion/talk is based on my knowledge of the answers she wants and my deep desire to get-away from that bigot as fast as is possible: Plus my need to make sure my wife doesn't strangle her (O'Pat came VERY close to doing exactly that during our last meeting) (I refuse to meet with female therapists without O'Pat).

Now, this is therapy as it is for some people. You cannot simply wave a magic wand and make that go away. It is no use complaining, as the professional body for MSW's in Ontario is made up right now, they think her attitude is the correct and decent one.

So that elephant is usually harmless, but sometimes VERY important. BOTH harmless and harmful must be considered.


Good luck. My disability hearings were fairly easy and a LOT less stress than I though they'd be. Let's hope that is the case for you.

Anonymous said...

EEK, I never would be so ignorant that to assume every Republican is evil. What I have serious issues with is the neo christian movement that has truly ignored what it means to be a good christian. To feed the hungry,and to love thy neighbor as theyself.
I am really hoping that come next Tuesday more people will begin a change in congress and turn the elephant into a duck (a lame one that is) I love you hanid abf

Gerbil said...

From another angle: what about when the therapist finds out that a client is prejudiced against some aspect of the therapist's identity?

I know, I know, we are supposed to let that stuff roll off our backs like water from duck, but there's only so much negative countertransference one can prevent.

I have no real problem hearing my clients spout off about their politics, but when they express sentiments that are homophobic, anti-Semitic, or what-have-you... well, there's only so much sitting with my discomfort that I can do.

(I've also been asked truly inappropriate questions about this matter during job interviews--along the lines of "well, most of our population hates your kind, so what would you do to conceal your true self if we hired you?")

ClinkShrink said...

Loved your picture, Gerbil. We may have to turn on pictures for our comments just for you.