I recently had such a puzzling experience. A prospective client called and left a voice message canceling an initial appointment we had because she had read some of my blog postings and saw that we have different political opinions. I found myself thoroughly perplexed: Why would someone not go to a therapist who had differing views but, presumably, only to one who shared their political opinions? Why would someone conclude “We would not be a good fit” because we might see things differently? Of course we will see things differently; we are different people. Where better than in therapy to dialogue and respectfully engage with difference? In fact, that might be what psychotherapy is essentially all about.
It strikes me that this woman presented a symptom of today’s deep cultural disorder. All too often people are insisting on sameness, homogeneity. We surround ourselves with people who think like we do, who look like us, who vote like us. We live in communities, counties, cities, states with mostly like-minded people. And we vilify those who are different. We are in effect retreating from one of the greatest of human challenges: to accept and live with difference.
Like it or not, we encounter difference daily. It is it is the difference that a spouse or partner presents; there is no more profound challenge in a relationship than dealing with the other’s difference. It is the difference posed by children, bosses and coworkers. It is difference across gender, class, race, and ethnicity. And just as challenging as the difference posed by others are the differences within ourselves.
It is perhaps one of the greatest of modern myths that the self is monolithic and not made up of multiple varying parts. Not only do we have to contend with and reconcile differences when we step out the door, we have to face differences in ourselves. Whitman said that he contained multitudes. We all do. Inside us all are many different parts that constitute this self, many jockeying for position, dominance and expression. There is the kind and compassionate grandfather, but also the selfish, sometimes vindictive or petulant teenager. A pacifist and a warrior; a comedian and tragic actor. Often these parts of ourselves are in painful conflict. It may be that enmity towards others, lack of tolerance, and an insistence on sameness, stems from the difficult challenge of accepting and integrating these various parts of our own personalities. That which we despise out there in the other is in fact inside ourselves.
I am left perplexed as to why a person would conclude based on apparently differing political views that we would not be a good fit. She no doubts anticipates not being understood, argued with, disrespected. Is this the basic assumption now that people have about one another, even therapists? How sad.
During this time of increasing divisiveness (see a recent Time Magazine story), isn’t reaching out to the other, across aisles and within ourselves, what is needed more than ever? Or are we to retreat further and further into polarized and homogeneous enclaves eating a bland diet of sameness?
To all prospective clients who might read this and other of my postings that reflect different views than their own, I say Welcome! I invite you to give me a call: let’s start a process, a dialogue, that is so necessary for individual growth and at the same time is a spoonful of medicine for what ails society.