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Feminist Theory

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Feminist Therapy Analysis and Evaluation
Feminist Therapy Analysis and Evaluation
COUN5239 Theories of Psychotherapy
Chelsi Thomas
May 25, 2019
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Feminist Therapy Analysis and Evaluation
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Abstract
Today we will be exploring feminist theory. We will begin with a brief history of how
feminism became incorporated into counseling practices. Then, we will examine the key concepts of feminist theory as it applies to the counseling profession. Finally, we will examine the
research that has proven feminist theory to be effective for treating a diverse client base. We do
this in hopes that we can educate the reader and help them to see the value of incorporating feminist theory into their own practice.
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Feminsist Therapy Analysis and Evaluation
Introduction
Feminism started becoming incorporated into counseling during the (second wave) feminist movement of the 1960’s. Many women practitioners of the time began to note how many
traditional models of psychotherapy were non-supportive and even damaging to women (Israel
and Santor, 2000). As noted by Corey (2017), they began to theorize that “therapy needed to
move away from an intrapsychic perspective on psychopathology (in which the sources of a
woman's unhappiness reside within her) to a focus on understanding the social, political, and cultural forces in society that damage, oppress, and constrain girls and women, as well as boys and
men”.
This happened not under the influence of one person, but rather, as a result of the collective voices of several professionals hoping to change this profession for women. To name a few
of the major influencers of this theory, we will start with Laura S. Brown, the founder of the
Feminist Therapy Institute and author of notable works on feminist theory such as Subversive Dialogues: Theory in Feminist Therapy (1996) and Feminist Therapy (2010). Upon examination of
the Feminist Therapy Institute Code of Ethics (1996), we see some core tenants of Feminist
Therapy, including “the personal is the political” and brought to life. We must also mention the
work of Carolyn Zerbe Enns, Professor of Psychology at Cornell University. Upon examination
of her most notable works, Oxford Handbook of Feminist Multicultural Counseling Psychology
(2013) and Psychological Practice With Women: Guidelines, Diversity, Empowerment (2015) we
see an emphasis on Feminist Therapy as multicultural and intersectional. Finally, we must mention the contributions of former Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University and Director of the the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Stone Center at Wellesley Colege, Jean
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Baker Miller. In her most notable works,Toward a New Psychology of Women (1986), The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life (1997) and Women's
Growth in Connection (1991) we are introduced to relational- cultural theory, the last tenant of
Feminist Therapy we will be exploring today as we move on to the key concepts.
Key Concepts
First, it is important that the practitioner of Feminist Theory understand the importance of
incorporating issues of social justice and self-advocacy in their work with the client. According
to Tronto (2006), “Feminist scholars ground their work in the real world of power and oppression. They explicitly acknowledge a moral, political, and passionate commitment to creating new
knowledge about how gender, as a primary axis of power, operates in individual identity, interpersonal and kinship relationships, and broader social structures”. In other words, both women
and men need to be aware of how enforcing prescribed gender roles has been a detriment to their
mental health and mental development. Certainly each is effected differently by this; men are
taught to suppress softer, more “feminine” emotions (Wolf, 2018) and women are taught to be
complaint to a fault (Myers, 2013). However, in the feminist school of thought, both is responsible for taking a stand against these effects in whatever way they feel comfortable. This may be
through taking part in actual activism (voting pro-woman, marches, protests, writing to political
figures), rejecting rigid gender roles in their own lives and relationships, or reading feminist literature (bibliotherapy) (Corey, 2017).
Next, we will discuss how Feminist therapists make a point of incorporating multiculturalism and intersectionality into their work. According to Corey (2017), feminist therapy has the
most in common with multicultural and social justice perspectives. Specifically, he notes how
“All three approaches reject the ‘disease model’ of psychopathology; they view clients' problems
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as symptoms of their experiences of living in an unjust society rather than as having an intrapsychic origin”. This, of course, requires some extra homework on the therapist’s part if they wish
to do this effectively. Enns (2004) asserts that therapist education on and incorporation of the
“diversity feminisms” - that is postmodern feminism, women of color feminisms, queer theory
and lesbian feminism, and transnational feminism - are key to understanding how context and
intersections of social locations influence womens’ lives.
Finally, according to Corey (2017), Feminist Theory incorporates the idea that human beings (especially women) develop a sense of identity and self-concept in the context of relationships. This idea, known as Relational - Cultural Theory, differs from many others in psychotherapy in regards to it’s perspective on autonomy. Especially in Western culture, we tend to emphasize independence. We see this manifested in the counseling profession in concepts like differentiation in Bowen Theory (Corey, 2017). Relational-Cultural Theory, however, stresses to clients
that interdependence is actually good thing. Through this, “Therapists aim to lessen the suffering
caused by disconnection and isolation, increase clients' capacity for relational resilience, develop
mutual empathy and mutual empowerment, and foster social justice” (Corey, 2017).
Research Evidence
Feminist therapy has proven effective for treating a diverse clientele, even men! In particular, studies show that the examination of power and privilege seemed to “do something” for
men that other modalities did not. Certainly this must be linked to studies regrading “toxic masculinity” and it’s severe negative impact on men, including higher suicide rates linked to fear of
asking for help (Wolf, 2018). There is, of course, huge benefits for women being treated by a
Feminist therapist. For example, studies by Gualinick (1979) showed that “treatments using social and gender-role analysis can broaden a client’s perspective regarding roles women may
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choose as well as increasing instrumental and expressive behaviors”. Finally, research has shown
that Feminist Therapy can be applied to clients who are women of color with great success. According to Jones and Guy- Sheftall (2015), “Exploration of the social work practice literature
and other relevant fields indicate that black feminist perspectives offer the opportunity to gain a
clearer understanding of the intersection and influence of oppression among black women struggling with psychiatric issues and provide a useful framework for mental health practice with this
population”.
Conclusion
In our overview of Feminist Therapy, we first identified some of the major founders and
their contributions to the counseling profession as feminists. We then took a look a more indepth look at the key concepts these founders included in their vision of feminist therapy. Specifically, we saw how encouraging activism, looking at problems through a multicultural and intersectional lens, and reframing interdependence as a good thing are central to applying this theory.
Finally, we examined how existing research on Feminist Therapy reveals that applying these
concepts makes for effective practice. As such, I am certainly excited to include elements of
Feminist Therapy into my work with future clients.
References
Corey, G. (2017). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Boston, MA: Cengage
Learning
Enns, C. Z., Sinacore, A. L., Ancis, J. R., & Phillips, J. (2004). Toward Integrating Feminist and
Multicultural Pedagogies. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 32, 414–427.
Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.library.capella.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=15515455&site=ehost-live&scope=site
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Feminist Therapy Institute. (1996). Feminist Therapy Institute Code of Ethics. Retrieved May
29, 2019, from http://supp.apa.org/books/Supervision-Essentials/Appendix_D.pdf
Israeli, A. L., & Santor, D. A. (2000). Reviewing effective components of feminist therapy.
Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 13(3), 233–247. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/095150700300091820
Jones, L. V., & Guy-Sheftall, B. (2015). Conquering the Black Girl Blues. Social Work, 60(4),
343–350. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1093/sw/swv032
Myers, K. (2013). Anti-feminist messages in American television programming for young girls.
Journal of Gender Studies, 22(2), 192–205. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/09589236.2012.714074
Tronto, J. (2006). Moral perspectives: Gender, ethnics, and political the- ory. In K. Davis, M.
Evans, & J. Lorber (Eds.), Handbook of gender and women’s studies (pp. 417–434). London:
Sage.
Wolf, J., Williams, E. N., Darby, M., Herald, J., & Schultz, C. (2018). Just for Women? Feminist
Multicultural Therapy with Male Clients. Sex Roles, 78(5–6), 439–450. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1007/s11199-017-0819-y
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