Thousands of mental health counselors worry that Trumpism is bad for Americans’ mental health. As author Gail Sheehy wrote in Politico, the issue isn’t so much the specific political positions that Trump takes. Or at least, it’s not only that. It’s the behavior of the Republican candidate for president and how it makes people feel.
Clients who are legal immigrants tell therapists that their children fear having to leave the United States. Mothers worry that the public body shaming of women will harm the self esteem of adolescent girls. In particular, nonwhite immigrants, LGBTQ people, and racial minorities feel targeted by the Trumpist message, and so, feel growing fear, anxiety, shame, and helplessness. Same sex couples living or traveling through very conservative areas were subjected to hostility that put them in fear.
According to Sheehy, one therapist left an open letter to clients in his waiting room. It discussed the hate speech in the campaigns, discussions of terrorism, and mass shootings. And it encouraged clients who were troubled by these issues to bring them up in their sessions. Twenty of the 30 clients brought up issues stemming from the campaign. Some worried what would happen to their Muslim colleagues or customers.
Just One Example of Aggressiveness
Video Courtesy of YouTube
Stirring Up Issues For White Men, Too
Therapists who treat many white, working class men—Trump’s “base”—found that Trump’s aggressiveness brought up anger and fear by triggering childhood traumas. One reason is that the clients often came from dysfunctional families, where a parent was abusive, neglectful, violent, or depressed.
Making Therapists’ Jobs Harder
One major part of therapy is that clients learn healthier, more effective behaviors. But Trump’s campaign is giving people permission to blame others for their own fears and insecurities, especially blaming people who are perceived as “others,” and attacking them verbally or otherwise.And these are behaviors that people in therapy often need to unlearn. It’s hard to become self-aware and responsible for your own behavior, but it’s healthier. The campaign also encourages a “hypermasculinity” that opposes the behavior needed to develop healthy relationships.
William Doherty, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, noticed parallels between the atmospheres in the United States and in Austria, where a neofascist candidate for president is in the lead. He says there is good reason to believe that authoritarian regimes with a cult of personality are dangerous to mental health. In fact, he surveyed 1,000 Americans who were not necessarily in therapy. He found that people were more anxious and fearful about this election than about past elections. So he wrote a manifesto and organized Citizen Therapists as an online community of therapists trying to prevent the potential mental health crisis. About 3,000 therapists signed his manifesto, and they have created an online community to discuss how to help their clients deal with these issues.
The therapists aren’t trying to persuade clients to vote for any particular candidate. Their focus is on helping clients overcome the fear and anxiety.
Image is a YouTube screengrab.