Help Americans Manage Post-election Stress with a Master of Counseling

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Women at separate voting booths.

An election loss can feel like a gut punch. Change is a big trigger of stress, and political change can generate and amplify that anxiety. A transfer of power, an upset bid that comes up just short, a stunning result — each has the potential to sink one half of America into despair. That’s just at the national level, where a change in the party controlling the White House can provoke intense reactions in this hyperpolarized political climate.

Americans have increasingly voiced concern over the state of the country’s political discourse, as well as the future of the nation. The stress created from policy upheaval, uncertainty and constant political controversy can take a toll on people’s mental health. Even having family or friends who voted for a different party can cause stress when the implications of an election are so profound.

More people are seeking professional help to combat the fear, distress or depression. As the phenomenon of post-election stress syndrome continues to gain attention, more counselors will be needed to aid clients in navigating political change in their personal lives. Earning a master’s in counseling can prepare you with advanced skills and knowledge to tackle this challenge.

‘Vote’ buttons laid on the American flag.Post Election Stress Syndrome — It’s Real

Political change has always been stressful, but now quantifiably more so. When the stakes are high, as they were in the 2016 presidential election, the aftermath of an election can incubate a number of mental health problems across ideological lines. In a 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association (APA), a majority of both Republicans and Democrats expressed feeling stress about the future of the country. Two-thirds of Americans in all reported such feelings. While the sources of stress varied, one shared concern was the state of the political climate.

“The stress we’re seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it’s hard for Americans to get away from it,” said Katherine C. Nordal, Ph.D., APA’s executive director for professional practice. “We’re surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most.”

In the same survey, one-third of respondents reported having headaches, feeling overwhelmed, or experiencing anxiety and sadness.

How Counselors Can Help

The effects of political change can reverberate across all aspects of life. On any given day, Americans might be concerned about immigration status, conflict in personal relationships or the trajectory of the nation’s future. Resulting despondency and stress can be “crippling,” one Californian told PBS NewsHour in early 2017. Some refer to the trend as post-election stress disorder, but it’s far from being a codified disorder.

Still, the scale and scope of tumult has led many to seek help from professional mental health counselors. A psychologist in the Chicago area told NewsHour she hadn’t encountered this level of stress in 30 years of practice. She mentioned that clients were unable to sleep or focus at work and were anxious about relationships with friends and family with whom they had fought over politics. Some had ditched social media because of the negativity.

The sentiment was echoed by another therapist, who told The New York Times in 2017 that a “chronic sense of anxiety” was seen across clients. The Times reported professionals had devised a number of strategies to aid clients. Many recommended having conversations with family and friends of differing political opinions rather than sparring on social media. Another coping mechanism clients detailed was translating political grief into animus for activism or volunteering. An exercise may be as simple as writing to a representative or senator in Congress.

“I consciously try to be nice to everyone,” Leslie Koren, a content consultant in New York City, told the Times. “Being polite and kind helps to counteract a lot of the feelings of helplessness and all the negativity in the air.”

Why a Master’s in Counseling Is Valuable

As a professional counselor, you can help clients of all ages, backgrounds and party affiliations find ways to make sense of the swirling and sometimes vicious political climate. However, the client needs you may encounter when addressing political anguish are likely to require advanced skills and knowledge, the type that a graduate degree can confer. Specifically, the Master of Arts in Counseling can help prepare counselors for the demands of professional practice and how politics impacts mental health.

Online MAC students at Bradley University can expect to gain key abilities through coursework that they can apply in client situations. For instance:

  • ENC 530 Loss and Grief Counseling — grants insight into how humans process and react to grief, as well as trains students in practicing and employing empathy. Such knowledge and competency can help when serving clients who experience grief-like symptoms in the wake of an election.
  • ENC 586 Counseling Diverse Populations — teaches counselors how to effectively serve clients of differing cultures, demographics and personal philosophies. Counselors have a duty to clients, and the knowledge imparted through this course will prepare them to help clients across the political spectrum.
  • ENC 661 Couples and Family Counseling — gives counselors tools to examine and analyze personal relationships. Politics is a particularly thorny issue for family and friends. When clients come in with issues related to elections, counselors can meet them with proven strategies and methods for resolving family conflict.
  • ENC 631 Crisis Intervention — takes students through crisis response and the provision of emotional support to affected individuals or client populations. Counselors will practice interventions, as well as observe them, to understand how best to help vulnerable clients and those who are left shaken or fearful after an election.

Get Your Online Degree from Bradley

Politics are complex, and so too are the effects they can have on the population. As more Americans stress about the state of their country and their personal lives, more counselors will be needed to help solve problems. Earning a master’s of counseling allows counselors to build skills and knowledge that are highly valuable in such situations. Explore how an online graduate degree from Bradley can improve your career. Contact an admissions officer today for more information.


Recommended Reading

What is an Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program?

What You Can Learn in The Bradley MAC Core Courses

Bradley University Online Counseling Program



American Psychological Association


The New York Times