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."