New research in the Journal of Clinical Psychology indicates that political discussions are common during psychotherapy sessions in the United States, and could possibly improve the relationship between a mental health professional and his or her client.
“In the past 2 years, many clinicians and researchers have described the significant and often unexpectedly overwhelming effects of the current political climate on their own and their patients’ experiences and in‐session discussions,” the authors of the study explained.
“The current study is the first to empirically examine the effects of the Trump administration on in‐session processes from the therapists’ perspective.”
The researchers surveyed 268 psychotherapists regarding the impact of the current political climate on the therapeutic process.
Most of the therapists, 77%, voted for Clinton, while 9% voted for Trump and 14% voted for other candidates. Similarly, 62% of the therapists identified as Democrat, 7% as Republican, 23% as Independent, 4% as other, 3% indicated no political preference, and 1% did not respond.
The researchers found that 87% of therapists reported that they had spoken to their patients about politics in the previous 3 weeks. Therapists who believed their patients mostly shared their views were more likely to speak to them about politics.
“In contrast to traditional views implying self‐disclosure can be harmful to the therapeutic process, we found that therapists who reported they explicitly discussed their political view with patients and who experienced such discussions positively, were likely to report higher alliance quality,” the researchers said.
Therapists who voted for Clinton reported significant increases in political discussions with their patients and increases in patients’ expression of negative emotions. “In contrast, therapists who self‐identified as Trump supporters reported no such trends. However, the lack of effects in the Trump supporter sample may be due to small sample size,” the researchers said.
Many of the findings are reflected in a previous study, which surveyed 604 psychotherapy patients. In that study, 70% of Clinton supporters and 66% of Trump supporters reported that they had spoken about politics with their therapist. Almost half of the sample said they would like to speak about politics more often in their sessions.
Pro-Clinton patients also reported an increase in discussions about political topics such as checks and balances, immigration policy and women’s issues. Pro-Trump patients, on the other hand, reported no significant changes in discussions of these topics during therapy.
The results “highlight the importance of discussing therapist–patient political divergence/convergence, not only in the therapy room, but also as part of training and supervision,” the researchers said.
“Our findings also suggest that many therapists may be deeply affected by the current political climate, and thus may need support and guidance from peers and supervisors in navigating the complexities of political discussions and self‐disclosure in the therapeutic space.”
The study, “Conducting psychotherapy in the Trump era: Therapists’ perspectives on political self‐disclosure, the therapeutic alliance, and politics in the therapy room“, was authored by Nili Solomonov and Jacques P. Barber.