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Psychotherapy blacklisted: A new cost of the war

Is it OK to seek a therapist sympathetic with Zionism? How should a Zionist therapist relate to a pro-Palestinian client?
Invitation, by Alex Yelderman. Used with the Artist's Permission.
Invitation, by Alex Yelderman. Used with the Artist's Permission.

Not long ago, in an online group of psychotherapists based in and around Chicago, an inquiry from a prospective client was posted. The client had approached a therapist who was unable to take on new clients, so the therapist was passing along the client’s request.

The client was looking for a female therapist who identified as a Zionist; the client felt it was important to work with a Zionist in order to process their feelings around the “current geopolitical climate.” It is worth noting that inquiries for therapists in this group often specify demographic information, such as client requests for Christian therapists who work from a faith-based lens, or therapists of color.

Things devolved quickly. Several therapists wrote that it was unconscionable to post requests from genocide apologists. One clinician made a comment that was especially menacing, something along the lines of, “If a Zionist client reached out to me, I would do worse than not become their therapist.”

Shortly after the inquiry was posted, at least one self-identified anti-Zionist member of the group created a list of Zionist therapists. This blacklist was titled List of therapists:practices that are Zionist (sic). The author wrote, “I’ve put together a list of therapists/practices with Zionist affiliations that we should avoid referring clients to… Please feel free to contribute additional names as I’m certain there are more out there.” The list, which included 26 therapists and/or therapy practices, was circulated in another networking group for therapists called Chicago Anti-Racist Therapists.

The therapists who were on the list were deeply distressed. But perhaps the person most adversely affected by this event, whether she learned about it or not, was the prospective client. Her right to advocate for her own therapeutic needs was passionately contested within a community of professionals who have been entrusted to uphold the belief that every person, regardless of any facet of their identity, has the right to a safe therapeutic space and quality care.

The matter has been addressed appropriately. Complaints have been filed, relevant organizations have been contacted, and professional boards have been asked to denounce the list for its violation of professional ethics.

But a deep sense of unease remains. No one could have anticipated that a brutal war in the Middle East, nor their personal beliefs about that war, would place their professional reputations and livelihoods in jeopardy. Worse yet, no one could have foreseen that this war would create hostile barriers to therapeutic care for anyone whatsoever – including clients who are Zionists.

What troubles me deeply about “the list” is the logic embedded just beneath its surface, the fundamentally dangerous idea that there is a hierarchy of people who are entitled to therapeutic support. We all deserve spaces for healing. As a therapist, I believe that all therapists have a moral imperative to resist anything that breaks that frame.

As this storm raged within my professional community, I thought of a client whom I have been working with for nearly thirteen years.

I care for this client very deeply. I have been aware since the beginning of our relationship that one of the most loving and healthy figures in her life was a Palestinian man whose painful lived experiences have shaped her views on Israel and Palestine. I am also aware that our beliefs diverge on the issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict at large, as well the current war. Shortly after October 7th, I noticed that she seemed to be more agitated than usual about her workplace. I suspected that the intensity with which she expressed issues at her job may have been concealing something deeper.

“Is there something else that’s bothering you?” I asked her. “I want you to know you can be honest with me.” This client, who has worked with me long enough to know that I’m an observant Jew and has made correct inferences about my feelings on Israel, started crying. “What’s happening in Gaza is horrible,” she wept. I agreed, regardless of the knowledge that we have different opinions about the source of the horrifying carnage there.

“I want to go to a rally. I want to support Palestine. But I haven’t. I haven’t because I feel like you would feel betrayed.”

“You are grieving,” I told her. “You not only have a right but a need to grieve with your community. And it sounds like you need to grieve on your feet.”

“But I don’t want you to feel like I’m against you,” she said.

On this point I am clear: my client is not against me. After all these years, I know that we have come to value each other in deep and powerful ways. Even though the rallies she wanted to attend have frightened me, and have often veered away from the issue of Israel and Palestine towards explicit hostility towards Jews, this is what I told her: “You and I have built a relationship that can hold so much. I know you, and I know your heart. I think you should go.”

Because that is what I, a therapist and a Zionist, believe.

(Note: This vignette was shared with full permission of my client.) 

About the Author
Manya Treece is a Jew who lives in America. She is also a wife, a mother, a psychotherapist and a sporadic poet and author of fiction. Manya lives outside Chicago with her husband and three children.