"It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed." - Wendell Berry, 1983

Berry's words proved a balm for therapists who recently attended a Community Institute for Psychotherapy workshop about integrating psychotherapy and progressive politics. Expressing despair and hope about the state of the world and our politics, the intimate group came seeking a way forward in dark times.

Psychologists Michael Bader and Peter Dunlap spoke eloquently about the urgency of infusing politics with psychology -- not by bringing political discourse into therapy but by applying our understanding of human nature to movements for social justice to help them move beyond the all-too-familiar splitting, tone-deafness, and burnout that beset them.

Therapists are accustomed to working compassionately with people who undermine their own best interests. We also know the value of developing relationships and engaging people deeply about what matters in their lives beyond basic security needs. Our work recognizes the human thirst for recognition, purpose, connection, and agency.

But to effect social change, it is not enough to transform one individual at a time. Cultural transformation requires organized institutions, people, and money. Therapists possess the unique skills to help create the "Public Emotional Intelligence" necessary for this to occur.

Citing the work of Aftab Omer, Dunlap elucidated how affect can be transformed through learning practices into leadership capacities. For instance, the affect of grief as a response to loss can be metabolized through the practice of mourning into the capacity for compassion and grace. Similarly, fear and anger, responses to danger and injustice, can be transformed through intimacy, encouragement, and conflict resolution into courage and fierceness. Despair gives way to constructive engagement.

If we know anything as therapists, it is how to weather the dark night of the soul. Coming into solstice season -- and a time of immense political challenges -- we recognize the impediments of dwindling light and hope. Yet as Dunlap and Bader reminded us, "There is work to be done." We may be baffled about the way forward, unsure how to find our footing in the darkness still to come. The workshop provided the first step. With renewed resolve, let us take up the charge to heal not just our patients but also a suffering country.

Lorrie Goldin, LCSW
Impulse Potential Space Editor