Feminist Therapy

Feminist Therapy is a type of therapy
that integrates a psychotherapy approach. Feminist Therapy focuses on
empowering women and helping them break stereotypes that may otherwise hold
them back from growth and development (Feminist Therapy, n.d.).  An example of a stereotype that suppresses
women’s growth is the stereotype that women are meant to stay home and raise
the children as well as cook and clean for her husband who goes to work to
provide for the family.  This stereotype
can lead women to believe that they shouldn’t go to college to continue their
education so they can have a career, because they are supposed to be stay at
home moms and house wives.

            Feminist
Psychology really started to flourish in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  There isn’t any one particular theorist that
can be credited for Feminist Therapy; rather there were a combination of
psychologist who aided in the creation of Feminist Therapy. Feminist
Psychologist tried to eliminate the sexist aspects of other traditional
theories, but still integrate parts of those other theories that worked.  The goals that the original Feminist
Psychologist established in the 60’s and 70’s are still used today.  One of the goals of Feminist Therapy is to
establish a relationship with a mutual understanding of power.  The therapist should understand that the
client is the expert on her own issues. It is important for the therapist to
know that the therapist is only there to help the client develop the tools that
are necessary to reach her maximum potential as a valuable and unique
individual.  The second main goal of
Feminist Therapy is change.  Feminist
Therapy strives to not only help the individual change for the better, but also
society (Mahaney, 2014).  Gender issues,
like gender stereotyping and gender roles, can lead to psychological distress
in individuals therefore they need to be addressed.  Gender stereotypes and gender roles can
negatively impact a person’s identity, because of this Feminist Therapy is not
only for women, but for men as well. 
Both women and men can benefit from Feminist Therapy because it helps
individuals better understand the impact the gender stigmas play on a person’s
mental health.  Females live in a mostly
male dominated world, even though we can see this slowly changing.  Until more recently, most studies were done on
men, by men.  As we could expect, there
are some issues from this form of research, because the way men react to things
may not be the way women react to the same things.  For example, when drugs were tested they were
usually tested on men, but women have different reactions to some drugs than
men do because of their genetic makeup and different hormone levels.  Even though Feminist Theory isn’t about drugs
and medications, the example emphasizes why it is important to incorporate more
woman-oriented practices in every aspect of life.

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Four Main Philosophies of
Feminist Therapy

            Within Feminist Therapy, there are
four main philosophies with differing goals.  The four main philosophies are socialist,
radical, liberal, and cultural. Socialist Feminist emphasize the importance of
change in institutional and social relationships.  Radical Feminist accents the need for change
in gender relations as well as societal institutions.  Radical Feminist also strive to increase
women’s self-awareness in terms of her sexuality and her desires for having
children.  Liberal Feminist tend to
center their focus around the individual and the biases people face in regards
to self-respect, self-esteem, self-awareness, and equality.  The last of the four philosophies is Cultural
Feminist.  Cultural feminist focus on the
importance of recognition that women are devalued in society and how this is
detrimental to them.  There are many
differences that can be seen when comparing the four philosophies of Feminist
Therapy, but there are also many overlapping ideologies.  The most noticeable overlaps are the need for
change and the desire for equality, both of these ideas can be seen in each of
the four philosophies.

Four Major Approaches to
Feminist Therapy

There
are four approaches that are unique to Feminist Therapy and they are
consciousness-raising, social activism, resocialization, and social and gender role
analysis. The First major approach in Feminist Therapy is
consciousness-raising.  Consciousness-raising
is sometimes done in leader-less mannered small groups, which involve
discussing women’s individual experiences as well as shared experiences.  The women who partake in these groups have the
opportunity to feel like they are not alone and they listen and support one
another.  These groups look at how
oppression and socialization contribute to dysfunction and personal distress.  The women in these groups usually talk about
ways to create solutions for creating changes in individuals and society.  The main purpose of consciousness-raising is
to help women feel empowered to take steps against oppression by participating
in forms of social action (Feminist Therapy. n.d.).  The next approach to Feminist Therapy is
social activism, which is the most controversial of all Feminist Therapy
approaches.  According to Jones-Smith, E. (2016), “this
approach is founded on the premise that the ‘personal is political’ and that
the clients problems originate from the structural inequalities of a given
society.”  Social activism encourages the
participation in organized protests, letter writing campaigns, and speaking
out.  Although social activism is
controversial one concept of social activism is accepted by all Feminist
Therapist, social change is important to the mental health of everyone.  The third approach to Feminist Therapy is
resocialization.  Resocialization focuses on methods that help
increase self-esteem, self views, and assertiveness.  The final approach to Feminist Therapy is
social and gender role analysis.  This
approach involves evaluating the client’s psychological distress as well as how
they cope with this distress.  The
client’s learn about gender role norms and how they have experienced the impact
of gender role norms.  The goal is to
pinpoint where the client’s psychological distress may have originated and the
therapist does this by trying to explain to the client how social and gender
roles can negatively impact one’s identity.  Social and gender role analysis focuses on
educating the client in order for them to better understand the impact social
and gender roles have impacted them and their life experiences.

Five Interrelated
Principles

            As found in Feminist Therapy. (n.d.),
Gerald Corey identifies that there are five interrelated principles in Feminist
Therapy:  The personal is political, an
egalitarian relationship,  women’s
experiences are honored, definitions od distress and mental illnesses are
reformulated, and an integrated analysis.  The first principal, personal is political,
implements social change.  The second
principal is that the counselor- client relationship remains egalitarian, this
means that equality is encouraged between the two roles and that there is no
power struggle within the relationship.  The
third principal states that women’s experiences need to be honored and the
client should get in touch with their personal intuition and personal
experiences.  The fourth principal
includes the reformulating of the definitions of mental illnesses and distress
through the use of internal and external forces.  This principal puts emphasis on the positive
confirmation that pain and resistance represent rather than viewing pain and
resistance as weaknesses.  The fifth and
final principal suggest that the Feminist Therapist should use an integrated
analysis approach of oppression.  This
means that the therapist understands that both men and women are subject to
oppression and stereotypes and that these experiences can have a negative
impact on both men and women’s perceptions and beliefs.

The Six Tenets of Feminist
Therapy

            Lenore Walker, a Feminist Therapist,
proposes that there are six tents that are incorporated into Feminist Therapy.  According to Walker, the six tenets include
egalitarian relationships, non-pathology oriented and non-victim blaming, enhancement
of women’s strengths, power, acceptance and validation of feelings, and education.

 The tenet of egalitarian relationships,
suggests that there should be an equal relationship between the therapist and
client.  This balanced relationship is
important because it models what the client’s other relationships should
resemble in terms of responsibility and assertiveness.  The non-pathology oriented and non-victim
blaming tenet is composed of the ideas that the medical model is rejected in
feminist Therapy and women’s problems are seen as coping mechanisms.  The third tenet, enhancement of women’s strengths,
indicated that traditional therapy usually focuses on women’s short comings and
women’s weaknesses rather than looking at their strengths like Feminist Therapy
does.  The tenet of power emphasizes that
women are taught to use power in their other relationships and the consequences
of using too much or too little power in these relationships.  Lenore Walker stresses the importance of the
power tenet because a client’s background (if they were abused physically or verbally)
may impact how much power they try to put forth in a relationship, so it is
crucial to take a client’s past into consideration (n.d. Retrieved November 30,
2017).  The acceptance and validation of
feelings tenet focuses on how Feminist Therapist value self-discloser and
strive to remove the “we–they” barrier of relationships in traditional therapies
(Feminist Therapy. n.d.).  The last
tenet, education, expresses how women are taught to recognize which thoughts
they have may become detrimental to their self-esteem and they are encouraged
to educate themselves not just for themselves, but for the benefit of all
women.

Criticisms of Feminist
Therapy

            Like every other traditional therapy, Feminist Therapy
faces some criticisms.  Some critics
suggest that Feminist Therapist are known for being biased of their method of
therapy and may unintentionally push their views onto their clients or try to
persuade their clients into believing in Feminist Therapy as much as they do.  Therapists are advised to never persuade or
suggest that their clients must think a certain way.  There are many “right” ways to do therapy so
to try to convince a client that there is only one right way would be
considered unethical.  Another criticism
Feminist Therapy faces is that because feminism was developed by middle class,
middle aged, white, heterosexual females, feminist therapy doesn’t take other
cultures into consideration.  However,
since this criticism has been brought to Feminist Therapist attention, they
have strived to be more inclusive in trying to include different cultures so
Feminist Therapy can be more universal (Feminist Therapy. n.d.).  

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