Trump Trauma

Psychotherapists' Open Letter on How Donald Trump and His Supporters Are Wreaking Trauma on Americans

These therapists believe silence is complicity.

Photo Credit: Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

Increasingly, the weight of the current political environment burdens the hearts and minds of Americans and causes anxiety, preoccupation, deepening depression, feelings of helplessness and despair, disgust and horror. Not infrequently, it even rekindles the embers of prior trauma for women and members of marginalized groups whose sense of hard-won safety has been shaken to the core. As mental health professionals, we are troubled by the environment of rampant dishonesty, daily disregard for civil and social norms, and threats toward vulnerable peoples and its impact on the people we work with. We are troubled by policies and rhetoric that undermine progress on environmental protection, humane immigration laws, and racial and gender equity. We believe these developments augur a regression of our evolutionary accomplishments and a dismantling of the quality of life for all Americans.

We are a group of psychotherapists from across the country who came together in solidarity to examine how the political environment impacts us, our clinical practice and our clients. We are united by a commitment to create safety and exploration for the purpose of psychological, emotional and relational healing in our work with individuals, couples and families. Recent events have made it even more imperative that we offer public statements about how the socio-political environment impacts the lives of clients and clinicians alike. At this point, we believe that silence is complicity.

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, rocked much of the nation. Emboldened by our president, groups of white nationalists are no longer ashamed to appear publicly and speak boldly about their hatred of people of color, Jewish or Muslim faith, LGBTQIA orientation, and immigrants. This kind of hatred has always been with us, but it has been inflamed by President Trump, who claimed to be a president “for all Americans,” but who has declined to take a moral stance on bigotry and instead has set up a situation in which there are apparently two legitimate sides.

We believe this equivocation on the president’s part to be a complete abdication of his responsibility to be a clear moral voice “for all Americans.” Even more recently the administration barely attempted to disguise the racism at the root of the decision to rescind DACA. Its abject cruelty should not be downplayed. Those with power in Congress to hold President Trump accountable have failed to do so, and indeed, with their recent vote to gut health care, appear to be complicit in undermining the health and welfare of all, particularly children, the aged, the poor, and those in minority populations. Therefore, the responsibility to speak out falls more heavily on the shoulders of individuals and groups, large and small.

As therapists and as citizens we are one such small group that cannot remain silent. We are alarmed by the normalization of hate speech and renewed violence and contempt toward marginalized people, immigrants, and women. Silence, abdication of responsibility, moral ambiguity, fear, and cowardice have always been necessary enablers of the rise of destructive powers in our human history. We cannot pretend that this is not a mental health issue, and we cannot, in good conscience, refrain from speaking up.

In our work, we see daily the suffering and damage caused by abusive or neglectful relationships in which people are belittled, hated, ignored or made to feel worthless. We see this happening on a mass scale in our country in response to the pathological lying and bullying of our current president. People are increasingly fearful and trust in government institutions and their capacity to protect is eroding rapidly. On the other side we know how isolated, lonely, and/or angry individuals can be manipulated to become hateful on behalf of magnetic and powerful people who have an agenda for themselves and little real care for the people who follow them.

Sadly, the mental health field has been too slow to come to the table on many of the psychological issues present in this current crisis. We believe this has led to a failure of our profession to uphold one of our first ethical commitments: to help educate the public about human behavior in an effort to increase people’s understanding of themselves and others. As the socio-political environment continues to encroach on the psychotherapy relationships of which we are all a part, we feel an increasingly urgent obligation to speak out. We need to be a voice of advocacy for the mental health of ourselves, our clients, and the nation as a whole. It is our collective observation that these are currently threatened by the president and his administration’s positions and by the willingness of Americans to allow it.

Emotional health and strength often come from being with and exploring the broken places in our lives rather than ignoring them. In this time in our societal history much is breaking. People are struggling. Many are truly suffering. We believe that hope, healing and renewed life come from being in this struggle together, being honest about what is happening, and consistently choosing love and solidarity, even when we may be tempted by aggression and divisiveness. The human heart and mind have capacities for both, but only one leads to greater life and well-being for all; only one choice provides a real foundation for a flourishing democracy.

 

Eileen M. Russell is a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York and New Jersey. She is senior faculty at the AEDP Institute, adjunct faculty at NYU/ Bellevue Hospital and faculty at the Trauma Treatment Program at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in NYC. She is the author of Restoring Resilience: Discovering Your Clients' Capacity for Healing

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