Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
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Psychotherapy: The Essential Ingredient that's Missing from the Resumes of Presidential Candidates

by Carol Campbell, MFT

Some days when I hear the latest news report of the Republican presidential primary season, I feel like screaming and tearing my hair out. Is this the best way we can manage to winnow the field to choose our leaders – constantly making every effort to demonize the opposition, distort his (it's seldom a "her") stated positions, and pour gasoline on the national fires of paranoia? Any seven-year old could tell you that it doesn't raise you up to tear someone else down. And yet the slugfest continues unabated, pushing us ever farther down the scale of seeking the lowest common denominators.

Today's candidates are banking on scaring the hell out of people in order to get elected. They are pandering to the insecurities of the common folks who have been clobbered by the excesses of previous administrations and are not even sure they can keep a roof over their heads or pay for the basic costs of life. These candidates are propagandizing the rich and greedy with the ridiculous notion that taxes are something unfamiliar to our American tradition of shared responsibilities, when in fact, taxes are, as Oliver Wendell Holmes eloquently put it, the price of civilization.

Politics has always had a nasty tone to it, but the changing technology of communications has exacerbated the problem to the point that something must be done if we want to continue to be sincerely proud of our democratic society. I would like to offer a modest proposal: Anyone holding him- or herself out as presidential timber must have had at least one year of weekly face-to-face psychotherapy with a licensed marriage and family therapist or other licensed mental health clinician. No therapy = not qualified! Nothing of the treatment needs to be disclosed, but it must be certified as having taken place.

Here's what would be different: (1) Potential candidates will be assessed for emotional problems, and diagnosed if they have mental disorders. (I would suspect most of them meet the criteria in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" for at least one personality disorder, most often Narcissistic Personality Disorder.) (2) Through therapy they can make progress in becoming aware of their dysfunctions, and motivated to heal from them. (3) They would learn how to behave and communicate in healthier ways that allow for not only vigorous debate, but also for seeing things from another person's point of view without fear of losing their own power or sense of self. They would learn that truth is composed of opposite factors, that leadership requires empathy as much as ego, and that great progress can be made with a lot less testosterone. With too much testosterone loose in the body, the mind simply cannot think. Thinking, in the psychological sense, means being able to consider things objectively and reflectively in a truth-seeking manner. We can't afford to entrust our nation's well-being to politicians who are incapable of thinking.

Untreated mental disorders are disastrous when they are located in the person at the top, because the inherent distortions of reality filter down through the organization, whether you are talking about a family or a nation, a parent or a President. Psychotherapists need to do a far more effective job of sharing what we know about what goes wrong in the human mind, and what needs to happen to repair the damage. As a nation we truly cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand while testosterone crazed politicians hijack our political process.

Psychotherapy is not a panacea, but it is a reasonable starting place to address an important aspect of what's wrong with our political process. One year of treatment is a very minimal standard, but it beats the hell out of no therapy at all. Anyone who thinks it is adaptive and acceptable behavior to go on national television to try to verbally destroy a political opponent sounds suspiciously to me like a person who would benefit from some psychotherapy. Wildly inflated self-assessment, inability to talk frankly and candidly about one's shortcomings, refusal to seek out compromises for the good of the whole, etc., are symptomatic of a mind that has some serious troubles.

An emotionally healthy person is someone who sometimes slips into a state of mind where he feels anxious or defensive; but an emotionally healthy person soon can then move into a second state of mind in which he is fully capable of observing himself. He has an observing ego – the capacity to see himself as someone else might see him, and be curious and interested in learning more about that perspective. In that state of mind, a person can feel regret for harming another person, and can experience genuine empathy for another person's experience, and can genuinely apologize for harm done. A person who has a history of trauma, neglect, abuse, or emotional deprivation in childhood is unlikely to have capacity to achieve that second mental state without therapeutic intervention.

Life is all about relationships. Let's make certain that we elect Presidents who have the mental equipment required to create and maintain healthy relationships. Mandatory psychotherapy for all candidates seems like a fine idea to me!

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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