Politics and ethics of practice of marital therapy.
Being a therapist puts me in a unique position to offer a space and to listen to people’s narratives and experiences. I recognize that this position brings with it immense power and responsibility. It is pertinent that the therapist consulting room becomes a location of feminism and for advocacy of gender rights and equality. Since issues of gender, culture, class, caste and sexuality are relevant and not separate from each other.
“The therapist consulting room becomes a location of feminism and for advocacy of gender rights and equality” ~ Tejas Shah
Recently, I had a couple in the therapy room, Rajiv and Seema (name and identity changed), with the complaints of Seema experiencing depression, she was profusely crying during the session, through exploration it was established that her depression was originating from Rajiv having an extra dyadic relationship. They were married for fifteen years with a son of ten year of age out of their wed-lock. According to Rajiv, he loved Seema, and his extra marital relationship was no threat to their family in any way. I was curiously listening while he was narrating his story, and coming from a dominant patriarchal culture, along with power and privilege, to him it was okay for a man to have a relationship outside of marriage, but not for the wife.
Through dialogue, I helped them locate the problem as the problem in the system, and not in Seema, I helped them see how Seema was merely manifesting depression, the symptom of a larger problem in their marriage, culture and the system. Seema’s ‘symptom’ of depression is a threat response to the power that Rajiv exercises in their marriage. I explored their understanding of being married and what consisted of a healthy boundary for them in their marriage, particularly around matters of sexuality. Through discussions we looked into their descriptions, origins and examples of these ideas and practices and how these narratives were shaping their relationship. We explored their hopes, dreams and values and how these were affected with the violation of boundary in their marriage by Rajiv.
Through discussions we looked into their descriptions, origins and examples of these ideas and practices and how these narratives are shaping their relationship.
I explored with both of them how they imagine their marriage to be and what behaviours were acceptable to both of them, after deliberation they reached a consensus. I asked them to ‘draw a boundary’ which satisfied both of them in their relationship, particularly boundary around sexual behaviour. Having established a consensus with both of them on what consists of a healthy boundary around marriage, and on what consists of healthy sexual boundary in the relationship, what behaviours were acceptable and what were not to both of them, we then explored different ways of how Rajiv can stop violating these boundaries which resulted in disturbance in their marriage and depression in Seema. We looked into ways how Seema could regain and establish trust and safety in their marriage and in Rajiv.
One of the outcomes of this whole exercise was that Seema, who was feeling powerless in their marriage and in a male dominated patriarchal system, expressed that she felt empowered since the whole process was carried on by a ‘privileged male’ therapist in a male dominated society. This makes me sharply aware of the effects of the ‘gender’ and power I bring to the therapy room, and that ‘gender’ is embodied and seem to reside in an individual and not merely a social construct.
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