Baggage

Dear President Trump,

Since I was a little girl my mom has frequently gotten frustrated with me because I tend to jump into a conversation in the middle of whatever topic is at hand, forgetting that the person I’m talking with isn’t in my head and privy to all my background thoughts about whatever it is. I realize this may have happened with my letter to you yesterday where I failed to be explicit about what I was talking about. So, in order to be very clear – I strongly object to your administration’s plan to allow healthcare providers to refuse to treat people or to carry out healthcare procedures that go against their religious beliefs. It is absolutely unconscionable for a governmental institution such as Health and Human Services, which is charged with protecting the health of everyone in the US, to give any healthcare provider an out from treating people on so-called moral grounds.

Early in my career at the VA I occasionally had therapy patients who were overtly homophobic, racist, or sexist or all three. In seeking consultation from other psychologists on how to handle this I found responses ranging from “I would just refuse to see anyone who’s homophobic” (from another lesbian) to “Well, what do you think might be underlying these sorts of statements?” (from a straight man). In some ways it would have been nice to take the first person’s advice and pass these patients to another provider, but I am so grateful for the other guidance urging me to look deeper. What we usually found underlying the vitriol was fear that had distorted into hatred. Sometimes there had been trauma perpetrated by someone in the category and the veteran had generalized this experience to all people in that category. Sometimes they’d grown up with intolerance being the air they breathed. Sometimes both. Often the way out involved helping them remember someone they’d encountered who was in the feared/hated category who they’d had an ok interaction with and using that as leverage to help them counter their fears and assumptions.

And sometimes it’s not the patient who needs to do this work.

May we all be safe to look at our own baggage.
May we be happy to own our own baggage.
May we realize our health is boosted by being radically loving.
May we make peace with and care for those who are hardest for us to love.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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