Feminist Therapy

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated February 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Today, an increasing number of counselors may seek training in feminist therapy.

Feminist therapy is for everyone - not just women

Feminist therapy, also called feminist counseling, recognizes the perspectives and validity of all gender identities, including gender variant individuals. This intersectional feminist therapy is a form of mental health treatment provided for anyone, not only cisgender women, addressing the needs of marginalized groups within the social and cultural context. 

From the lens of feminism, feminist therapy considers how gender intersects with race, sexuality, socioeconomic class, and other identifiers. If you're looking for a therapist who works within this intersectional framework, learning more about the history, approach, and benefits of feminist therapy may benefit you.

What Is feminism?

Feminism as a theory may be a popular topic in contemporary culture, and the word alone may elicit strong feelings in some people. Feminism in politics is an interdisciplinary approach to issues of equality and equity based on gender, with a particular emphasis on people who identify as women. Feminism is rooted in feminist philosophy, which considers women's social and political rights and roles and how to create equal opportunity for people of all gender identities. 

Regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation, feminist therapy may help you explore your strengths, beliefs, areas for growth, and formative experiences in the context of gender identity. Often, this type of therapy emphasizes voices and experiences that have been marginalized, oppressed, or "othered" in any way. Therapists who practice this approach may believe that marginalized people are potentially the sources of the greatest wisdom.

Historical development of feminist therapy

Feminist therapy originated in the 1960s during the second wave of feminism in the US. Many women voiced concerns about sexism during this time in traditional therapeutic settings. Their conversations prompted the formation of consciousness-raising (CR) groups, a form of activism that allowed women to discuss stories of sexism, struggles with gender identity, and related topics.  

Like these CR groups, contemporary feminist therapy considers how gender, culture, social class, sexuality, and other markers can shape life stories and relationships with others. Some notable psychologists in the development of feminist therapy included Jean Baker MillerCarol GilliganOlivia EspinLaura Brown, and Lillian Comas-Diaz. Through collaboration and political activism, these scholars partnered with other professionals to create and sustain the practice of feminist therapy. 

What are some of the goals of feminist therapy? 

By bearing witness to a client's story and accepting them as they are, feminist counselors may guide a client toward empowerment and freedom through the therapeutic relationship. Often, the therapist works with the client to illuminate how their life is shaped by patriarchal norms and gender bias, which may emphasize the power and ability of men. When freed from harmful gender norms, people could be apt to make decisions for themselves, not for others or society, thus reclaiming their personal power.

This sense of freedom may encourage clients to pursue a range of individual goals, such as: 

  • Strengthening communication skills
  • Developing assertiveness
  • Improving self-esteem 
  • Maintaining healthier relationships, whether platonic, familial, or romantic

When someone is defined as "other" by dominant or mainstream culture, they may feel that they don't belong or fit in a given community or relationship, often impacting marginalized groups. The goal of a feminist therapist in multicultural feminist counseling can be to help that person feel seen and heard without feeling judged or compelled to follow specific gender roles, utilizing feminist theory in their approach.

How do counselors use feminist therapy?

Any licensed therapist may receive training in feminist counseling through a course and apply the guiding principles to their practice. As you look for a therapist, you might find that some combine therapeutic approaches. For example, a professional may utilize feminist therapy techniques as well as principles from existential therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or another form of therapy. Feminist counseling can be used in clinics, therapists' offices, and online therapy platforms and applies to various mental health conditions and concerns. A feminist therapist may also work with participants through varying formats, such as individual, group, or family therapy. 

Compared to other modes of counseling, this politically informed model can be uniquely informed by politics and social justice, often reflecting the feminist movement's values. Therefore, therapists may use this model during feminist therapy sessions to help clients consider how power, culture, and socialization dynamics, including gender differences, influence every part of their lives, from their worldview to perceived levels of happiness. A feminist therapist, then, may focus on social change as well as individual change.

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How do counselors use feminist therapy?

Feminist therapists refer to several guiding principles, which may include the following.   

"Personal can be political"

Feminist therapy addresses both the personal and political context for why a person may seek professional help. Therapists in this field may believe that social, political, and personal identities are interconnected and encourage clients to view their lives and challenges through this lens. For instance, social pressure may affect certain groups more than others and cause some people within those groups to develop a negative body image, which can lead to certain mental health challenges, such as eating disorders. 

"Gender-based privilege and oppression are present across the world"

Earlier models of feminist therapy focused more on women in Western cultures. However, not every client may come from the same cultural background. A client's comfort with emotional expression and notions of "empowerment" can vary culturally and individually. In recent years, more therapists have recognized the global condition of women and how clients' cultural backgrounds influence their reasons and goals for therapy. 

"The relationship between the therapist and the client can be egalitarian"

In feminist therapy, there may be no hierarchy between a counselor and patient outside of ethical guidelines. The therapist's expertise may not trump the client's knowledge; instead, they draw wisdom from their respective life experiences to explore a client's challenges. This type of therapeutic relationship may prevent an imbalance of power and humanize the therapeutic process.

"People can experience multiple oppressions and identities"

Therapists who practice feminist therapy may recognize that one person can experience oppression in multiple forms. These experiences might not be solely attributable to gender and sexuality but can also be traced to race, socioeconomic class, and other identifiers. Any experiences of oppression can affect a person's career choices and life decisions. 

"Concepts of distress and mental health are redefined"

Instead of focusing on diagnostic mental health labels, feminist therapists may reject the disease model and emphasize a client's strengths and capacity for growth. However, they may still treat mental health conditions and symptoms, including eating disorders, by addressing the underlying social and personal factors. 

Standard techniques in feminist therapy

With those guiding principles in place, feminist therapists can employ a combination of the following techniques.   

Power analysis

Feminist therapists may emphasize societal power differences between genders. For example, a therapist might examine the way gender roles have perpetuated power imbalances that can affect their client’s personal life. Through the guidance of their counselor, clients might reflect on this dynamic in their lives and consider how they and others exercise or are impacted by power. 


When clients analyze their behaviors, feminist therapists may challenge them to shift their frame of reference. By recognizing other social, cultural, and political factors at play, feminist counseling may help clients see how many intrapersonal problems are also interpersonal, as people may be routinely affected by the actions and beliefs of others. 


Similar to reframing, relabeling occurs during a self-analysis of behavior. Using a strengths-based approach, therapists encourage clients to relabel their behaviors with more favorable evaluations.

Assertiveness training

For clients who identify as women, feminist therapy may encourage awareness of interpersonal rights, challenging negative gender beliefs, and implementing changes that reflect growing awareness. 

Who can benefit from feminist therapy?

While the feminist therapy approach developed in response to the mental health needs of women, feminist therapy has expanded to support clients of all backgrounds, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. All people are welcome in feminist therapy, and practitioners in the field are especially committed to supporting marginalized communities, including:

  • People from the LGTBQA+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more)
  • Black and Indigenous communities and people of color (BIPOC) 
  • People with disabilities
  • Immigrants and refugees
  • Those with income disparities 

Anyone, men included, may participate in feminist counseling. People who identify as men may seek feminist therapy for the same reasons as other clients. Regardless of gender, clients may unpack harmful gender norms and learn how to avoid perpetuating them with the support of a compassionate, inclusive therapist.

Limitations of feminist therapy

While there can be benefits to feminist therapy, counselors and academics have identified some potential drawbacks to the practice. For example, depending on the setting, feminist therapy may be more expensive than general therapy. 

Additionally, maintaining an egalitarian relationship with clients can make it difficult to keep professional boundaries. Despite these limitations, feminist therapy may represent a promising field for future research and therapeutic development, particularly as more and more people become interested in addressing issues through social action.

Feminist therapy is for everyone - not just women

Counseling options

You may find feminist therapists in your area by searching for "feminist therapy near me." Suppose you live in a rural area or city where feminist mindsets may be frowned upon. In that case, you can also consider attending therapy online, where you can partake in unknown counseling or meet with a therapist from home. 

While more research may be needed on the effectiveness of feminist counseling in online spaces, many individuals turn to internet-based methods for support. In addition to feminist counseling techniques, an online counselor may use other strategies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Online CBT (ICBT) emerged as a powerful tool for mental health patients, especially those living in rural settings and urban areas with limited in-person mental healthcare. These results are supported by a growing body of research through several 2021 studies and may apply to feminist therapy.  

Online therapy is an option for many clients and may be less expensive than in-person feminist therapy services. Using an online platform like BetterHelp, you can find a licensed therapist who can help you explore questions of gender identity, sexuality, and related topics.


Feminist therapy can be for everyone regardless of gender, cultural background, or therapy goals. This innovative therapy may allow clients to take a step back and assess their mental health concerns from a broader, socially aware perspective. By connecting with a feminist therapist, you can begin a journey toward self-empowerment, self-awareness, and a more compassionate understanding of yourself and others.

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