Politics, Communication, and Therapy

June 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Communication is clearly an issue in American politics. Politicians must work constantly to make sure they are projecting the message they intend to, and government officials attempting to shape public policy must convince those around them that their position is valid.

Recently, language in politics has been at the forefront of public consciousness. Evidence of the power of language in the political sphere has ranged from the backlash surrounding ignorant and inappropriate name calling earlier this year to the controversy surrounding state congressional (over)reactions to comments that include medical terms two weeks ago.

If the goal of politicians is to guide decisions that affect groups at all levels of society though, a failure to communicate is a fundamental problem that can cripple their ability to do their job. It is disheartening to watch politics play out as just a back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, towing party lines that in many ways are polar opposites by definition, each capitalizing on opportunities to act when they have decision-making power to do so and biding their time for the next power shift when they do not.

How is it possible that laws that would address violence against women and the gender pay gap are fought over on party lines? Can we seriously not agree that domestic violence needs to end, or that women should have legal tools to fight against discrimination in order to protect their financial well-being (and the well-being of those they support)? Really?

The actual effect of these political tug-of-wars is difficult to parse out, and communication is certainly not the only variable influencing politics today, but dynamics of communication are interesting to explore nonetheless.

Therapy may not come to mind immediately when trying to shed light on this issue, but I read an article recently that seemed to translate to politics. Dr. Richard Schwartz, a long-practicing psychologist, discussed his experience doing therapy with clients and what he believes is the most important technique to cultivate in therapy. Although training is a vital part of becoming licensed and maintaining one’s skills in practice, Dr. Schwartz believes what matters most is allowing yourself (as a therapist and as a client) to remain as open as possible to communication during sessions. This happens by asking various aspects of your personality (e.g., the Protector, the Critic, etc.) to step aside and leave only your essential self there to interact with the other person involved.

Although this does not apply perfectly to political discussions, people trying to agree about anything in politics will fail on some level if they do not let go of personal and party-related defenses to open communication. It is not in the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ best interests to stonewall each other and make progress only through brute force of numbers. That is not in the country’s best interest either. Decisions about reproductive health care, education spending and tax policies affect not only those immediately implicated in their scope but public welfare in general. We really are all in this together. And until American politicians start acting like that, we will continue to suffer the consequences.

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