A Clinician’s Job In The Trump Era

Last Tuesday, A sizeable portion of America voted for change. With that change they voted for bigotry, racism, hate, xenophobia, and a whole host of new sweeping policy changes that will harm millions and millions of vulnerable Americans- the undocumented, people of color, muslims, LGBT, women…just about everyone who is not a straight white male.

But you knew that already. I’m here today to write a little about how I feel my job as a creative arts therapist has taken on a new kind of meaning in the last week. Working in the suburban Mid Atlantic, I see an extremely diverse array of patients in our outpatient mental health setting. I also work with all the age groups at our sight, from children up through seniors. I’ve always in fact, viewed our site as a sort of argument for diversity. Groups feature people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and histories. Because people all have the common background of struggling with their mental health, people are vulnerable- and looking more at what they have in common than what divides them. Of course tensions arise- but they would anyway, even in uniformly non diverse environments. Ultimately, I have seen that the diversity can lead to differing viewpoints- which is exactly what people come to group therapy to find. Through sharing their stories, everyone can hear the differences. But rather than view them as obstacles, they’re celebrated for what makes them unique- and similarities still arise. Which to me means that we can live together, if we’re only willing to listen and be empathetic. The group aspect of therapy is an essential component of any recovery, as Irvin Yalom wrote about.

Now we have a president elect whose very election seems to threaten all of that.

The patients I work with have survived trauma. They live in poverty. They are able to seek treatment because of Medicare, and expansions of the Affordable Care Act. They are survivors of sexual assault. They are immigrants. They have lost their jobs. They are people of color. They are Muslim. They are Christian. They are Jewish. They are the white working class. They are women. They are men. They are transgender. They are military veterans. They struggle with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, personality disorders. They are children who are bullied. They are all Americans. And much, much more.

They have a president elect who sees the world and life itself in terms of “winning” and “losing,” concepts that our children’s group seem to have already moved beyond.

Who has hired an attorney general who was deemed unfit to be a federal judge in the 80’s due to being an unrepentant racist, but is apparently qualified to be the top lawman in our country.

Who has hired a white nationalist domestic abuser as his top advisor.

Who wants to create a Muslim registry, the precedent of which his supporters have argued are Japanese Internment camps in World War II, one of our country’s greatest shames.

Who has called the more than ten women who have accused him of sexual assault “liars,” and threatened to sue them. Meanwhile rape is already the most under-reported crime in America. He was set to go to trial for a case of raping a child in 1994- but the plaintiff dropped the suit just days before the election.

The list goes on and on, and on and on.

As a therapist, it’s our job to create a container. To create a sense of safety in the rooms we work. So how do we do that, when the country seems to have exploded into a pervasively invalidating environment?

I’m very much aware that this didn’t just start last Tuesday. Obviously, for all marginalized groups, they lived in an invalidating world on Monday, November 7th, and woke up with one on Wednesday, November 9th. But there’s no question that our culture and government are taking several steps backwards. Progress has reversed. An epidemic of hate crimes and hate incidents is sweeping the nation- the Southern Poverty Law Center have received 701 reports since Election Day.

So now, as a therapist, how has my job changed? It hasn’t- but at the same time it has.

It’s our job to validate when the world has invalidated.

It’s our job to contain and secure when the world has mocked them and stigmatized them for their pain and struggle.

It’s our job to teach our children how to deal with bullies- when their president is one.

It’s our job to create a safe place for our female and male trauma survivors- when the new president is an abuser who has bragged about sexually assaulting women.

It’s our job to provide quality care to all who walk through our doors- the number of which may suddenly shrink vastly because of Paul Ryan and his war on Medicare and Affordable Care Act. The devastating part of this is that you can’t treat people who can’t come to therapy because they can no longer afford it.

It’s our job to tell our black, muslim, trans, etc. patients that their lives matter- when our new president has offered the invalidating, reactive and silencing claim of its opposite, that “all lives matter.” In other words, it’s our duty to acknowledge that oppression and racism exist.

None of this is “political”- it’s literally just based on the ethics of beneficence and non maleficence found in the guidelines of the American Music Therapy Association and the American Psychiatric Association. We must do no harm. These are merely facets of our job description .And they completely oppose the fabric of this world that Trump and his cabinet members are creating.

My job is the same today as it was on Monday, November 7th. Only I didn’t count on suddenly needing to be an alternative role model to our new elected officials.