August 30th, 2005

Therapists and liberalism

It’s no real surprise that therapists tend to be politically liberal in overwhelming numbers (therapist-bloggers notwithstanding). I can’t find a poll to back up my statement, but I don’t think too many people would seriously question it, and my own personal observations support it.

It’s funny, but until my own “conversion” and self-outing, I never really thought much about this fact. After all, most of my friends and family were also politically liberal. One thing about moving through life in a bubble is that you don’t tend to notice it that much until the bubble bursts. And then you wonder what it was that sustained that fragile, self-contained world.

So I’ve been thinking about what it is that accounts for the overwhelming liberality of therapists. It’s true, of course, that those in the social sciences, literature, and the arts generally tend to be of the liberal persuasion more often than those in the hard sciences or business; and therapy—despite assertions to the contrary—resembles an art far more than a science, I’m afraid. (It is also a business, but some therapists are in a certain amount of denial about that fact.)

In addition, there are elements within the training and belief system of most therapists that reinforce liberalism of students already predisposed to it anyway. In general, therapists—particularly those who specialize in treating individuals through talk therapy—are taught that they cannot be effective with clients if they start off with a judgmental approach. So they learn to exercise a certain suspension of judgment, a tolerance that even amounts at times to moral relativism, in order to gain the trust of clients and be able to work effectively with them.

It isn’t always easy to do this, because every person we meet triggers some reaction in us. Therapists try to understand these reactions and be aware of them in themselves (traditionally, these reactions are called “counter-transference”), and to block expressing them in a way that would hinder the therapeutic relationship. Imposing the therapist’s own ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong in the moral sense can be too directive and disruptive, and could easily trigger resistance to therapy in the client. Besides, the task of therapy is not usually seen as guidance towards some objective standard of “right” behavior; it’s seen as guidance towards self-actualization and self-expression.

Naturally, though, there are some basic and global notions of right and wrong that therapists adhere to, and that can’t help but influence the way they talk to clients and try to subtly shape behavior. To use an extreme example, no client would be encouraged to murder someone, and in fact at times the therapist would need to inform the proper authorities if the intent to murder were deemed serious.

There are so many schools of therapy–almost as many as there are sects and divisions within the major religions–that this generalization most definitely does not hold true across the board. For example, there are pastoral counselors whose “guidance” is most definitely couched in terms of traditional religious concepts of right and wrong. And over the years therapist/client confidentiality has become less absolute than it once was, since all therapists have come under the force of certain rules and regulations governing their duty to disclose or report to the proper authorities situations of abuse or threats to harm. But still, in general, I believe that I’m describing the basic attitudinal stance in which the majority of therapists are trained.

So therapists are specifically taught to practice non-judgmental openmindedness, as well as to exercise the obviously necessary skill of putting themselves imaginatively into the heart and mind of another person. This emphasis on empathy further extends the idea of openminded and nonjudgmental acceptance of the other person’s point of view.

For talk therapists, this practice is not only recommended, it’s actually required in order to effectively do the work they do. It’s one of the main things that distinguishes a therapist from a friend, a relative, a hairdresser, a bartender, a teacher, a member of the clergy, or anyone else to whom a person might turn when in need of an ear in a crisis.

Advice is easy to come by; anyone can give it. But the special thing a therapist offers is ordinarily quite different from advice. It’s an oversimplification, but ideally a therapist guides the client to see the patterns and connections in his/her own life and then to make choices that lead to a better life. But a therapist only rarely gives direct advice or makes judgments, because that thwarts the ultimate aim of therapy, which is not to tell people what to do, but to foster autonomy in clients. The goal is that clients will graduate from therapy able to solve future problems with the skills they’ve learned there.

But the nonjudgmental stance is an artificial one, adopted by therapists as a tool to be used during the therapeutic hour for the purpose of therapy. I believe some therapists make the mistake of overgeneralizing, and elevate this tool to a way of life and a generalized goal. Originally, the tool was meant to be a corrective for what was ordinarily found “out there”–harsh and punitive judgments galore from family and friends. Originally, therapy was an oasis from all that, a place where, in the absence of harsh judgment, a person could feel free to explore that which could not be explored elsewhere, and to tell truths that could not otherwise be told.

But over the years, as therapy has gone from a relatively obscure activity to a fairly common one, and therapists have become ubiquitous on television, radio, and in the self-help book business, what originally was a limited and circumscribed tool seems to have seeped into our culture and become a prescribed and generalized value. Many people have come to believe that making judgments or expressing any opinions at all about the behavior of others is a form of intolerance, almost as bad as bigotry or racism. Or they think, since negative judgments from others could harm a person’s self-esteem, and self-esteem is considered all-important—that anything that harms self-esteem (even a corrective dose of reality, or of warranted self-doubt or self-questioning) is prohibited. In a sense, the culture has become “therapized.”

I’m not saying this is all bad. But it’s an overcorrection. Opinions and judgments have their place, and without them, self-esteem can become runaway narcissism, and society can become anarchy.

In addition, in order to do the work they do, therapists have to maintain certain general beliefs. They need to maintain an attitude of hopefulness about the human condition, an ability to believe that there is good in almost everyone and that it is not so hard to create the proper conditions to activate that goodness. Once again, it’s not the attitude itself that is at fault, or its application to the therapeutic relationship; it’s the overgeneralizing that causes problems. Sometimes people are too far gone to be helped by such an approach; life, and the world, does not mimic the conditions of the therapeutic hour.

Depending on the school of therapy, some therapists (so-called “insight therapists,” for example) believe that human behavior and feelings can be understood, and, once understood, can be changed for the better by dint of that understanding. So “understanding” can be elevated to much more than an exercise in intellectual curiosity—it is sometimes considered a solution in and of itself, even to something as multifaceted and political as terrorism.

As all therapists are well aware, not everyone is what is known as a “good candidate” for therapy. Even in the very controlled situation of the one-on-one session, some people don’t respond and don’t change. There are sociopaths and psychopaths out there, to name just a few of the many who don’t do well in therapy. Even most therapists acknowledge that jails have to be built to house them and protect society from them. But the dream—of talking, leading to understanding, leading to change—dies hard.

47 Responses to “Therapists and liberalism”

  1. Judith Says:

    “There are so many incompetent therapists out there. I know; I’ve met a lot of them. Generally, you have to shop carefully.”

    Sigh. Boy do you. I could tell some hair-raising stories. . . .

  2. Judith Says:

    FWIW I started seeing a new therapist this spring, who I’m working really well with, a very experienced guy. And I talk a lot about my political activities in NYC and my blog. I know he’s trained to not express any bias that would make me distrust him, but he does seem to be exhibiting mild enjoyment of my politics despite himself. He even volunteered a snotty comment about France!

    (In contrast to my previous therapist, who was such a Park Slope lefty that she couldn’t keep from arguing with me.)

  3. an unrepentant kulak Says:

    Fascinating stuff, all of this — thank you Neo for starting us off with such rich food for thought! It would not have occurred to me, as an outsider to the profession, to see a potential affinity between nonjudgmentalism as therapeutic method and a tendency on the part of therapists to personally affiliate with a worldview that (in theory, at least, if not consistently in practice) aspires to be both sympathetic and judgment-neutral. It’s one thing to have developed insight into one’s profession, but you have a still more exceptional gift for articulating that insight, and I’m glad to have benefitted from it.

    My anecdote alone doesn’t make a statistic, but for whatever it’s worth I certainly think I’d have been more likely to try therapy in recent years, if not for the expectation that any therapist I selected would more likely than not turn out to be of a leftish persuasion and consequently unsympathetic to my frustrations (which I think largely derive from living in ideologically hostile territory). I did test the waters once a couple of years ago, but after several sessions of awkward dancing around the problem that couldn’t quite be talked about I decided it just wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, I’ve managed to find on my own that blogging, reading, and finding one’s own compatriots and place in the world of ideas seems to be some of the best therapy that money can’t buy.

    On the flip side of this issue, I’m curious about the notion of victimhood and surrounding attitudes that ShrinkWrapped brought up. To what extent does the necessity of getting patients to give up the mantle of victimhood, so that they can take charge of their lives and make progress, tend to come into conflict with notions of resentment or entitlement or blame to which more leftish patients (and therapists too) might cling strongly? Do left-liberal patients also sometimes avoid therapy, because of the process’ insistence, on some level, that the patient abandon the blame game and focus on and take responsibility for the things that he or she is able to change?

    In considering your series on change, I’ve also been wondering whether therapists find it very meaningful or useful to distinguish the notion of “finding out who I really was all along” from other, more clear-cut kinds of change (e.g. patient broke away from a strong preference or ingrained pattern of behavior in a way that can be readily observed). The question holds interest for me because I think to a significant extent I’ve been finding that my core beliefs haven’t really changed all that much. In hindsight, I think I spent years in a bubble, as a classical liberal who hadn’t been aware of the fundamental and significant differences between his worldviews and those of other “liberals”. (I also think to some extent contemporary liberalism has also drifted farther, or at least more vocally, to the left during that time.) It took a startling exposure to left-liberalism in college, followed by a still more startling persistence of antiliberal and anti-American attitudes following the 9/11 attacks, to alert me to those differences.

    ps – Thank you once again for your inspiring example! I hope to get my own modest “change” series underway this week.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    neo

    Have you read “Life At The Bottom”, by Theodore Dalrymple?

    It would seem like a book that would be of interest to you.

  5. Wolfgarten Maid Says:

    Might a similar liberal bias exist in AA groups?

  6. Duckman Says:

    Great entry. I just wanted to comment in regard to your feelings on the place of judgement and expression of opinion in our society. I think it’s pretty safe to say that there are a lot of good beliefs — long-time cultural bedrock — that we’ve been losing over the last 40 years. People having children outside of wedlock, parents putting themselves above their children (e.g. many divorces, though helpful to the parents and ‘peace’ between them, do more harm than good for the children — more than most people think, I believe). Unlike a couple generations ago, today’s parents often don’t stand firm on proper morals when raising their kids, instead allowing society to provide them. I could go on.
    What my point comes down to is societal regulation. Not too long ago it was unheard of to show up to school pregnat. Having children outside of wedlock at any age was generally considered shameful. A father leaving his wife and family to pursue selfish interests (or just leaving altogether). A lot of what prevented this from happening in previous generations was the outright shame that came with it.
    Society regulates itself through judgement and expression of opinion. It’s the counter-force to people who naturally drift away from the moral center of society; it helps keep people in check and allows civilization to continue to move in the same direction.
    But these days lots of people are more obsessed with their kids’ self-esteem than their discipline. People who save sex for marriage are often looked down upon in the younger generations (to which I belong) and don’t even think of suggesting that someone else hold off on their “right” to have sex with anyone they’ve been dating for more than a month.
    You put it very well when you said “[m]any people have come to believe that making judgments or expressing any opinions at all about the behavior of others is a form of intolerance, almost as bad as bigotry or racism.” I see that around me every day. Tolerance doesn’t mean acceptance and this notion that anyone should be able to go about their lives without interruption, inconvenience or moral challenge I think is a big mistake. There are many factors contributing to our loss of our moral center, but I personally believe that the brunt of it can be laid squarely on the shoulders of the type of liberal mentallity you’ve described.
    Cheers, and thanks for the wonderful blog.
    Duckman
    Austin, TX

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    I agree with those who posit the “works with words” vs. “works with things” dichotomy as a general rule. Of course, having been a therapist (although a marriage and family therapist, quite a different discipline and oreintation than an individual therapist–I may write something about the difference some day) and a poet, and and a person whose posts regularly exceed four paragraphs–I’d say I should be the most liberal of liberals. But of course, I’m not, unless you count classical liberalism.

    It seem as though the only things I haven’t been in the liberal list are a librarian–does inveterate library-goer count?–and a linguist. I took one course in linguistics in college, but had to drop it after two weeks because I could not make a particle of sense out of it. The same is true of the works of Noam Chomsky.

  8. SCSIwuzzy Says:

    To the question: Do conservatives avoid therapy because of liberal bias?
    I would say: Sort of.
    That is, many, my self included, would avoid therapists (many people I know in the business, IMO, took the courses in college as a self help course). Avoiding the professional class of therapists does not mean avoiding therapy altogether. The more religious conservatives, as an example, rarely have a problem talking with their pastor or rabbi. Unless said cleric is a flaming lib :)
    Others cons take a practical approach, and either talk it out with trusted confidants or “work it out” by addressing the problem or distracting themselves from negative thoughts with other activities or positive actions.
    And to be honest, if I went to a therapist and saw the employee lot was full of angry bumperstickers, or the office coffe mugs covered in hostile messages, I’d look for another venue. I did just that at a diversity seminar (mandatory for the whole company) when I saw the rear of the facilitators Volvo. Someone who’s car reads: “The road to hell is paved with Republicans” and “What part of love explains the Crusades and Inquisitions?” isn’t much of a fan of diversity for diversities sake. Nearly got fired for that one…

  9. Paul Says:

    I am a poet (first published in 1978) and I support our action in Iraq. I think that we had good reason for ousting Saddam. As for my literary peers let them speak for themselves.

  10. hg wells Says:

    And lastly, how sure are we that all those poets against the war are actually poets? Unless one wishes to draw the line at publication, the best I’ve been able to come up with is a poet is someone who writes poems and identifies with being a poet.

    I’ve been writing poetry since 1973 and host the poetry conference on the Well (http://www.well.com). I know there are exceptions, such as myself and E.S. May, but believe me, generally poets oppose the war by an overwhelming margin. Would that it were otherwise…

    Perhaps those posting who make the split between people who primarily use words and people who have to make things happen in the real world are getting to the core of it. I’m also a programmer and I know the bite that something either works or it doesn’t.

  11. David Says:

    Per Yamrsakr’s comment, I think that in general those who work with words tend to be “liberal” while those who work with things tend to be “conservative” (as those labels are currently used). Those who work primarily with people (managers, sales reps) are another category; in general, they probably tend to align along with the work being sold or managed (ie, someone who sells advertising is more likely to be liberal than someone who sells machine tools). There’s also an interesting category of “things” that are intangible but still have the hard and unforgiving attributes of thingness (like computer code)..are these more like word-people or thing-people?

    I’m not so sure about the idea that the most conservative profession is businessman/businesswoman. Some are pretty liberal (though usually not in a moonbat way) and many are just not all that interested in politics. Again, I think you will find alignments following the type of business they are in.

  12. Alex Says:

    I agree strongly with strcpy’s characterization of liberal theorists and conservative applied researchers…

    Those searching for the most conservative profession seem to have overlooked a gimme: businessman/businesswoman. Try polling Vice Presidents and CFOs and COOs and see what you find. Also, investment bankers would have to be up there.

    As for the most liberal profession, I’ve got a new nominee: linguist. This one isn’t very intuitive, but after spending two years in the field myself I can tell you that nearly every linguist I met was an extreme-left liberal. It was so notable it made me wonder if perhaps it might have something to do with Chomsky himself, who, despite what you might think of him, is a bona fide luminary in linguistics. Perhaps respect for Chomsky in one arena has spilled over into another, or perhaps, more insidiously, he has had a strong hand in choosing the current crop of linguists, who then choose the next. Then again, maybe it was something particular to the department I was in.

    And lastly, how sure are we that all those poets against the war are actually poets? Not that there’s a clear line you cross that makes you a poet, but I can imagine a lot of people who might have scribbled a few verses over the years styling themselves a poet to get their name on the petition. I have a feeling liberals might be more likely to consider themselves poets…

  13. Solomon2 Says:

    Hmm, what shall we make of this fellow? Does he not appear locked up in his own world?

  14. Ymarsakar Says:

    Dymphna

    So librarians are probably the most skewed. Which profession do you think has the most conservatives? Surgeons, maybe?

    Either the military or linemen. Not football, the guys who work on livewire electrical lines. Police depends on region, and I don’t know about firefighters.

    The rule of thumb is, people are more Republican when their jobs have to do with reality and conquering it, instead of debating it or talking about it or compromising about it.

    And the real bonus is jobs that have a high hazard level, that require sharp instincts, wise judgement, and good reflexes. Like linemen, the military, and firefighting.

    Those who deal most with chaos, tend to be more orderly and better individuals as a result. If they survive. Rescue Me, is rather atypical. Although it has a point worth noting, that those who have to deal with reality, tend not to want to deal with human nature or understand it, so they have problems manipulating other human beings.

    Makes sense, reality they can conquer and change, human nature is not so flexible.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    I can certainly proscribe to the belief that you can understand human behavior and emotions. But I draw the line at saying that once you understand, you can change it.

    That is improbable. Perhaps not impossible, but improbable in the sense that you would have to have both the will and the power if you wanted to change someone. The will to do the things that are necessary, which could be painful to you or the subject, and the power to change the environment in which the subject will be subjected to.

    In most cases, people won’t change unless their life is at risk. No amount of talk or communication will breach human behavioral patterns derived from instinct or traumatic experiences. Simply because human nature is a sort of software that is hardwired and you have to dismantle and reconstruct the machine itself, which has a risk of breaking it.

    You could easily convert a liberal to a Republican, though perhaps not a conservative, by putting him in a situation where he is at the mercy of the totalitarians and the power mad. You could easily do so, though you would find it hard to just put him in such a situation and not everyone else around him. You would also find it hard to extricate him without sharing in the moral guilt of his experiences. Therefore you would need the power of God, but you have to use it without the wisdom. And if you don’t have the power, then you can’t convert anyone from their beliefs, unless they let you.

    This logic is exemplified in Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Vietnam, and so on. Put a bunch of college people in a life and death situation, and they will choose life. If that means they have to disbelieve the government and their nation, they will do so, and the hardwiring will be good the rest of their lives.

    The systemic problem with therapy and terrorism, is that terroists only understand force. Death and life, that is the only things of value to them. Therefore to change them, you have to understand that since death and life are the only things of value to them, then you have to take their life and prevent them from finding reward in death. Most therapists don’t want to understand that fact, and if they don’t even understand a person’s motivations and psychological behavior, then they have Zero hope of changing it. Even if they did have the power and the will to do so, which they don’t by most parts. Most therapist’s jobs are to save lives, not to destroy lives.

    On another subject, the entire dichotomy between whether humanity is Good or whether Humanity is Evil, is mostly determined by religious beliefs not political beliefs. Most Republicans know of Original Sin, but most Republicans are not pessimists. Most Democrats don’t believe in Original Sin (with the exception of the black population), but most liberals are pessimists.

    Here you have a group of people who ostensibly believe in the good of humanity, but can never find any good to tout about. Or at least, not consistently. Then you have a group of Republicans, who believe in Original Sin, but then tend to find everything good in man to talk about.

    That is the real dichotomy.

    It doesn’t make logical sense for a group to believe in Original Sin, that Adam eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil against God’s wishes, somehow made all of us bear the guilt of his actions and yet not believe that humanity is destined for destruction instead of salvation.

    You would think, just by common sense, that if someone got knowledge, and passed it on, we’d be bearing the fruits of their knowledge… and not the sin of it. But then again, Judeo-Christian religion has some holes in it to someone of an engineering persuasion.

    That’s why I never agreed with a conservative, who in most cases believed in the Good, who kept talking about how humanity is essentially evil or flawed or whatever. And which is why I also never agreed with the Democrats, who kept saying humanity was good, because if that was true, then the ACLU wouldn’t be cheering on the criminals and the terroists at the expense of real victims and innocents.

    If so, then am I and otherwise similar thinking individuals, left with the middle ground of just saying humanity is neither good nor evil?

    Perhaps, though that is not as satisfiying as the dichotomy between Good and Evil. Which is why I applied entropy and enthalpy to the equation, and got a good conclusion.

    Which is simple.

    Any appreciably chaotic environment, will exemplify order increasingly as it becomes entropic. Any enthalpic environment, as things become more orderly, the case will also be true that things will begin to decay.

    You see it in humanity many times. Just think about this, American civilization is at one of its peaks. And yet… why are there a bunch of reality challenged individuals seeking to help the barbarians in destroying this Golden Age? Why is it that when people are more pampered, more rich, more prosperous, that they become revolutionaries seeking to create chaos and disorder?

    Would it not follow logically that those who have a higher order in their lives, would want to perpetuate that order? But it is not true, because high order=chaos while high chaos=order. That is the dichotomy that exists, and you don’t need an explanation if you are pragmatic enough to realize this. Nor does saying humanity is “essentially” Good or Evil solve this dichotomy.

    What with the hurricane and all, extreme entropy has occured. And yet, there is a certain endurance in the human spirit, that carves more order out of chaos, than it would have had there been no chaos in the first place. 9/11 and Flight 93 for example. War and Urban Combat for example.

    You could almost say that humanity is most ordered and most efficient when we are faced with the maximum amount of chaos. Or, that humanity is most disordered and adrift when we are faced with prosperity, law and order, and economic freedom and security.

    We were evolved to deal with chaos, in order to make things orderly. But once that goal has been reached, our motivations lack coherence and substance. You cannot explain that process in terms of Good or Evil, just as you cannot explain Chaos Theory in terms of Good or Evil.

    From an engineering perspective, it is perplexing. But a challenge nonetheless.

  16. Paul Says:

    If therapists receive their education from liberal professors then one would expect them to have a liberal bias. Freud based his whole method on his interplay with little old Jewish ladies in Vienna. Pschotherapy is a minefield and far from precise or all inclusive in its positive results for the very people who need help.

  17. Dr. Sanity Says:

    I am late to the discussion, but I can say that I have never discussed “politics” with a patient, nor do they have any idea of my own political beliefs. They are not relevant for the therapy. What is relevant is the attitude that most patients I see (I see a lot of borderline personality disorders and other personality disorders) that embraces victimhood and gives them a rather dramatic sense of entitlement. I agree with ShrinkWrapped’s comments that no one can be helped as long as they see themselves as a victim; and no one can take control over his/her life as long as they expect others to take care of them.
    If a therapist agrees with those two propositions, then their patients will not get well.

  18. E. S. May Says:

    Mr. Wells:

    As a poet who is conservative politically, I take exception to your characterization of us. What you are talking about is the world of well-known and published poets, and the people who edit and publicize their work.

    I discovered many years ago that there was no point in attempting to publish my poetry. Editors were simply not interested in work that was not “transgressive” or “relevant”. The craft of rhyme and meter is no longer respected, so skill in these areas is of no help.

    I think my work is passable, but I know that it will not be well-known in my lifetime. I have a wife and also a friend in the same situation. Who can tell how many more of us there are out there?

    I elected to blog my work on the web to be found by anyone who might happen along; this has made my heart content.

    By the way, of all your books, I like “The History of Mr. Polly” best.

  19. Goesh Says:

    Then there is the fringe element of therapy, the assorted new-agers with their past life regressions, channeling, karma counseling, tarot, astrology, shamanism, crystal gazing etc. These folks hold a monopoly on the Liberal ideology and unfortunately have about as much legitimacy as traditional, educated therapists. You darn sure can’t blame this on Conservatives, it’s their own doing. Does Jung have an archtype for conservatism I wonder?

    The Baron’s point is well taken, that conservative views are often regarded as therapeutic issues. I suspect that consveratism as pathology is a notion bantered about more in the Liberal therapeutic community than we realize or care to know about. This makes me a bit angry, having done some work with violent felons and hard-corp addicts, because these people are totally self-actualized in their world and can hone in on emotional states every bit as well as any seasoned therapist can. It was my observation that Liberal therapists were pretty much overcome by this type of real pathology. Nope, no identity crisis’ with these folks, no struggle to release the inner man, no need for warm fuzzy hugs. The veneer of civilization is mighty thin on the street and in the office with these guys and easily shattered.

  20. hg wells Says:

    > Poets probably aren’t the worst. Maybe.

    I still say poets are more liberal even than librarians. The “Poets Against the War” movement (http://www.poetsforthewar.org/war/) garnered over 20,000 poems, while the counter “Poets for the War” (http://www.poetsforthewar.org/war/index.shtml) only managed a few hundred–making for ~100:1 ratio. Admittedly, this is one rather odd data point…

    However, given the large skew of therapsts, librarians, and poets towards liberalism, I suspect there are larger social, cultural forces at work than those specific to the training and mindset of therapists.

  21. Larry Says:

    As always, a stimulating post, neo. Two comments, though:

    1) It’s not at all clear to me that contemporary liberal (as opposed to classical-liberal) implies tolerance or non-judgmentalism — I think, instead, that liberalism is a belief system that affects a certain “tolerance” toward what it perceives as some kind of anti-bourgeoise stance, but that can be belligerantly intolerant of any opposition;

    and
    2) even as a tool, I wonder about the non-judgmental stance — mightn’t it be the case that what (some at least) patients need is precisely judgement, but from a more objective source than friends or family? What if their problems are primarily or fundamentally moral problems? And, in the absence of a pastor, who else can help them with moral issues? Not that a therapist is necessarily a moral “expert” (assuming such exists), but simply that the combination of training in perceiving certain behavioural “patterns” and the external, disinterested standpoint may put a therapist in a position to render a needed judgment better than most.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    neo,
    i was struck by how much your post resembled d’souza’s argument about boas’ anthropology. in both cases relativism went from being a professional tool to a more general moral nihilism.

  23. Lone Ranger Says:

    Well, this one is easy. You’re liberal if your blog entries consistently exceed four paragraphs. As Bill O’Reilly says, “Keep it pithy.”

  24. strcpy Says:

    Ultimately the overriding common factor in professions that lean heavily towards liberalism is an ability to manipulate your environment.

    In therapists everything is malleable – you see everyday people change from bad to good. In Computer Science if it will logically/mathematically work it will work in reality.

    Then you have neat splits that I think show this – I worked in a research insitution where you had both theoretical and applied physics, chemistry, and mathematics. To a tee the theoretical were liberal, the applied conservative.

    I think it’s why you also see the split between rural and city. In the city you choose when to be exposed to nature – you hike on pretty days you know you will enjoy things, you live in controlled anvironments, about the only time you are exposed to things you can’t control is on the walk to your transportation (though once in it you are back in control). Contrast that with the other extreme – farm workers – you have no choices. Cows need milked, animals need fed, fence has to be repaired, hay has to be done – none of that is in your control. Animals have to be fed if it’s a monsoon or 24 below, hay has to be timed to the environment – you very much understand “sometimes things are just that way”.

    To a large extent, if nearly everything you do all day is possible if you think it, then why not this other? Why can’t it be controlled like everything else? It’s perfectly reasonable to think so – after all it true 99% of the time and the 1% – well it’s not that bad and you even enjoy the occasional blurp.

    You will not see farm people having hurricane parties on the beach to watch the storm surge – they usually first hand familiar with not respecting things you have no control over, that is purely in the provence of the people who think that everything is controllable (and mainly liberal, many time thinking us conservatives are simpletons)

  25. Dymphna Says:

    Poets probably aren’t the worst. Maybe.

    Neuro-conservative had a librarian commenter who said the ratio of liberal:conservative librarians was 27:1. That incredible discrepancy burned into my brain…no wonder I’ve taken to shopping at ABE books instead of perusing the new stuff in the stacks. It’s all drek.

    So librarians are probably the most skewed. Which profession do you think has the most conservatives? Surgeons, maybe?

  26. hg wells Says:

    It is puzzling. Although one might think the tolerance of non-judgmentalism would explain the large skew of therapists towards liberalism, that tolerance clearly does not extend to Americans who support the war or President Bush. I notice the same pattern with American poets (who are possibly the most overwhelmingly liberal group in the country). I have been astonished at the verbal abuse I have heard from these liberals.

    My guess is that their personal identities are being threatened by the war and by Bush, hence the tendency to lash out, irrespective of the value they may place on tolerance.

    Keep digging at this one, neo.

  27. Dymphna Says:

    Great thread, guys. Neoneo, you really know how to light the kindling, I must say.

    My current therapist is a moderate to conservative, I think. His son is a Navy intelligence someting-or-other and when I have inveighed agaisnt the awful bumper stickers in his parking lot he’s been mildly amused…one said “we are making enemies faster than we can kill them.” When I complained, he murmured “well, perhaps we need to kill them faster…”

    This summer, I met a woman at a garden center whose son had died last winter…she was elderly and I was helping her retrieve her cell phone from under her car. She was distraught and I took her for a walk and talk and she asked if I knew any counselors who weren’t “hippie-dippies”…seems her son had graduated with honors from VMI and she wanted someone sympatico. Made sense to me.

    There are so many incompetent therapists out there. I know; I’ve met a lot of them. Generally, you have to shop carefully. Many of them are former patients who decide “gee, this is fun; I can do this.” It isn’t all that hard to get cerification…when in actuality some of them simply need to be certified to the nearest asylum.

    One of the cruelest psychiatrists I ever met was a Harvard prof; one of the kindest was also…both were old school liberal — they died out with the ‘greatest generation.’

    Fortunately, in a Blue, Bleu town, I met two good more-or-less conservative therapists. Talk about luck…

    OTOH, the most brilliant clinician I ever met, one who trains child psychiatrists in infant observation, is a Jewish woman who loves the Palestinians. Go figure.

    Anyway, great topic. I leave you with what one therapist said. It is a dictum to which I subscribe: he said his job as a psychiatrist was to leave the world a little bit more Jewish, one patient at a time. Yep. He got that right.

  28. Rick Ballard Says:

    “how many patients on the right steer clear of therapy in general”

    Not many. I’ve used therapy to get through a couple of rough patches and I didn’t really even think of political implications. I would tend to recommend pastoral counseling for marriage issues and some family/child problems but I wouldn’t advise against a general practice therapist for depression or anxiety issues.

    The real point of departure would be substance abuse problems. I’ve seen the Teen Challenge program help people with impulse control problems who had recycled through numerous “non-judgemental” programs with zero positive results. Teen Challenge is more behavior modification than actual therapy and it actually does work with the a number of the “many who don’t do well in therapy”.

  29. PatCA Says:

    Overcorrection is a good choice of words. We are urged to love and support without discrimination yet fail to notice the barbarians approaching beyond the warm tiny village of our existence. That’s why 9/11 changed so many of us. The specters in our peripheral vision took shape before our eyes in one cruel stroke.

    Freud freed us from the strictures of Victorianism. We now must free ourselves from the vacuous narcissism that replaced it.

    I tell incredulous friends that I haven’t changed at all. I still love and I still support, but I love and support the good people of the world, the unseen Arabs and good people everywhere, who are being killed just offscreen by the bad.

  30. neo-neocon Says:

    So many thought-provoking comments!
    I agree with much of what’s been said here.

    To anonymous–if I’d wanted to make the post really long, I could have gone into some anecdotes about therapists I know who are on record as saying they would have a great deal of difficulty treating someone who supports Bush, and might have to refer such patients out. Astounding! Their much-vaunted tolerance does not seem to extend to tolerance of conservative, or even centrist, political opinions.

    And ditto on the bumper stickers–some of them express quite a bit of outright hostility.

    Your comment makes me wonder how many patients on the right steer clear of therapy in general, or keep their mouths shut in therapy about their political persuasions. If so, this certainly would contribute to therapists’ ability to maintain their own liberal bubble.

  31. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Well put, neo, and I could say the same of many of the comments. The ironies of therapist politics abound. It is quite true that there is a crossover belief that because nonjudgementalism can be an effective tool with some clients, that it must follow, as the night follows the day, that nonjudgementalism is a good foreign policy as well. It is much the same, or more so, on the psychiatric social work side.

    And yet, a quick perusal of the bumperstickers in the mental health center or psych hospital parking lot would not lead one to think “Aha! Tolerant people here!” In front of me two days ago was “Support Bush” — with a noose on it. Wow. Bulletin boards and posters in the offices are much the same, though usually milder.

    I will venture into more controversial territory here. I have found that sexual freedom, to not merely do as you please but be spared the consequences, is one of the central concerns. We have a team concept at our hospital, and over the decades I have been part of some pretty alarming discussions. At one, the other five professionals at the table all acknowledged (three quite aggressively) having affairs while married or with a married person, and thought my raised eyebrows a horrible, retrogressive judgement. Well, maybe.

    I don’t want to go to far with this. Once one has developed a theory, one finds confirming evidence everywhere, and I may be over-rating Freedom to Screw as a therapist value. But it’s somewhere on the list, and certainly higher than some more traditional values.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    Well, the situation also reminds me of liberal thought in another way… Take the highest ground possible to berate those under you. Support my policy or you’re a ‘racist’ (or some other troglodytism… nationalist, sexist, yada yada)..

    Well, the ego that would be attracted to that style of ‘discourse’ might also want a similar type of social standing arrangement… the therapist (along with professor) is the judge or arbitrator of fact and/or of mental health itself.

    Its not non bias or open minded, it’s the commanding heights. It’s nothing more than a way to have power over others and tell them what to do… the same dynamic attracts intellectuals to systems such as socialism.

  33. Baron Bodissey Says:

    One of the ramifications of the general liberal slant of therapists is that political/social positions that violate liberal standards tend to be viewed as therapeutic issues, i.e., as evidence of mental illness. Examples might be a strongly held religious belief (especially Christian) or the homeschooling of one’s children.

    Years ago, in family therapy, I learned to keep my mouth shut on certain topics. The therapists were good people (some of them superb at their job), but when one said certain things, the patronizing “I’m the doctor and I know best” attitude would come to the fore.

    My political views weren’t broke and didn’t need fixing. So, in that department, discretion was the better part of therapy.

  34. camojack Says:

    There’s just no understanding some things, or certain people. Just as there’s no pleasing some folks. Sad but, ultimately, true…

  35. Rick Ballard Says:

    “But the dream–of talking, leading to understanding, leading to change–dies hard.”

    That dream is realized every day. There are millions of individuals who respond in the hoped for manner to non-judgemental professional therapists leading them to the level of self awareness necessary to actuate behavioral change. It certainly doesn’t work for everybody and it may not be an effective methodology for those who would benefit the most but that is a function of intellectual capacity.

    Are there valid testing methods that allow therapists to determine the probability of a successful outcome with any particular individual prior to beginning ? Or to differentiate the probability of success of different approaches?

    Btw 2 thumbs up on the spam blocking

  36. thedragonflies Says:

    The interesting contradiction of those who think that all we need to do is better understand those trying to destroy us is that the only ones who apparently don’t understand the terrorists are those calling for understanding.

    I think it is pretty clear to those of us who support the war that the jihadists see themselves on a mission from their god to establish a caliphate, cleanse the world of Western corruption and error, and rule the world by Sharia law. This has nothing to do with oil, American imperialism, Halliburton, Bush, WMD, lies, etc.

    In addition, I think the psychology of the jihadist is essentially fascist – i.e. overvaluing will, undervaluing caring, seeing the world as a place to intimidate and force into one’s own desires and demands. (See Eric Fromm in “Escape from Freedom”) Thus, the accuracy of the term “Islamofascist.”

    Those who advocate “understanding” want to see the fascist mind in non-fascist terms. Big mistake; 50,000,000 died in WWII from that mistake.

  37. neuroconservative Says:

    I am in broad agreement with you, neo, as well as ShrinkW’s comments. One of my first blog entries was on a related topic.

    Two quick thoughts: First, though Freud’s impact was truly radical, and his thoughts on religion were far from conservative, I think his general view of human nature as essentially tragic is one that conservatives can share (and which has been rejected by most contemporary analysts).

    Second, I think the most important point in your post is that the world is not a consulting room, and we cannot have hourly, billed sessions with terrorists. It is a fundamental error in logic to apply the empathic mode in a non-personal relationship. It seems difficult for many therapists to draw a distinction between the call of love in a private realm and demands of justice in the public realm.

  38. ShrinkWrapped Says:

    An important contribution to the liberalism/leftism of therapists discussion requires an historical perspective. Freud invented Psychoanalysis, and every therapist and type of therapy extant, derives from the early Psychoanalysts. In the early days, Psychoanalysis saw itself as a type of treatment that could free its patients from the crippling neurotic inhibitions imposed by the conscious mind in its attempts to control the unconscious, unacceptable thoughts and feelings of its bourgeous patients. As such, the early Analysts easily identified themselves with progressive political ideas, which also had as their goal the increased writ of freedom.
    As well, European Psychoanalysis began in the shadow of WWI in Europe and American Psychoanalysis began in the shadow of WWII. Again, the fascists were the enemies of freedom and the left was seen as the progressive vanguard of freedom; the political and the personal meshed.
    Today, a well trained therapist recognizes that no patient can really be helped as long as they insist on seeing themselves as a victim of others (parents, the system, racism, sexism, etc). Only by giving up the benefits of victimhood can a patient really hope to change. Most therapists, if they have been paying attention, would navigate toward the right since the left is dedicated to maintaining victim status for groups, which opposes individual autonomy. Unfortunately, most therapists are as lazy as any other groups of people; the work involved in challenging one’s own pre-existing ideas, and possibley changing one’s mind (as you have rather eloquently described) is too time consuming and difficult. It is far easier to filter one’s perceptions to support pre-conceived notions than to look with fresh eyes. As long as Conservatives and Republicans are evil, Bush is stupid, the war is only about enriching Texas oil men, the military is a tool of the colonialist oppressors, etc, then it makes sense to remain a leftist.

  39. Anonymous Says:

    One thing your column doesn’t touch on is how the hard skew towards one political belief system is bad for the patients. (BTW, I have heard the statistic before)
    As a conservative I am leery of getting unbiased advice and help from someone that opposes my way of looking at the world. I assume that when they view their belief system as “right” they will try to correct any issues I have by steering me to their “right” way of looking at things. I don’t want to go to someone who views my fundament belief system as morally incorrect and wrong.
    I tend to avoid most people I know who are Leftist. Because, they tend to quickly devolve into someone that gets directly in my face a screams about Bu$Hitler Chimpy McHaliburten and starts calling anyone on the Right a racist, sexist, rapist, homo-hating, hypocrite. Intellectual debate isn’t possible because since the 70s the Left has taught their followers that the way to win an argument is not to debate facts, but to demonize your opponent. Play the player not the ball. Oddly enough, I try to avoid these people. Instead, I’ll hang out with the people I know are Right or “Don’t Know” (i.e. they may be Left, but since they aren’t screaming they’re OK).
    Most therapists reside on the Left. I am not going to look for help from the type of people I try to avoid.

  40. Thomas Says:

    David Says:

    March 3rd, 2007 at 12:00 am
    “There’s also an interesting category of “things” that are intangible but still have the hard and unforgiving attributes of thingness (like computer code)..are these more like word-people or thing-people?”

    I think they tend to be thing based… because computers have leway but are in many ways inflexible. You must adhere to their logic and way of doing things or what your trying to do won’t work… I’m a computer guy and my observations on the field are there are many conservatives and libertarians (re: over represented)… also, hearing users complain that ‘the computer doesn’t work’ because they won’t use it properly… drives us nuts… This carries over into politics… hearing people like Mike Moore fans quote his unfactual bs creates the same effect… they believe bs because they ‘want it to be so / or true’ even though it is not…

  41. bunkerbuster Says:

    Plenty of interesting comments here, but one theme rings through:

    Conservatives are obsessed with their inferior status.

    The media’s against them

    The academic world is against them.

    Therapists are against them.

    “Word people” are against them.

    So what’s the source of all this paranoia?

    I would argue it’s the news media. Anyone who takes the minimal time to do some addition will quickly see that among all major newspapers and television news in America, the number of conservative commentators significantly outnumbers the number of liberals.

    Turn to a random newspaper or TV program in America and you are significantly more likely to hear or read a conservative giving his or her views than you are to hear or read a liberal.

    So there is a sense that the conservative view is the standard American viewpoint. It IS the mainstream.

    But straight news reporting doesn’t toe the conservative line. News journalism calls for the kind of objectivity neoneo describes as also necessary for therapy. The journalist isn’t supposed to be making judgments about the news, just reporting it.

    This is why straight news seems to conservatives to have a “liberal” bias. They expect judgments, i.e. condemnation of the things they think are bad and praise for things they think are good. When they don’t get that, they think it’s bias.

    But why does that make them paranoid?

    It creates among conservatives a sense that their ideology is “under seige.” They are led to believe their views are mainstream–just look at all the commentators out there repeating RNC talking points every day. But at the same time, the real straight news tells a different story.

    So, when a conservative pipes up at, say, a dinner party, they’re outraged when a liberal challenges their view. Conservatives are inured to the idea that ripping liberals has no cost and requires no logical or substantive backup. When it’s brought to their attention that it does, they’re stunned and, as neoneo demonstrates, offended.

    Read this blog and you will see the same thing. Conservative commenters here are stunned, flabbergasted, amazed that anyone could possibly take a liberal position. Many express outright disgust that anyone could possibly hold a view opposite to theirs.

    Why the dismay, the outrage?

    They thought they would be like Rush Limbaugh, or Bill O’Reilly or Brit Hume or Sean Hannity or any one of the scores of conservative commentators in the mainstream media who opine without concern that they will face any scrutiny whatsoever from an ideological opponent.

    You gotta love the blogosphere.

  42. SUSIE E Prentice Says:

    Victims are not helpless. Victims are helpless when the therapist decides they are helpless. That empowers the therapist and the victim mentality. All the while the “victim” is thinking why doesn’t this therapist say something useful. Actually tuning into the reality of problems. Not to say there aren’t many victim therapists that don’t. It’s a question you have to ask self. It becomes the “Impoverished Management” rather than the “Team Management” . Impoverished therapy doesn’t stand up for any thing there is so much empathy that a numbness developes, to a disparity. It’s not judgement time in therapy. It’s encouraging and enabeling time. I believe understanding is of ut-most importance but that does not mean I agree with what I understand.
    There are levels of understanding and levels of agreeing. There are victims but they are not victims because they “deserve” but victims because of a lack of specific elements for each individual. So the “Q”uestion is what are the individual elements that are a must have?
    I have numerous experien(ces) in living life. I do not put self in one particular field of interest. Why? I f one isolates self to one field of study they can not know what is happening out side their bubble until it burst. My bubble burst years ago. NOW let’s look to the beginning of what was that ‘guys’ name? Freud? He began labeling to improve definition(s) to bring about the same thinking but to also bring about what therapy is to be doing, that is actually helping people. Not simply working on their own retirement plan. Although not to see the missing elements allows for impoverished thearpy.

  43. gloria stitz Says:

    More jails indeed. I guess there’s no such thing as mental hospitals for non-criminally insane people.

  44. Bookworm Room » Therapists and non-therapists — a guest post from Ymarsakar Says:

    [...] recently read Neo-neocon’s biographical post “Therapists and liberalism”. It sparked an interesting subject matter for me, but not in the sense that she intended [...]

  45. Scott A Joseph, MD Says:

    Well, as a politically Conservative Jewish Psychiatrist (YAFer VP of my University) I have always marched to a different drummer. Only my supreme clinical skill has allowed me to get by. But I try to keep my politics out of work by focusing on fixing the leaks…

  46. Nightcat Says:

    So I am seeing a psychiatrist and she keeps going on about how bad GW Bush is. The year is 2013 and I never once mentioned politics. I just sit there nodding until we can get back to MY problems, not hers.

  47. neo-neocon Says:

    Nightcat:

    I think you might need to look into getting a new therapist, if that sort of conversation is not something that’s okay with you.

    As a general rule, whether pro-Bush or anti, pro-Obama or anti, therapists should not be spouting off about their political opinions to their clients. Especially if the client has not solicited those opinions.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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