To say there is a giant elephant in the middle of the room would be to disparage the size of elephants.

I have been doing marriage and family counseling for more than three decades, and I cannot remember a time when politics entered into so many of my therapy sessions. With the presidential election near, 25 percent of sessions, maybe more, now center around spouses or family members arguing politics.

It has gotten so polarized; I have seen family members cease talking with one another or marital partners coming to divorce. Longtime friends and relationships are blocking one another on social media. This ramped up tension, from what I observe, has little to do with the global pandemic.

If families are going to have relatives over this Thanksgiving, the discussions are about avoiding politics not how they are going to socially distance. Clients tell me they will be afraid to go out on Election Day, even in their own neighborhoods. Others ask why there are lines that circle the block around gun and ammunition stores in Riverside County. I am a therapist, not a political scientist, so my perspectives are no more helpful than Aunt Sallie’s or Uncle Sol’s.

Clients who ask if and when things will return to normal are not talking about COVID-19. They want to know when it will be safe to once again voice an opinion. There appears to be a tribal mentality, and if you do not belong to the tribe of the person with whom you are speaking, things go south very quickly. But when spouses or families ask for help so they can navigate all this with one another, these communications do spill over into a family therapist’s domain.

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Platitudes like advising they should agree to disagree have little value. Likewise, if I suggest turning off CNN or Fox News and putting on ABC or CBS, these suggestions are also met with derision and comments like, “We tried that, but he (or she) found fault with those networks.”

I’ve learned quickly to avoid giving suggestions but rather help individuals focus on other times they have felt misunderstood, marginalized or bullied. This direction seems to be more helpful.

I have counseled men and women who have been raised in cults or suffered from paranoid delusions. Arguing facts rarely help these clients. Asserting the TV doesn’t really read your mind or others really don’t poison your food is met with a look of, “Oh, if only you understood.”

Tapping into their emotional state, their yearning for inclusion, safety and understanding are much more beneficial directions. It’s not that facts are unimportant, rather until an individual feels heard or understood, they are apt to tune out what you have to say. Once again. I am being taught that being an effective listener is rarely about knowing all the facts. Instead, we all might try understanding the emotion behind the other person’s statements.

Mitchell Rosen is a licensed therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula. Catch up with his previous columns at Email



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