Among the most common topics I’ve discussed with clients during typical sessions are relationship issues, career dissatisfaction, familial conflict, a poor relationship to alcohol, drugs or food and issues relating to sex. However, since June 12 when 49 people were senselessly killed at Pulse Nightclub, a distinct shift occurred in the types of topics being discussed during an average client session.
For a period, it was just about Pulse: processing the enormity of what happened, trying to fathom how someone could be armed with so much hate and pondering the implications of the tragedy for the future of our communities and society in general. Soon, with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the accompanying killings, another wave of seemingly collective shock, fear, anger and sadness struck, and therefore offered clients another societal-level issue worthy of discussing during personal-therapy sessions. Of course, there has also been the ongoing political saga of Hillary vs. Donald and the accompanying alarm in most people at the possibility of a Trump presidency; yet another topic all too emotion-inducing not to process aloud.
In other words, my clients have taken to using therapy sessions that had previously been utilized almost solely for the purpose of discussing matters relating directly to day-to-day life, the people in it and various experiences to discuss large-scale issues that in no way relate to an argument with a spouse, a frustrating situation with a friend or a big decision at work. In fact, it has become evident that, with the current state of affairs in our country, discussing social and political matters has become just as personal to people as discussing marital issues or ineffective coping skills. While I cannot assume that my clients represent the overall population, I would feel comfortable betting that the shift I’ve noted is one that could be echoed in therapists’ offices across the country. The current political and social climates are affecting each and every one of us, and it is becoming clear that these effects also relate to our psychological health and well-being. It is also apparent that we need to see improvements within our country, not just sharply but quickly as well.
As it relates to politics, my colleague, psychotherapist Amanda Lenox, pointed out, “We absorb [parts of] our leaders so even people who have relatively good mental health will experience decline based on our leader [should Trump win].”
In other words, a leader who fails to demonstrate a strong sense of character, an ability to emotionally regulate and an appropriate sense of empathy, among other positive attributes, will cause a ripple effect of negativity nationwide. For example, Trump’s distinct narcissistic personality (as characterized by his grandiose speeches and behaviors, his general disagreeability and shortage of empathy) will alienate many people but, worse than that, it will empower those inclined to some narcissistic tendencies to move into the realm of full-on, unapologetic narcissistic behavior. This, of course, will happen covertly and through the wires of communication that link to our unconscious selves. Or, in a similar vein, Trump, as we know, is incredibly quick to anger and all-but suffers a temper tantrum if he feels in any way insulted or demeaned. The consequence of this in a president? He is modeling for an entire country, our entire country, that it is acceptable to act out when we see fit and that there is little need to self-monitor emotional responses.
For those of us who are well-grounded and self-aware, it is unlikely that we will be affected in the aforementioned ways; instead, we are more likely to deal with four difficult years where anger, cynicism and fear will be difficult to ward off within each of us. All of these states of being cause a decline in our physical and mental well-being over time in a variety of ways. This decline includes increased stress levels, greater susceptibility to anxiety and depression and a negative shift in personal perception of experiences and the world in general in the long term. As it relates to physical health, a weakened immune system is characteristic of individuals experiencing strong, persistent negative feelings, which can morph into a whole array of other problems.
So what is the message here? There are a couple. The first one is vote. Vote. Vote. The second is that an excellent antidote to the negative effects of the unique times we are facing is verbalization of your experience. Write. Write to a lawmaker, submit thoughts to a local newspaper. Dialogue. Talk with friends and loved ones who share similar thoughts and feelings, or finally schedule that first therapy appointment.
There may be a long road ahead for us as a country, and therefore, for each of us as individuals; because of this grim notion, it is crucial that we continue to tend to ourselves and each other with the utmost of care, respect and empathy so that we find ourselves on the other side of this stronger and more resilient.
Take good care.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist committed to working with LGBT individuals and couples and owner of Emerge Wellness, an LGBT health and wellness center in Center City (www.emergewellnessphilly.com).