Opinion | What a Conservative Therapist Thinks About Politics and Mental Health

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By Meghan Daum

Ms. Daum is a podcast host and a writer.

Partisanship and polarization are everywhere in America these days, from classrooms to board rooms. Americans are sorting themselves into worlds separated by their political beliefs. Why would therapists’ offices be any different? One reason: Therapists seem to be overwhelmingly liberal.

Do people struggling with mental health issues need to agree with their therapists’ political views to find help? Do conservative therapists have a different perspective on mental illness from their liberal counterparts? What would a conservative therapist say about the anxiety that followed, for some Americans, the election of Donald Trump?

As part of It’s Not Just You, Times Opinion’s project on mental health and society in America, the writer Meghan Daum spoke with Dea Bridge, a therapist in Grand Junction, Colo., who lists her services on conservativetherapists.com, which helps conservative patients find treatment with politically sympathetic professionals. The two spoke about what conservative therapy might look like and how Ms. Bridge views the state of mental health in America today.

This conversation has been edited.

Meghan Daum: The home page of the Conservative Therapists site says: “Half of Americans have conservative values, yet approximately 90 percent of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists are guided by a liberal or even socialist value system, creating a barrier for conservatives who would prefer talking with a professional who supports their values.” Does that sound right to you? Do you feel therapists tend to be on the left politically?

Dea Bridge: From what I’ve seen, yes.

I’m a little careful about what I say in certain circles because I just don’t know how well my views will be received. I kind of test the room a little bit before I open my mouth too wide. My affiliations — between the military and the law enforcement communities and some of those more hard-line traditional conservative values — really are uncomfortable for some people who are not conservative.

But I guess I didn’t realize how much it came up until Covid. I put my name on that website and I had people from other states calling me to say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had this kind of experience and so now I’m looking for somebody whose values align more closely with mine,” and that’s really when I started thinking, “Wow!”

Daum: What kinds of experiences were they talking about?

Bridge: Basically, that they’d had liberal therapists who tried to tell them that their value system was wrong and they should think differently and then their lives would be different. When you’re basically slamming somebody’s belief system — how can you have a therapeutic relationship like that?

Daum: Can you give some examples? Were they talking about situations with friends? How much of it was very particular to this moment, this political climate, as opposed to something that could have been going on, say, 10 years ago?

Bridge: I would say the people who came to me talked very specifically about what is happening now. Whatever was happening before, for whatever reason, wasn’t as big a presence in everybody’s life. Just everywhere you look, there’s so much divisiveness. We spend a lot of time, even now, in individual and group sessions talking about how to manage the divisiveness.

Daum: And they feel they can’t say that to another therapist? They are actually saying something that is as anodyne as what you just said wouldn’t land well with a lot of therapists?

Bridge: Some people say, “I couldn’t work with this therapist,” and there’s probably others who are just afraid to say anything, because they don’t know if that person will be able to be professional and be objective and allow them to just be who they are regardless of their personal views.

Daum: When did you go to school to be a therapist?

Bridge: I started in 2014. Before that, I was in human resources and a whole bunch of other things. I have a really long résumé, different fields. I decided at 50 this is what I want to do.

Now I have a master’s in social work and I’m a social worker, and I’m a licensed professional counselor through a program at a private Christian college.

Daum: How is that different from a secular program?

Bridge: Religion and spirituality were very much woven into things — looking at and using scripture. But it wasn’t so overbearing that people who maybe didn’t have a strong sense of faith would be put off by it. It didn’t overburden the program and the learning, but it came from a Christian worldview.

Daum: So let’s take an example: If a couple comes in for marriage counseling — to a therapist like you, someone who takes a conservative or Christian approach — would you say that the goal, ideally, would be to keep this couple together? And might this be different from how another therapist might approach this same couple?

Bridge: That’s kind of a loaded question. I don’t do marriage counseling because I don’t want to be in that position. I have done some couples work, but in fact, the one couple that really sticks out in my mind divorced. I met with them individually, and after meeting with the wife, her vision of the marriage was so oppressive to her — it was making her ill. And we talked about her willingness to be in the relationship. So I would never be the one to say you have to make it work at all costs because this is what God wants. That’s not my job.

Daum: Do you think that conservatives are less likely to go to therapy in the first place?

Bridge: I would say yes. I don’t know if that’s a truth or just something I feel, but if you look at the ideology around conservatives, particularly out West, it’s this up-by-the-bootstraps, don’t-need-your-damn-help kind of thing. I’ve even met with people from the East Coast who’ve come out and done presentations and they say, “Wow, everybody’s really resistant out here to help.” It’s a very different mentality.

I would say the stigma that has been with mental health for a long time is decreasing; people are more open and they’re talking about mental health issues more now than they ever did. But, by and large, I would say conservatives are less likely to seek out therapy.

Daum: If you were a conservative Christian, you would be more likely to go to Christian counseling, right? That would be the first stop you would make instead of therapy.

Bridge: Perhaps, or even just go to the church and seek counsel but not counseling.

Daum: It sounds like you’re not letting your personal values intrude on the work you’re doing with the client. Is there an example of any type of problem or issue that you would just not be comfortable engaging with because of your views?

Bridge: I had a transgender client, but we weren’t working on transgender issues. It was somebody who we took in as a result of a probation contract [Ms. Bridge’s practice works with people who are involved with the criminal justice system]. I could have passed this person off to someone else, but I didn’t because we weren’t there to talk about transition-related issues. Obviously, those issues enter into the person’s life but that wasn’t really the primary focus of treatment — so we focused on the main issue.

I don’t intentionally seek out people needing services for those types of things because it’s just not my forte, and it doesn’t align with my values.

Daum: Hypothetically, if clients did come to you and they were transgender or if they were coming to you because their child was identifying as transgender, would you say, “I’m going to refer you to somebody else?” Or do you think you would try to work with them?

Bridge: I think it would be in their best interest for me to refer them to someone else from the get-go, because if I give it a go for my own curiosity and it fails miserably, then I haven’t done the client justice. They need to get to somebody who is going to give them the best chance of success.

Daum: If somebody came to you and was pregnant and strongly considering strongly getting an abortion — how would you handle that? Would you share your opinions at all?

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