Free Speech, Occupational Speech, and Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy, said one of its earliest clients, Anna O, is a “talking cure.” It banishes or lessens mental illness and suffering not with medicine or surgery but with words. This aspect of psychotherapy raises an interesting set of First Amendment questions. Is verbal communication between a therapist and her client protected by the First Amendment even though it is part of a healing process, or does government have the same authority to restrict this speech-based healing method as it does to restrict the use of pharmaceuticals or medical equipment? If the government may, in some circumstances, restrict the content of what a therapist can permissibly say to her client, under what circumstances may it do so? Must it show that therapists’ statements about human psychology are false or harmful to the client? Or, may it constitutionally bar even truthful therapist-client communications that raise little risk of harm to the client’s physical or mental health on the grounds that such verbal treatments promote values or behaviors at odds with those of the profession or of society at large?