Feminist therapy uses a feminist approach to understand and address mental health problems. By assessing society’s construction of women, feminist therapists look for how this affects women’s psychological issues. Treatments are aimed at helping women become psychologically healthy without reinforcing the gender role stereotypes that contribute to their problems.
Feminist therapy can be contrasted with gynocentric therapy, which views mental health from the view of what is good for women and assumes that gender role stereotypes are accurate.
How Feminist Therapy Differs from Traditional Therapy
In the traditional model, therapist and client enter a professional relationship in which the therapist often unconsciously applies their own cultural biases to treat symptoms as they arise. The focus is on symptoms, rather than causes or a larger philosophical context. Feminist therapists may look at symptoms as consequences of larger issues, such as societal norms or gender roles rather than focusing on the symptoms themselves.
Feminist therapists view women’s psychological issues in a wider socio-cultural context and their treatment is aimed at allowing women to break free from limiting roles and stereotypes that contribute to problems. Feminist therapy attempts to dismantle the status quo in order to help women transcend beyond their current situation.
In contrast, traditional therapists may reinforce gender role stereotypes in how they treat female clients, such as assuming a woman’s emotional responses are valid and normal because of innate differences between men and women rather than societal pressures or other factors.
Feminist therapy institute is a feminist movement with a clear vision of equality and justice. Its goal is to help women with feminist therapy become aware of their predicament as the objects of oppression from those in power namely men, to enable them to recover from fear, helplessness, and lack of self-esteem that come as a result of being oppressed. The feminist practice employs different strategies that empower women, such as helping them experience the full range of human emotion and love.
Binary Roles and Stereotypes
Traditional therapy often reinforces traditional gender roles and binary stereotypes about men and women. Feminist therapists aim to help their clients transcend these limitations through a consideration of larger issues such as social construction, patriarchy, and political factors
Feminist therapy theory
Feminist theory is a social theory, and it is based on the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The feminist therapy movement developed as a grassroots effort to provide women with effective mental health services.
It was created in reaction to the shortcomings of psychotherapy practice. The feminist therapy movement challenged the medical model approach to women’s mental health treatment (Broverman et al.). It aimed to deconstruct this system by providing a new perspective on how women are viewed and treated.
Gender inequality and feminist therapy
Gender bias and gender inequality have played a major role in limiting women’s access to resources, and it is the cause of their social exclusion. The feminist movement struggled to achieve political recognition and equality for women through various means such as; voting rights, acquisition of property rights, protection from violence and reproductive rights.
However, despite all the strides they made in the last century, women are still excluded from many sectors of life such as public institutions and universities (Bar Naim), family units (Balsam & Szalacha) military services, the labor force (Donato-Hunt), and the legal system (Cahill).
Gender identity and gender differences
According to the feminist therapy movement, gender identity plays a key role in determining one’s social position. This is because it is associated with women’s biological sex and the reproductive role that affects their political status.
Gender differences are majorly determined by psychological analysis of different people’s thoughts and behaviors based on the assumption that there exist distinctive masculine and feminine attributes that are mutually exclusive (Saulny, Lyons & Preston).
For example, women are expected to be emotionally expressive and agreeable while men are expected to show anger rather than feel it. This is because society expects men who have no control of their emotions are weak thus making them unsuitable for the job market.
Feminist therapy focuses on gender issues, demystifying the therapy process and incorporating it into therapeutic practices that will empower women. Feminist therapists are aware that gender affects the social position of both sexes, thus they embrace this concept in the therapy process by helping individuals learn how they can change their circumstances through self-awareness and action.
Socialist feminists believe that gender oppression stems from capitalism. They argue that the present capitalist system generates economic inequality between genders while providing men with patriarchal privilege.
They hold that women are viewed as the mothers of future citizens who are responsible for creating a new generation to sustain society, housework, and childcare are considered non-financial services that only women can provide. Therefore, they are expected to remain homemakers while their male counterparts take care of financial matters (Nagar & Agarwal). Feminist therapists who subscribe to socialist feminism aim to expose gender violence and oppression in order to transform social structures that negatively affect the lives of women.
Feminist therapists believe that social activism is an important aspect of the therapy process. However, they focus on helping women develop skills to become actively involved in improving their lives. As social justice advocates, feminist therapists believe society should fight for the legitimate rights of women and provide them with equal opportunities in order to reduce gender disparities.
Feminist therapy recognizes the significance of group dynamics in helping individuals build a collective consciousness about gender issues. This can help them identify sources of oppression and develop strategies for overcoming their social disadvantages. Social factors that contribute to social transformation and social equity always bring a significant form of social change. Thus, feminist therapists aim at transforming the thought process of society by counseling individuals on the negative impact that patriarchy has on both sexes. This will help them build a more egalitarian society where each individual is treated with respect regardless of their gender.
The Women’s studies international forum, a women’s movement describes social transformation as a fundamental aspect of feminist therapy where individuals work together to change the social environment in which they live by eliminating gender-based violence and oppression. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women holds that fostering women’s participation in political, economic, and civil affairs is an important step toward achieving sustainable development. This is because women are more likely to influence the decision-making processes in their home countries if they have representation in national councils.
The advancement of women’s rights requires collaboration between both genders through collective efforts that focus on identifying sources of oppression and finding ways to remove them from society the psychology of women, activism is regarded as the most significant aspect of feminist therapy where women are trained to be socially active leaders in transforming social institutions that perpetuate discrimination based on one’s gender.
Cultural feminists focus on transforming society by improving the social position of women. This entails educating both genders about the negative consequences of patriarchal domination while promoting women’s empowerment through developing personal skills that can facilitate their active involvement in social transformation.
Radical feminism is based on the idea that patriarchy is a social system where all men are oppressors of women. Therefore, they must become the targets of feminist therapy as individuals who promote and perpetuate patriarchal domination by remaining apathetic to the struggles of women.
Although radical feminists believe that using psychological treatment as a way to empower women is an important aspect of the therapy process and social change, they also believe that it is not effective in gaining legal justice for women. Thus, they reject the idea of working with male perpetrators to end gender-based violence and exploitation because this would reinforce patriarchy.
Cognitive psychology perspective
The cognitive perspective emphasizes individual thought processes such as emotions, knowledge, and memory. It is one of the oldest approaches in psychology. Feminist therapists use cognitive techniques to treat women who suffer from mental health issues like depression because this approach focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors that can influence or worsen these conditions. Feminist therapists work with women who are victims of sexual assault because this approach helps them deal with emotional stress, depression, anger, and fear. It also helps them deal with past traumatic experiences in order to focus on their recovery.
Who is a feminist therapist?
Feminist therapists offer services to any person with the sexual orientation of a woman, they are mental health professionals and aim to establish a therapeutic relationship with their clients. They also work to eliminate the patriarchal and heteronormative framework that is prevalent in society by challenging androcentric and sexist ideas and behaviors. Their mission is to empower women clients so they can achieve equality with men through promoting self-development, personal growth, lifelong learning, leadership skills, social activism, encouraging public involvement in local politics, and influencing social institutions to promote women’s rights.
Many feminist therapists are self-identified because they have developed their therapeutic orientation in an environment that promotes alternative ways of understanding mental health disorders. Feminist therapists believe in the importance of examining the connection between gender identity, family relationships, educational institutions, work environments, religion, media messages, and political processes.
Feminist therapy and feminist therapists believe in:
The rejection of patriarchy and male dominance over women Social change through social activism The belief that all men are equal to women on a psychological level Challenging sexist attitudes towards women Boosting self-esteem on an individual level so individuals can achieve self-actualization on a larger scale.
Non-pathologizing of a woman’s sexual identity and orientation Taking into consideration the social context when treating individual Feminist therapists also believe that the mental health system is sexist and pathologizes women’s experiences All men are not the problem Social problems cannot be reduced to the individual pathology.
Finding the best feminist therapists
It can be difficult because many of them do not advertise their services or even mention the fact that they are feminist therapists. This is done in order to avoid potential conflicts and maintain a positive therapeutic relationship with their clients.
Trained and experienced therapists in general offer good principles for feminist therapy:
Existential Psychotherapy Lineal Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Cognitive Therapeutic Approaches Humanistic Psychotherapies
The Internet has many resources for finding therapists. You can also contact your local health authority to ask them for a referral.