NOT Everything is Politics, and Politics is NOT Everything – Why What You Say Matters

Recently, I attended a Continuing Education Unit (CEU) event on Attachment and Connection, where the facilitator of the program bashed U.S. President Donald Trump and his voters, praised past U.S. Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her “it takes a village” philosophy, and made demeaning comments about radio broadcaster Rush Limbaugh and those who listen to him.

I have been in treatment planning meetings where professional clinicians have criticized republican politicians and voters for not properly understanding the opioid epidemic in the U.S., amongst other things.

I have listened as medical professionals have referred to their patients as “trust fund babies” and “privileged.”

And I continue to hear those in the addiction treatment and recovery arenas refer to themselves and other recovering people as “fellow travelers” (a term associated with a person who sympathizes with and often furthers the ideals and program of the Communist party).

There is a responsibility in public speaking—especially in communities dealing with trauma. What we say matters.

At best, I believe unfortunate choices of words and/or analogies serve to alienate people, rather than help them to connect.  At the very worst, I see these as ethical violations that need to be remedied. Why?

First of all, how are the individuals using these loaded terms not aware that they’re not being empathetic to the very people who turn to them for help? And, second of all, don’t they have a responsibility to offer dignity and respect, remain unbiased, and extend empathy to their clients?

They do. Very much so.

Let’s have a look at the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics:

“The mission of the American Counseling Association is to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting the development of professional counselors, advancing the counseling profession, and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity.”

And, from the ACA Code of Ethics Preamble:

“The American Counseling Association is an educational, scientific, and professional organization whose members work in a variety of settings and serve in multiple capacities. Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.”

Professional values are an important way of living out an ethical commitment. The following are core professional values of the counseling profession:

  1. Enhancing human development throughout the life span

  2. Honoring diversity and embracing a multicultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential and uniqueness of people within their social and cultural contexts

  3. Promoting social justice

  4. Safeguarding the integrity of the counselor-client relationship

  5. Practicing in a competent and ethical manner

Politically charged comments and/ or references don’t honor the dignity and respect of the individuals my profession sets out to help. Political—or otherwise—bias has no place in professions that are set out to help people

In this day and age where we’re told that everything is politics, and politics is everything, we need to remember that politics has no place in client-counselor relationships and does nothing to build safety and trust needed for an appropriate and beneficial therapeutic alliance to be built with clients.We need to work to build the trust of our clients (patients) and be empathetic to their worldviews, not advance our own opinions or political agendas.

We need to remember the following:

WHAT IS A THERAPEUTIC RELATIONSHIP?

The purpose of a therapeutic relationship is to assist the individual in therapy to change his or her life for the better. Such a relationship is essential, as it is oftentimes the first setting in which the person receiving treatment shares intimate thoughts, beliefs, and emotions regarding the issue(s) in question. As such, it is very important that therapist provides a safe, open, and non-judgmental atmosphere where the affected individual can be at ease.

More references:

https://www.goodtherapy.org/ethics-therapy.html

https://www.counseling.org/resources/aca-code-of-ethics.pdf

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