Do NOT Trust Activist Therapists!

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In my personal life, I work tirelessly for social causes: reproductive rights; comprehensive sex education; freedom of speech & thought; transparency of government records & action; decriminalization of sex work; and more.

I don’t do this work while doing therapy.

Neither should your therapist. But an increasing number do, whether it’s working on behalf of causes I support or on those I oppose. Regardless of the content of their activism, I urge you to steer clear of therapists who see advancing social justice as part of their clinical role—even if you totally agree with their goals.

This would include therapists who, in their role as therapists:

  • believe that all children (including yours) should have whatever “gender-affirming” interventions they want (children are by nature poor judges of the consequences of their choices);
  • believe that your therapy should promote anti-racism, “heteronormativity” or “gender fluidity”;
  • believe that men (including you or your mate) should be actively dissuaded from looking at pornography (a therapist should stay neutral in couples’ negotiations about this);
  • believe that every therapist should be “culturally competent” in some arenas (such as racial and sexual identity), while ignoring others (such as infertility, religious, or military backgrounds);
  • call you (or your kid) “cisgender” when you call yourself (or your kid) male or female;
  • discourage all patients (including you) from considering psychoactive medication (such as anti-depressants or mood stabilizers) because they sustain the evil Big Pharma;
  • believe you should “celebrate” (rather than simply accept) the discovery that your child (or you) is neurodiverse, bipolar, has a learning disability, anxiety disorder, or OCD, or is in other ways going to have extra difficulty navigating the world;
  • are more interested in getting all therapists trained in DEI, “microaggressions,” “cultural appropriation,” and “privilege” than in improving therapists’ general clinical skills.

EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT, BUT…

Of course, everyone, including therapists, has the right to fight for their beliefs—just not during treatment. Or as the foundation of their therapy practice.

People don’t come to therapy to participate in an exercise to improve the world. They come to therapy for help in resolving their problems, make better decisions, enjoy life more, and reduce the conflict in their lives.

Many therapists are pretty good at those core missions.

And while the techniques of good therapists vary from one practitioner to another, almost all share the following qualities: careful listening; non-judgmental; compassion; acceptance of who the patient or couple is; objectivity and neutrality, especially with couples; and treating each individual and couple as unique, not simply as part of a large category.

Notice what good therapy does NOT include: dogmatic ideology. Political activity. Self-righteousness. Seeing people’s personal difficulties primarily as a product of social and political forces. In fact, these are the opposite of what makes sound therapy.

Ideology can lead therapists to need things from patients—not money or gifts, but persuasion. Specific behavioral or attitudinal outcomes. Therapists with a political agenda urgently want patients to take their advice.

Most good therapists think that’s a bad thing. It’s tricky enough when we’re too invested in wanting a patient to get healthier. But it’s terrible when we use therapy as a platform to get people signed onto a social cause, or our pet perspective.

That’s not therapy. That’s missionary work. It’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses do every week.

It’s also not therapy because it limits when and how patients can trust us.

Theoretically, we don’t judge patients who fantasize about Scarlett Johansson or Snoop Dogg. Or their neighbor’s wife, or their neighbor’s son. And so patients can tell us their fantasies. And theoretically, we don’t judge patients who keep library books overdue, don’t floss, or who lie to their husbands. And so they can tell us about activities of which they’re ashamed.

But what if we judge patients who vote for someone we hate, or who are racist, or oppose a homeless shelter opening down the street? Should they trust us? And if they do, can we do our best work with them?

A professional is someone who can do excellent work when they’re struggling with their own life’s difficulties—and if they can’t, they call in sick. A professional should be able to do excellent work with a patient who appears as any sort of demon: a real estate developer, labor organizer, gambler, someone who homeschools their kids for all the wrong reasons, even a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs.

If a therapist sees therapy as a platform for their own ideological agenda, they can’t be trusted.

Therapy can indeed change the world. But only by helping people with their interpersonal skills, better decision-making, better parenting, and being honest with themselves. What they do after that, well, it’s not our business.
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Like short videos about sex? See www.youtube.com/@Marty_Klein
Want Sexual Intelligence one-liners? See www.instagram.com/doctormartyklein/

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