Feminist Therapy Helps Everyone
Updated May 23, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
While the word feminism may elicit strong feelings in people (both positive and negative), feminist therapy has real-life benefits and applications in everyone's lives (no matter their gender). Feminist therapy can help people explore their mental health without fear of judgment or need to feel compelled to follow any specific gender role. The ability to focus on the human being instead of the gender, without worry or preconceived notions, has been incredibly beneficial to people seeking therapy for decades now. Feminist therapy is, indeed, for everyone.
So, What Is Feminist Therapy?
Essentially, feminist therapy is a branch of psychology used in the treatment of mental health issues. This style and theory takes a close look at the differences in power between people and helps clients consider exactly how culture and socialization can shape every part of a person's life (personal identity, worldview, happiness level, etc.). Feminist theory focuses on the individual and how all forms of oppression (discrimination based on factors like race, age, gender, sexual preference, etc.) can impact their lives. Therapists will then work with each person to help gain empowerment and affect greater, social change. It is essentially a combination of therapy, politics, and sociology. One of the main concepts of feminist therapy is that "the personal is political." Feminist therapy seeks to be gender neutral and egalitarian.
When Did Feminist Therapy Start?
The origin of feminist therapy theory can be traced back the 1960s and the rise of the concept of feminism in general. It originally was developed by women for women to help deal with the massive and quick change that society was undergoing during the feminist revolution. In the 1970s, after additional research came out about gender bias, more therapists starting using this model in their practices. However, it wasn't until the 1980s when it gained traction in the therapy and psychology communities. Feminist therapy is influenced by and uses a variety of different psychological theories - Gestalt, Adlerian, and Rogerian among them.
Who Founded Feminist Therapy?
While there is not one specific founder that can be attributed to feminist therapy theory, there are a few major players. People like Jean Baker Miller (1976), Carol Gilligan (1982), Olivia Espin (1993), Laura Brown (1994), Lillian Comas-Diaz (1994), and Carolyn Enns (1997), all played significant roles in defining and popularizing this specific style of therapy. The creation of the branch of psychology now labeled feminist therapy is often considered a collaborative effort, with no one person being (or even seeking to be) credited for it as a whole.
Are There Any Specific Principles Of Feminist Therapy?
Therapists who use the feminist therapy model for their patients abide by a few specific principles that define the way feminist therapy is practiced in a therapist/patient relationship.
First, feminist therapy always addresses the personal as well as the political context of the reason a person is seeking therapy. Looking at those cultural factors can give rise to significant insight into their mental health and the reason they feel the way they do about certain things.
Secondly, feminist therapy is always seeking to commit to social change as a whole. Starting with the individual, the goal of this style of therapy is to help people make a positive impact on their communities and society in general. Healing individuals can help heal society.
Third, feminist therapists always consider diverse perspectives, honoring them as valid and important to the process of therapy. All feelings and perspectives are equally important to the therapeutic relationship.
Fourth, feminist therapy always aims to establish an egalitarian relationship between the therapist and the person seeking therapy. The therapeutic relationship between the two is designed to promote an even footing so that there is no perceived power imbalance and the process of therapy can become more human and demystified.
Fifth, feminist therapy seeks out a strength focused approach to the therapeutic relationship. Instead of focusing specifically on diagnostic mental health labels, feminist therapists help individuals redefine their relationships with their mental health by looking at their strengths.
Finally, therapists who practice feminist therapy theory recognize that oppression can occur in all forms and impacts all people in different and diverse ways. It is always harmful and always important to address.
What Are Some Techniques Used In Feminist Therapy?
Few techniques are routinely used in feminist therapy theory. Depending on the therapist, they may be either focused on solely or in combination.
One of the main techniques is self-disclosure. Self-disclosure often includes therapists sharing their own experiences (only when appropriate and when an egalitarian relationship has been successfully achieved). The technique is helpful to show the person in therapy that struggles are normal, while also helping to equalize and liberate the client from feeling like they are the only ones going through challenging times. It can help the client, and the feminist therapist better relates to and understand each other, which leads to increased trust in the therapeutic relationship.
Often, therapists will delve into analyzing and even potentially intervening in the establishment of toxic gender roles. The way that traditional gender roles can impact mental health can be explored in a trusting feminist therapy environment. This leads to a better understanding of the cultural factors that impact the way the client responds and relates to the issues in his or her own life.
Another common technique in feminist therapy is evaluating the balance and doing a power analysis of the client's life. Examining the diverse ways that unequal power can impact the client's ability to grow and achieve their goals is a helpful tool in reframing the issues and developing a plan for success.
Reframing is another technique used by feminist therapists. A well-trained therapist can help the client shift their perspective on any given situation by identifying and examining the social factors around them that may impact their mental health (either positively or negatively). The therapist will then help the client to reframe those issues using strength-based techniques and definitions.
A final technique used in feminist therapy is social action. As part of their mental health "homework," feminist therapists will often urge clients to go out and engage in their social activism. Finding their power and using that to help others can help clients to achieve their empowerment.
What Are The Four Approaches To Feminist Therapy?
Ultimately, feminist therapy can be approached in four different ways - liberal feminism, cultural feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism. Each approach varies, and it is up to each therapeutic relationship to define which branch works best. Techniques may vary depending on the approach that works best and fits into the goals of each session.
How Does Feminist Therapy Relate To Gender And Is It Just For Women?
While the origins of feminist therapy centered on addressing mental health in women, this school of psychology have since expanded to include everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, family size or structure, or personal roles.
Are There Any Limitations To Feminist Therapy?
Although there are many advantages to feminist therapy, potential clients should be aware that there can be potential limitations as well.
Even though this branch of therapy has been around for decades, there hasn't been much evidence-based research proving its effectiveness.
Another drawback is that the technique of self-disclosure, when done inappropriately, has the potential to cross professional boundaries as well as influencing the client in imposing and inappropriate ways. Clients may be swayed into acting on a subject or making decisions based on the therapist's personal experiences instead of their own feelings.
One additional potential limitation is that the technique of evaluating social factors can cause clients using feminist therapy to negate any personal blame and place it, instead, on a variety of cultural factors. Clients who blame society for their mental health issues may be less likely to seek out medical help and treatment for their problems.
Even despite the potential limitations, feminist therapy is a great tool for everyone (no matter their gender). Allowing clients to take a step back to look at mental health from a larger, more cultural, and socially aware perspective can help them reframe their issues and develop a greater sense of self-empowerment. To find a feminist therapist, visit BetterHelp to get started.