Archive for the 'History and Theory of Feminist Therapy' Category


Birth of Feminist Therapy

Birth of Feminist Therapy

Feminist Therapy derived from radical women uniting for change in the 1960s during the Feminist Movement. As Feminist Therapy was coming on the scene, the Civil Rights movement and the Stonewall Rebellion also came forth; all combining to form an atmosphere that triggered change in human rights (Marecek, 2001). This was a period of time when different groups of people were discriminated against and sought out change. Women were not only motivated by this atmosphere of change, but they were also empowered by this movement. Feminists used their own unique ways of protesting for their agenda through lobbying and consciousness-raising. Women argued that they were restrained and isolated from each other because of the traditional roles by which they were forced to abide. Feminist movement activities such as the consciousness-raising groups helped women come together to share their interests and personalities without men having an influence on them. Due to the forming of these feminist activities, women had ways to express their common interest and discuss major factors that had a significant influence on a woman’s development (Isreali & Santor, 2000). Many women were further empowered by these meetings because their voices were being heard and supported by other women with similar viewpoints. Due to the consciousness-raising group meetings, many woman’s crisis centers were formed. Women took it upon themselves to help victims of domestic violence, since this area was otherwise neglected by the mental health field. Battered and abused women have a place to go for help as a result of feminists’ perseverance during a time of disadvantage.

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical therapy may have had a significant influence on women formulating feminist therapy. In fact, feminist therapy can be said to have derived from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical therapy. Freud ‘s theories clearly put a great deal of emphasis on women  being the weaker sex due to biological factors that could not be changed. Thus, a majority of counseling techniques and theories have been heavily influenced by Freud and integrate aspects of his ideas within their theories. Feminist therapy was formed to remedy the biases against women that were created by society, as well as Freud and earlier theories which were based around negative connotations towards feminine characteristics and roles. Feminist psychologists pointed out how women’s mental health issues were neglected until 1970, and even during the 1970s highly recognized publications did not include any chapters related to therapy with women (Worell & Johnson, 2001). As time passed by, research began to shift due to professional women raising their voices for more knowledge concerning women in therapy. Corey (2008) stated “a profusion of research on gender-bias emerged in the 1970s, which helped further feminist therapy ideas, and formal organizations began to foster the development and defining of feminist therapy” (p.343).

The empowering knowledge that was birthed from consciousness-raising groups, coupled with help from Freud’s psychoanalytical therapy and this new research on gender-bias, enlightened and transformed many women in the field of psychology, and ultimately birthed feminist therapy. Corey (2008) stated “they took the stance that therapy needed to move away from an intrapsychic, psychopathology perspective to a focus on understanding the social, political, and pathological forces in society that damage and constrain girls and woman, as well as males” (p.342).

A decade later, Feminist Therapy became more organized in its focal points of assisting women. Corey (2008) cited “by the 1980s feminist group therapy had changed dramatically, becoming more diverse as it focused increasingly on specific problems and issues such as body image, abusive relationships, eating disorders, incest and other sexual abuse” (p.343). Many of the improvements in feminist group therapy in the 1980s manifested during consciousness raising group meetings and continue to influence other theories and society today.

Birth of Feminist Therapy

  1. How do you feel feminist therapy has influenced and/or affected society today?

Feminist Therapy Theory

Feminist theory has made huge leaps from psychotherapy since its beginning over four decades ago. It evolved from focusing on fixing gender biased issues to a model of practice that uses gender, social location and strongly stresses the egalitarian model to understand human difficulties.  Feminist practice is rooted in ideas from past and current roles of gender in women’s lives, as well as in efforts of changing how one defines gender and sex to better take on the issues that female clients live with (Worell & Johnson, 1997).

Feminists wanted to keep the core psychological theories that were effective but omit the theories that had sexiest notions. They tried to explain some of the trials and tribulations that women go through which impede their development given their social roles. Some of the tribulations are easily seen when women seek counseling: feeling hopeless in dealing with their situation, not understanding who they are, and also not having confidence in themselves (Guindon, 1998). Many traditional therapies do not put a significant amount of emphasis on women being empowered while maintaining their feminine attributes of nurturing and submissive nature.

In feminist therapy, gender is the primary focus; therapists must understand and be sensitive to how psychological oppression and socialization influences identity development. Feminist therapy also focuses on women’s empowerment; communication, assertiveness, self-esteem and helping women discover how to break free from some of the traditional roles that they may feel are hindering their growth and development. Feminist therapy also focuses on making gender issues transparent enough that women are both empowered and changed by engaging in actively understanding how certain issues affect their behavior (Mahaney, 2007). The egalitarian relationship between the counselor and the client further gives women the sense of empowerment throughout the counseling process. According to Corey (2008), feminist therapists understand that the client and the therapist are not equally yoked, but when the therapist gives the client a sense of control they are best able to understand their situation. The egalitarian approach helps distribute the power of the client and the therapist equally in order to resolve the conflict for which the client is seeking assistance.

Brown (1994) defines feminist therapy as “the practice of therapy informed by feminist political philosophy and analysis, grounded in multicultural feminist scholarship on the psychology of women and gender, which leads both therapist and client toward strategies and solutions advancing feminist resistance, transformation, and social change in daily personal life, and in relationships with the social, emotional, and political environment” (p. 22).

The main goal of feminist therapy is not just to change the individual’s situation or mindset, but also to form a revolution that changes the way society views gender issues. Feminist therapy strives to prevent psychological distresses and inappropriate behavior in both genders. Also, feminist therapy attempts to remedy the stereotypes derived from the traditional views on gender which can affect one’s identity. Feminist therapy recognizes these issues and tries to reprove the flaws in gender bias that started decades ago.


June 2018
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Feminist Therapy Handbook