President's Column

Humanistic psychology after the election

The outcome of the 2016 presidential election has presented us with a call to action.

By Shawn Rubin

Shawn RubinThe outcome of the 2016 presidential election has presented us with a call to action. In the ten days following the Nov. 8 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 867 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation across the United States — in schools, places of business and on the streets. Statements by our current president have carelessly fomented fear, blame, hatred, xenophobia and Islamophobia — stirring up some of the more regressive fear-based and discriminatory sentiments within the American people — offending our sense of dignity, our morals, and our sense of justice; it is my opinion that this requires an equally firm resistance and response.

In my clinical and academic work, I have heard numerous stories from colleagues, students and patients, concerning their fears of being discriminated against, dehumanized and attacked. I am proud to practice in one of the more internationally diverse areas of the country: the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Those I serve are people of color from every continent, gay, lesbian, transgender and gender diverse children, adolescents, adults and their families. Amongst them all today is a common experience of traumatic anxiety around discrimination — a feeling of being unwelcome in America, and even wondering if they should find a more accepting home elsewhere in the world.

Many of my colleagues in social justice activism, multicultural studies, clinical psychology and politics are equally troubled and bracing for the continued impact of emboldened hate groups in our country and around the world. Recently, a 50-year-old transgender female patient of mine — a 30-year military veteran who served in the Middle East — stated that the results of the election felt similar to her experience of Sept. 11, referring to the 2016 election as the “9/11 of politics.” She questioned whether she could live anymore in a country which she risked her life to defend — but one that now affirms discrimination against her — and if she should arm herself for protection against those who have vociferously supported a campaign of intolerance and hate.

Humanistic psychology must continue to fulfill its utmost potential as a servant of the highest good in social relations and social justice. Our diverse and evolving membership — undergraduate and graduate students, early-career psychologists and leaders, senior, new and emergent alike — have spoken with a clear, strong voice that this is the direction they want to see reflected and embodied in the humanistic movement, in our professional training, and in social justice projects created by the Society for Humanistic Psychology.

To this end, I have spent the first half of my presidency working closely with society members who desire to become more active and realize their vision of humanistic psychology in taking our values “to the streets.” Our Diversity Task Force is considering changing its name to Multicultural Psychology and Social Justice to reflect this expanded mission. Additional initiatives for this task force next year include infusing our annual conference and convention programming with a social justice focus, as well as exploring new ways to most effectively support social justice organizations such as Black Lives Matter and other human rights groups.

Ensuring that the pipeline of new, fresh perspectives and membership is the highest priority, Board Member at Large and Membership Chair Trish Nash, PhD, is heading up an Early Career Psychologist Task Force. Society member Derrick Sebree, PsyD, has initiated the creation of an Ecopsychology and Advocacy Taskforce, and long-time Society contributor and member at large, Sarah Kamens, PhD, has created a task force on hate incidents to explore ways we can create sanctuaries, and safe havens of healing, for those who are victims of hate crimes throughout the country. I thank these incredible leaders of humanistic psychology for their efforts, and I want to personally invite all of our members to contact them if you would like to participate in these task forces — or to contribute your own ideas for programming and future possibilities for the society in this critical socio-cultural moment for human rights. This is the time for humanistic psychology to get involved and share our knowledge, skills and resources with each other, our students, our patients, and the most vulnerable populations in our society.

Many patients would ask me prior to the election: “What if he wins?” I was foolishly dubious about such an outcome (as were many of us); but when pressed to imagine the possibility and what it would mean for their lives, their sense of safety and psychological and emotional well-being, I responded, “Then we will fight.”

In conclusion, let us respond to this cultural moment in the best ways we can, by:

  • Visibly displaying our humanitarian values of love and justice for one another.
  • Being a visible multicultural ally.
  • Giving voice to those who do not have one.
  • Protecting the rights of all people to be actualized.

Yours in solidarity,

Shawn Rubin, PsyD
President, Society for Humanistic Psychology