Therapists Tell Us How the Trump Era Affected Our Mental Health

If you hate looking at today’s Facebook memories of missing an election, or fear tomorrow’s memories of your reactions and those of your friends after the election, you are not alone. We spoke with five therapists about how choices and their consequences affected the mental health of their clients.

The therapists we spoke to were from three red and two blue states: Texas, New Jersey, Utah, Florida, and California. All stated that their clients included more Clinton than Trump voters, and one (a California therapist) indicated that people who go to therapy tend to be liberal. She said more conservative voters often prefer to turn to their pastor for advice.

But regardless of the clients’ party affiliation, the stories of these therapists are part of a nationwide trend. A study of stress in America by the American Psychological Association found that 52 percent of respondents in August prior to elections said they had experienced stress from their presidential campaigns. This year, 63 percent said they are worried about the future of our country. This goes against party lines, but the difference is less than you think: 73 percent Democrats, 59 percent Independents, 56 percent Republicans. This is the majority of all polled political groups.

Elections have “re-traumatized” people with abuse in their past

Karen Koenig is a clinical social worker specializing in eating disorders. She practices in Sarasota, Florida. “I can confidently say that my trauma clients are coming to the sessions initiated by our new president,” she says.

She attributes the trigger to something that happens deep in our brains, where a structure called the amygdala stores our deeply emotional memories. When something similar to a memory happens in real life, it is a trigger. “It’s hard for people to separate ‘okay, this memory triggered’ and ‘I’m really not safe,’” she says. “This mechanism works for all of us, [for example, if] we were bitten by a dog when we were six and [now] 60, and we see a dog in someone’s yard rushing at us.” Traumatic memories make real life difficult.

Many of her clients have gone through abusive childhood or abusive relationships. Access Hollywood’s “grab ’em by the pussy” lines caused a jolt for many.

The choices themselves touched on a different memory: insults, while others in their lives told them everything was okay. Koenig believes that even after Trump leaves office, the consequences for the psyche of her clients will remain: the fact that he was ever elected indicates that many Americans accept his behavior. “In any case, it is very difficult for [these clients] to have a sense of security in this world. They really see the world like this: “These people always get away with it, and I have to be scared and alert.”

She works with these clients to help them separate their memories from reality and encourages them to take action, such as joining activist groups to “find their voice.”

LGBTQ people are scared for a reason

Faith Harper is a Licensed Professional Consultant based in San Antonio, Texas, specializing in nutrition, relationships and sexology and working with a wide range of transgender or gender non-conforming clients. On the night the election results were announced, she was not in town. “When I woke up the next morning, all my non-gender clients texted me in panic. That’s all. “Then she got a call from the LGBT youth shelter.” The children were literally hiding under the beds from Donald Trump. “

Her clients reported feeling less secure physically both after the election and this summer when the state legislature tried to pass a “toilet bill.” Clients tell her about hate crimes, but they are more reluctant to report them, although Harper calls the San Antonio police “phenomenal”, conducts training for the police and trusts them. But customers are too scared. One trans woman decided not to switch even though she was already taking hormones and had a good support network, including her employer. “She just didn’t want to be killed,” says Harper.

Harper believes that activism is critical for those who feel safe enough to pursue it. She serves on the board of the San Antonio Pride Center and says clients respect her for this. “They say, ‘I kind of look at you like a canary in a coal mine.’ If you’re still here, I think I’m fine. ” She replies with black humor, “I tell them,” We can camp together in a concentration camp and braid each other’s hair. ” I have no magic answer. I tell them, “I will continue to fight for you.”

Children feel betrayed because the bully has won

Frank Sileo , a licensed psychologist based in Ridgewood, New Jersey, works with both children and adults. Many suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, or behavioral disorders.

“I’ve never seen an election affect so many people. In my 21 years of practice, whether it’s Bush or anyone else, Obama, Clinton, no one has ever talked about it. He never appeared in the clinical practice of psychotherapy. And people still do it as part of their therapy sessions. “

Children are especially hard pressed if they have thought about Trump’s role as a bully. “They ask me:“ How could a bully win? »» Sileo helps them separate real threats from imagined ones and encourages their patients, adults or children, to take action on real problems. For adults, this can mean participating in activist groups. As for children, he emphasizes that their parents will protect them, but he also encourages them to keep attending school and to act where they can – for example, to stop the bullying they see at school, or to talk to their schools about stronger ones. methods of dealing with violence. bullying. He tells them, “Change starts with you.”

Sileo also suggests that families establish a ground rule for Thanksgiving dinner: no politics at the table. Instead, talk about gratitude. His patients said it worked last year and people respected boundaries. His suggested question about the icebreaker is: what are you grateful for this year, what were you not grateful for last year?

Worry turned to depression

Mary Fisher is a clinical mental health consultant based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her clients include people with depression, anxiety and personality disorders.

“I would say that I keep my numbers about the same as they were before [the elections], but now I turn people away,” she says. “People come, in particular, citing concerns about the political climate as a reason for starting therapy. This is unheard of. I have never experienced this in my professional life. “

At first, she saw people feeling anxious about the elections. But over time, this developed into a more “fatalistic, depressive” attitude with many feelings of hopelessness.

She tells people to verbalize their feelings in a safe place with a trusted person. This is mostly a definition of therapy, but it can help in other contexts as well, such as describing your emotions to a close friend. She called it “stress buffering” because it takes you a little away from stress, but it also makes you more confident to deal with it.

Fischer was the only therapist who had a firm answer when I asked if any of her clients felt better because of the election. She did not mention 20 percent of her client base who agree with Trump’s policies, but instead said:

“Some of my patients feel better, but not because they are safer. These are African American, Latino, or Latino patients. They say, “The distress that all these white people are experiencing is what we feel all the time.” So it actually makes them feel more of the world and less alienated. “

We Can Control Adrenaline Rush With An Information Diet

Mary Crocker Cook is a licensed family therapist based in San Jose, California who also accepts drug and alcohol addicts. Her clients took the news of the election quite harshly, not to mention the debate and the bawdy tape. “I live in a very blue area, and even the therapists themselves have had difficulties,” she says.

“It’s Trump’s unfoundedness and arbitrariness that worried her clients the most,” she says. “There are no restrictions on who he is mostly willing to offend or offend. If you grew up in a dependent, dysfunctional or aggressive family, you feel it every day. “

Before the election, clients said they felt like the only ones who saw how “crazy” Trump was. Then they heard others say the same about him. Soon after the election, Cook wrote in a presentation to colleagues that “the madness we are witnessing is [now] no secret. This will be our mental and spiritual stabilizer in the days to come. ” To some extent, that was true, she said. But some clients felt worse because people knew who Trump was but still voted for him or continue to defend him.

Cook recommends that his clients keep an eye on the incoming news – don’t turn them off if they don’t like it, but pay attention to how they feel. If they are worried about watching social media or the news at certain times of the day, they may need to change the time.

She also recommends humor as a filter if the news scares you, but you don’t want to go without it. “I really recommend Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, who is this Briton? John Oliver. ” In the presentation, she wrote that she herself uses this approach. “I can get the same information … but go to bed with a perspective.”


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