Issues in Psychotherapy with Clients Affiliated with the Opposing Side in a Violent Political Conflict

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The therapeutic dyad of clinician and client affiliated with rival groups in a violent conflict shares many features that complicate psychotherapy with persons of different ethnic, racial, and cultural groups, including lack of knowledge, negative stereotyping, differences in fundamental values and world views, and power differentials. Although a great deal has been written about these matters, very little has been written about the therapeutic dynamic where therapist and client are affiliated with different sides of a violent political conflict. Based on the sparse literature on the subject and on the clinical experiences of the author and her colleagues, this paper discusses three features that characterize this dynamic, which do not appear in the same way in therapy involving dyads of different races, ethnic groups, or cultures. These are the presence of the "enemy" in the consulting room, the therapist's feelings of mistrust towards the client as a representative of the opposing group, and the client's feelings of guilt towards the therapist as a representative of the injured group. The impacts of each feature on the therapist, client, and the therapeutic encounter are explored and suggestions are made for dealing with them. The hope is that professionals' awareness of these issues will help improve the quality of psychotherapy with persons on the rival side of a violent political conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-100
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Culture sensitivity
  • Enemy presence
  • Guilt
  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Mutual mistrust
  • Therapeutic dyad


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