As a social worker, I feel grateful to have a background that encouraged me to zoom out into broader circles of influence when looking at the roots of what a client is bringing to the table in therapy. Social workers are encouraged to look closely at culture and politics and economics and gender etc. The list is long when it comes to variables other than diagnostic criteria. The article even states that this wider angle lens is one that is historically associated with social work, but deeply translatable to the wide realm of therapeutic approaches.
Often a client will come into therapy with a problem that is felt to be internally located, “I am anxious, I am an addict, I have anger management issues…” and this perspective is one that can quickly lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Zooming out to locate broader threads behind the concern allows that person space to engage and grapple with the problem and not identify as the keeper and holder of the problem at all times. This article does a beautiful job of looking at the powerful impact of this therapeutic strategy.
“This is, in ways, an old quandary in psychotherapy. Should therapy strive to help a patient adjust, or to help prepare [one] to change the world around [oneself]? Is the patient’s internal world skewed? Or is it the so-called real world that has gone awry?”
In today’s world, there is a delicate balance for many providers between remaining impartial and removed from politics or other major events and naming where there may be injustice in certain structures for a client’s well-being. Last week, in my own practice, it would have been arguably harmful to ignore the sociocultural context of the hearings as it was actively impacting so many of my clients, especially my clients who have experienced sexual assault. The pain they were and are experiencing is amplified and echoed by these events in their cultural context. Without locating the context they are operating within, their pain becomes further isolating and silencing and the problem can again feel located in them. We are constantly asking our clients to use their words to speak to their experiences and story them. I love that this article makes the case that we as providers, might need to join with our clients in this dialogue with a little more frequency.
“You would be surprised how seldom it occurs to people that their problems are not their fault. By focusing on fairness and justice, a patient may have a chance to find what has so frequently been lost: an ability to care for and stand up for [oneself].”
*Quotes have been adjusted for more gender inclusive language.