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Impact of the Sociopolitical Climate on the Therapeutic Relationship

Instructor: April Vian
What impact does the prevailing sociopolitical climate have on the therapeutic relationship? This lesson takes a look at the therapist and client system by examining the many variables influenced by the sociopolitical climate.

Sociopolitical Climate and Therapy

Katherine is a Marriage and Family Therapist. In recent weeks she has noticed that there has been a shift in the way her client, Steve, interacts with her during their sessions. Steve has been seeing Katherine for the last six months along with his wife Sarah with the goal of improving their communication.

While Steve as been consistently been quiet during sessions, he has become noticeably more vocal and opinionated in recent weeks, often interrupting Katherine and making generalizations. At least this is how Katherine sees it. Katherine and Steve are both reacting to recent changes in the sociopolitical climate.

The therapeutic process does not occur in a vacuum; both the therapist and the clients are influenced by outside variables including the sociopolitical climate, which is the overall mood and opinion of society as it relates to political factors. Because this climate is ever changing, so is the influence that it has on individuals and the therapeutic relationship. This impact is most notable during times of transition or political and social upheaval.

Potential Implications of the Sociopolitical Climate

Being aware of this impact is key in maintaining an objective and effective therapeutic relationship. There are several ways that the sociopolitical climate may impact the therapeutic relationship. Let's look again at Katherine and Steve. Katherine's perception is that Steve has been overly opinionated argumentative; Steve believes that Katherine hasn't been listening to him and is siding with his wife. Examining the sociopolitical climate will give us some insight as to why this relationship has changed.

Feeling Unsafe

One possibility is that either party is feeling endangered by the current sociopolitical climate and concerned that other party is to blame. Often the sociopolitical climate is in upheaval due to variables including gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation or a myriad of other factors that can be divisive and lead to a feeling of being unsafe. Another potential impact of the sociopolitical climate is that it can heighten our preconceived notions, or prejudices, skewing the objectivity of the therapist and harming the therapeutic relationship.

Like all relationships, the one between between therapist and patient is influenced by the life experiences of each individual. An averse or toxic sociopolitical climate can impact both parties. For example, Steve is seeing Katherine for help with communication. He is typically quiet during sessions, allowing his wife to do most of the talking.

Changes in the sociopolitical climate may have created new tension between Steve and Sara. Perhaps they disagree on a current political issue, or there may have been a change in Steve's confidence, beliefs, or feeling of safety. Current events could have led to feelings of anxiety that are new to Steve. Regardless of the specific change caused by the sociopolitical climate, Steve's needs have changed and the previous objectives focused on therapy may no longer be relevant.

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