My Next Step

I have been a psychotherapist for 20 years, and in that capacity it is my job to keep my social and political views out of the consultation room. I am here to guide my clients in directions of their own choosing, not win them over to my way of thinking. I am here to facilitate their growth and healing, not to impose my ideas about what they should think or feel. Every day that I show up to work with clients that is what I do. No problem there.

What has become a problem is continuing to keep my social and political opinions from what I write. As a writer I am increasingly drawn to explore how the principles applied daily in my office during therapy sessions (self-compassion, self-respect, integrity, effective communication, etc.) are somehow lost in the bigger picture of community, state, national, and global politics.

For instance, it would be tough to get someone to tell you that deception as a general rule is acceptable (or even workable) in the context of a healthy marriage. We can pretty much agree that honesty and established credibility is essential to the foundation of our personal relationships. And we may give lip service to this same value when it comes to the requirements we have for the men and women in positions of leadership and authority in our government. But we in fact do not hold to the same value system when it comes to evaluating and making decisions about our leaders. We not only have a tremendously high tolerance for dishonesty and trickery in the political context, we actually expect to be lied to and mislead. The result — at least one result — of this is a population of apathetic and/or cynical citizens who make their decisions on how to vote by trying to choose the lesser of the various evils. To a significant degree we have given up on the idea of actually solving problems.

While I will continue to keep my thoughts on these matters out of my work as a psychotherapist, I have decided to dissolve the boundary that has previously kept my political opinions out of my self-help writing. This is not to say that everything I write will be political; that is definitely not the case. It simply means that I am setting myself free from the task of necessarily separating the two voices on my inner-committee that are apparently blending into one voice. It is a voice that speaks out about how the principles of healthy being and doing apply at all levels of our human society; a voice that says it is not okay for a husband to lie to his wife and it is not okay for a president (regardless of party affiliation) to lie to the citizens he is supposed to be representing.

My intention as a psychotherapist looking at the political scene is to represent, or at least plead for, a voice of sanity. It is not necessarily Republicans who are crazy. It is not Democrats, anymore than it is Christians, Hindus or Muslims. The real problem is best characterized by ‘the 2 E’s’: Extremism and Exclusivity. It is about fundamentalism. And you can be a fundamentalist anything — fundamentalist Christian or Muslim, fundamentalist atheist, fundamentalist republican or democrat, fundamentalist boy scout, whatever. I have a friend who is a fundamentalist hippie.

Living according to the philosophy of ‘Close Your Mind and Open Your Mouth,’ will bring us nothing but more grief, heartache and hardship. My hope is that by allowing myself to write whatever wants to tap its way onto this keyboard, I can contribute to a positive ripple effect that will challenge, encourage and support others to face their own (your own?) obstacles that keep them from creating their own important ripple effect. And I hope to contribute to an improved political philosophy in this country —- something along the lines of “Listen with your ears, not your fears,” “Never delegate your thinking; Do it yourself,” or my current favorite, “Don’t start war just because you don’t feel at peace.”

Dissolving the boundary between my two writing voices makes sense for another very specific reason: the natural next step to individual personal growth is the application of that growth to the world we inhabit . In other words, what good is healing the individual if that individual does not contribute to the healing of his or her community? The bottom line is that personal growth should naturally lead to good citizenship.

I am doing my best to practice what I teach. As I become increasingly free with my own social and political views in what I write, I am not suggesting that the right thing for my readers to do is to agree with everything I express. What I am suggesting is that proactive participation in the world around us, respectful and thoughtful participation in the ongoing discussion of our times, is the natural progression of the personal growth we value so much. If nothing else, I hope that my willingness to contribute will inspire others to do the same.

That’s my next step. What’s yours?

THOM RUTLEDGE is the author of Embracing Fear (HarperSanFrancisco) and co-host of Inside Out: Problem Solving Radio. For more information visit or e-mail