Dear Karen: I have a professional and personal responsibility to speak out against Unacceptable behaviors

Last week I received a comment on this blog. Getting a comment is always very exciting, partly because I don’t get all that many and partly because the comments are usually positive and affirming. In this case the comment was neither positive nor affirming.

Although getting critical comments isn’t nearly as fun and ego-boosting as affirming comments, receiving criticism is important to self-examination and growth. The person who commented last Thursday was upset about my “politics.” As many of you know, I’ve occasionally written about Mr. Trump and lamented his behavior. Sometimes, I’ve felt nervous posting critiques of Mr. Trump, worrying that I may have been behaving in ways that were less that professional and worrying that perhaps I shouldn’t openly express my negative opinions about his behavior. However, in the end, I’ve often ended up deciding that my critiques of Mr. Trump aren’t really about politics anyway.

Digesting Thursday’s comment has helped me clarify my position on political commentary. Here’s a version of what I wrote back to my blog commenter.


Dear Karen,

Thanks for your message.

Many years ago when I interviewed Natalie Rogers, I recall her telling me something very compelling about her father, Carl Rogers. She said, in her family, all feelings were accepted, but not all behaviors.

Although some of my judgments about Mr. Trump have political components, most of my judgments about him focus on his personality and behavior. Politics aside, I wouldn’t care if he was a democrat, an independent, a republican, a corporate mogul, a teacher, a coach, or a rock star. I find his behavior to be an unacceptable example for children. From my perspective it’s clear that Mr. Trump is much more focused on using and abusing power than he is on empowering others. To return to Carl Rogers: Rogers believed the best use of power was to empower others. My perception of Mr. Trump is that he’s invested in accumulating power, and not on empowering others.

I could make a list of video evidence of Mr. Trump mocking disabled people, calling women “fat pigs,” disrespecting war veterans (including John McCain, whom I’ve never written a negative judgmental word about, despite his politics), paying off prostitutes, saying positive and supportive things about dictators and racists, and his continuous flow of lies. If Mr. Trump was my neighbor or a colleague at my University, it would be wrong for me to let his behavior pass without making it clear that I find his behaviors to be a potentially destructive and negative influence on children in the neighborhood or the culture at the University. Not only do I have a responsibility to be non-judgmentally accepting in therapeutic contexts, I also have a responsibility to speak up and speak out against racism and the promotion of violence. I believe there’s ample evidence that Mr. Trump has promoted racism and incited violence. My rejection of those behaviors isn’t particularly political; I simply believe that it’s morally wrong to promote racism and foment violence.

I can see we have different views of Mr. Trump. You may not see the evidence that I see, or you may find his behaviors less offensive and less dangerous. Although it’s challenging for me to understand your perspective, I know you’re not alone, and I know you must have reasons for believing the ways you believe. I can accept that.

But to articulate my perspective further, here’s a therapy example. If I was working with a client who exhibited no empathy or said things to others that were likely to incite violence, as a psychotherapist, I would work toward a greater understanding of the client’s emotions. In addition, I would consider it my professional responsibility to question those behaviors . . . for both the good of the client and the good of people in the client’s world.

Again, thanks for your message. It’s important to hear other perspectives and to have a chance to question myself and my own motives. I appreciate you providing me with that opportunity.

Happy Sunday,

John SF

15 thoughts on “Dear Karen: I have a professional and personal responsibility to speak out against Unacceptable behaviors”

  1. Ah, the words that I have had the hardest time to find in order to express my feelings toward Mr. Trump and why my intuition tells me I cannot support him, as a therapist……. bookmarking! Thanks for this insight!

  2. While the US is not my natal home, it is nonetheless my home. I hope we can return to a kind, caring place, welcome the diversity of cultures, races, and creeds, celebrate all of it, and recognize that we are better and stronger together. I for one have appreciated your perspectives John. You make me think, shift, stretch, and grow. That’s kindness of the greatest variety. I believe we need more of that. I’m listening. With appreciation.

  3. Here’s a solid affirming comment of your response back to ‘Karen’. I agree wholeheartedly with you. As an educator, if I were to encounter someone with the behaviors of Mr. Trump as the parent of one of my students, it would most likely require me to report him to authorities as abusive.

    1. Thanks Carol! I’m hoping for that beginning of calm . . . for us, for you, but I’m not super-optimistic (as I just deleted a recent response to my blog accusing me of lies. Interesting times! Be well.

  4. Thank you for speaking out and up. You helped clarify some of my thinking. Much of DT’s behavior will remain a mystery to me. Stay safe.

  5. John, I came to your site in order to find some CBT-related materials, because I have always found your writing and conceptualizing so digestible, practical, helpful and remarkably insightful. I saw the photos of you on the site as I scrolled around, and felt that undeniable sense of joy in seeing your smile — and I thought to bookmark your site just because I like the feeling 🙂
    Then I read your post responding to the Karen who commented about your Trump piece, and saw in it the reminder of why I have so often sought you out for counsel. Your candor, empathy, and clarity are ever-present, while you exemplify the importance of speaking truth about his behaviors and their impact on our society.
    Thanks again, John.

    1. Hi Margaret,

      It’s great to hear from you. Thanks for saying all those nice things. I feel the same right back. You’ve been doing awesome work for many years. . . and lots of people have benefited from your presence and skills. Are you still practicing in the Polson area? At least that’s what I recall. I hope you’re as healthy and well as planet earth is allowing right now. All my best, John

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