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Feminist Therapy

Counseling Techniques and Psychotherapy

Introduction: Feminist Therapy
Feminist therapy

It is a set of related therapies arising from what proponents see as a

disparity between the origin of most psychological theories and the majority
of people seeking counseling being female.
A central concept in feminist therapy is the importance of understanding and
acknowledging the psychological oppression of women and the constraints
imposed by the sociopolitical status to which women have been relegated.
The feminist perspective offers a unique approach to understanding the
roles that both women and men have been socialized to accept and bringing
this understanding into the therapeutic process.
Feminist therapy puts gender and power at the core of the therapeutic
Perspective of Psychological theories are from White males from Western
(American/European) cultures. Feminist theory is the first therapeutic theory
intervention proposal from the perspective of females.
Feminist therapy is built on the premise that it is essential to consider the
social, cultural, and the political context that contributes to a persons
problems in order to understand that person.
Whereas most theories of psychotherapy focus on individual development,
feelings, thoughts, or behaviors, feminist therapy incorporates societal
variables by examining the impact of gender and cultural differences on
women (and men).

History and Development

Feminist therapy has developed in a grassroots manner, responding to
challenges and to the emerging needs of women (Brabeck & Brown,1997).
No single woman can be identified as the founder of this approach,
reflecting a central theme of feminism collaboration.
Womens movement in the 1960s
Womens movement in the 1960s laid the foundation of the feminist
It was a time when women began uniting their voices to express their
dissatisfaction with the limiting and confining nature of traditional female

Womens movement in the 1970s and 1980s
In the 1970s, research on gender-bias emerged and helped further feminist
therapy ideas and formal organizations began to foster the development
and defining of feminist therapy.
Self-in relation model (Relational-cultural model) validated relational and
cooperative dimensions of womens experience

Approaches to Feminist therapy

Help individual women overcome the limitation and constraint of gender-
role patterns.
They believe the major goals of therapy include personal empowerment of
individual women, dignity, self-fulfillment, shared power in decision making
in relationship, and equality.
Believe that oppression stems from societys devaluation of womens
strengths, values and roles.
The major goal for therapy is social transformation via infusion of the
feminine values into the culture.
Focus on the oppression of women that is embedded in patriarchy.
The major goals are to transform gender relationships, transform societal
institutions and increase womens sexual and procreative self-
Focus on multiple oppressions and believe solutions to societys problems
must include consideration of class, race, sexual orientation, economics,
nationality and history.
The major goal of therapy is to transform social relationships and
Provide a model for critiquing the value of other traditional and feminist
approaches, addressing the issue of what constitutes reality and proposing
multiple truths as opposed to a single truth.
Use deconstruction and discourse analysis to show how reality is

Women of color
Believe that it is essential that feminist theory be broadened and made more
Want to include an analysis of multiple oppressions, an assessment of
access to privilege and power, and to emphasize activism.
Heterosexism is at the core of womens oppression. Also, womens
oppression is related to sexualized images of women.
Their perspective calls for feminist theory to include an analysis of multiple
identities and their relationship to oppression and to recognize the diversity
that exists among lesbians.
Global international
Take a worldwide perspective and seek to understand the ways in which
racism, sexism, economics, and classism affect women in different
They see the need to address those cultural differences that directly
contribute to womens oppression.

It is clear that there is no single, unified feminist theory. Rather, a variety of

feminist theories provide a range of different but overlapping perspectives
(Enns & Sinacore, 2001).

View of Human Nature

Difference between women and men are due to socialization processes.
Apply equally to both individuals and groups regardless of age, race,
culture, gender, class, sexual orientation and ability.
Concepts specific to the thinking, feeling, and behaving dimensions of
human experience and accounts for contextual and environmental
Life-span perspective
Assumes that human development is a lifelong process and change can
occur anytime.

Principles of Feminist Therapy
The personal is political.
Commitment to social change.
Womens and girls voices and ways of knowing are valued and their
experiences are honored.
The counseling relationship is egalitarian.
A focus on strengths and a reformulated definition of psychological distress.
All types of oppression are recognized.

Feminist therapy goals

According to Enns (2004), some goals of feminist therapy include empowerment,
valuing and affirming diversity, striving for change rather than adjustment, equality,
balancing independence and interdependence, social change and self-
Empowerment through this the clients are able to free themselves
from the constraints of their gender-role socialization and to
challenge ongoing institutional oppression.
Social change to create the kind of society where sexism and
other forms of discrimination and oppression are no longer a reality,
(Worell & Remer, 2003).
According to Worell and Remer (2003), feminist therapists help clients:
Be aware of their own gender-role socialization process
Identify their internalized messages and replace them with more self-
enhancing beliefs
Understand how sexist and oppressive societal beliefs and practices
influence them in negative ways
Acquire skills to bring about change in the environment
Restructure institutions to rid them of discriminatory practices
Develop a wide range of behaviors that are freely chosen
Evaluate the impact of social factors and their lives
Develop a sense of personal and social power
Recognize the power of relationships and connectedness
Trust their own experience and their intuition

Roles and Functions of the therapist
Feminist therapists are:
Committed to monitoring their own biases and distortions, especially
the social and cultural dimensions of womens experiences.
Committed to understanding oppression in all its forms sexism,
racism, heterosexism and they consider the impact of oppression
and discrimination of psychological well-being.
The value being emotionally present for their clients, being willing to
share themselves during the therapy hour, modeling proactive
behaviors, and being committed to their own consciousness-raising
They work to free women (and men) from roles that have constrained
them from realizing their potential.
Therapists and the clients take active and equal roles, working
together to determine goals and procedures.
They avoid assuming a therapist role is of an all-knowing expert,
assuming instead the role of a relational expert.

Clients Experience in Therapy

Clients are active participants in the therapeutic process.
Clients tell their stories and give voice to their experiences.
The female therapist may share some of her own experiences including
gender-role oppression.
The therapeutic relationship is always a partnership.
The client, if male, will be the expert in determining what he needs and
wants from the therapy.
o He will explore ways in which he has been limited by his gender-role
o He may be able to fully experience such feelings as sadness,
Clients acquire a new way of looking at and responding to their world.

Relationship Between the Therapist and

The therapeutic relationship is based on empowerment and egalitarianism.
The very structure of the client-therapist relationship models how to identify
and use power responsibly.
The therapist use their power responsibly.
Clients are encouraged to identify and express their feelings.

Therapist makes a client and active partner in determining any diagnosis by
making use of appropriate self-disclosure.
Therapists respect the clients decision to proceed or not proceed with a
particular therapeutic technique.

Application: Therapeutic Techniques and

The client will know she or he is in charge of the direction, length, and
procedures of her/his therapy.
Helps equalize the therapeutic relationship, to provide modeling, to
normalize womens collective experiences, to empower clients and to
establish informed consent.
Gender-Role Analysis and Intervention
Helps the client understand the impact of gender-role expectations on
his/her psychological well-being.
Intervention gives the clients insight into the ways that social issues are
affecting him/her.
Power Analysis
Helps the client become aware of the power difference between men and
women in our society.
Reading about feminist perspectives on common issues in womens lives
(incest, rape, battery and sexual harassment) may challenge a womans
tendency to blame herself for these problems.
Assertiveness Training
By teaching and promoting assertive behavior, women become aware of
the following:
Their interpersonal rights
Transcend stereotypical gender roles
Change negative beliefs
Implement changes in their daily lives

Reframing and Relabeling
In reframing, rather than dwelling exclusively on intrapsychic factors, the
focus is on examining societal or political dimensions
Rebelling is an intervention that changes the label or evaluation applied to
some behavioral characteristic.
Social Action
Therapists may suggest to the clients to actively become involved in
activities such as volunteering at a rape crisis center, lobbying lawmakers,
or providing community education about gender issues.
This empower the clients by helping them see the link between their
personal experiences and the sociopolitical context in which they live.
Group Work
Emphasizes support for the experience of women.
Provides women with a social network, decrease feelings of isolation, create
an environment that encourages sharing of experiences, an help women
realize that they are not alone in their experiences (Eriksen & Kress, 2005).

Can men be feminist therapists?

Men can be nonsexist therapists
Also, men can be pro-feminist therapists when they embrace
the principles and incorporate the practices of feminism in their

Feminist therapy from a Multicultural

Strength From a Diversity Perspective
Feminist therapy and multicultural perspectives have the most in common.
Recognize and address sexism, racism and other cultural variables
Shortcomings From a Diversity Perspective
Remer (2008) acknowledges that this practice of challenging societal
values and structures that subordinate certain groups as a shortcoming

Therapists must understand fully and respect the cultural values of clients
from diverse groups.

Summary and Evaluation

The origins of feminist therapy are connected to the womens movements of the
late 1800s and 1960s , when women united in vocalizing dissatisfaction over the
restrictive nature of traditional female roles.

Feminist therapy emphasizes these concepts:

o Viewing problems in a sociopolitical and cultural context rather than
on an individual level
o Recognizing that clients know what is best for their lives and are
experts on their own lives
o Striving to create a therapeutic relationship that is egalitarian through
the process of self-disclosure and informed consent
o Demystifying the therapeutic process by including the client as much
as possible in all phases of assessment and treatment, which
increases client empowerment
o Viewing womens experiences from a unique perspective
o Understanding and appreciating the lives and perspectives of
diverse women
o Understanding that gender never exits in isolation from other aspects
of identity
o Challenging traditional ways of assessing the psychological health of
o Emphasizing the role of the therapist as advocate as well as
o Encouraging clients to take social action to address oppressive
aspects of the environment

Gender-sensitive practice and awareness of the impact of cultural context and
multiple oppressions.
Emphasis on social change, which can lead to a transformation in society.
Proper focus of the therapy includes addressing oppressive factors in society
rather than expecting individuals to merely adapt to expected role behaviors.
Building community, providing authentic mutual empathic relationships, creating a
sense of social awareness and the emphasis on social change are all significant
strengths of this approach.
The principles and techniques of feminist therapy can be incorporated in many
other contemporary therapy models and vice versa (Enns, 2003).

Limitations and Criticisms of Feminist

There is a danger that therapists may unduly influence clients, especially those
who lack a strong sense of their own values.
Viewing the source of a client problem as being in the environment could
contribute to the client not taking personal responsibility to act in the face of an
unfair world
Because feminist therapists do not assume a neutral stance, they need to identify
any sources of bias and work toward restructuring or eliminating biased aspects in
any theories or techniques they employ.