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What is Feminist Therapy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Feminist therapy is a not one single idea (Freudian, humanist, cognitive behavioral) but instead many that arise from the Feminist movement especially as expressed in the 1960s, 70s, and onward. It is in some ways a rejection of the way therapy was formed and practiced, because it views the initial types of therapy as based on curing males instead of viewing the female as unique because of her gender and through her life struggles with systemic sexism. This sexism in therapy is also called systemic and isn’t necessarily overt; it means the whole system of traditional therapy fails the female gender because it was more designed to treat men.

It is certainly true that the physical and mental issues of women may not be understood to as great a degree. Many medical models of treatment don’t necessarily address the physical, hormonal and even genetic differences of the woman, and this has led to grave misunderstanding on vital issues, like the way in which a woman may experience symptoms of a heart attack. In fact, attaching the terms to women that they are “crazy,” “needy,” “emotional” has been a common practice in society that women have had to live with. They are stuck with a prejudice against being these things and must hate or resent themselves for having these attributes, if they view themselves from a masculine perspective.

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Feminist therapy may work with women who have been disregarded by the health system or greater world, and help them understand the situations under which sexism (or racism) have shaped them or made them feel less than they were. In context this may work in some of the following ways. The therapist does not view herself as somehow coming to the relationship in a superior way to the client; it is a meeting of equals. Moreover, the therapist may work with the client to understand that constructs about gender are merely that. They have been constructed but may be completely artificial.

Goals in feminist therapy may be numerous. They include exploration of how systemic sexism has created anxiety, tension, or abuse in the woman’s life. The client may need to work with specific incidences of abuse and process these, and over time they become empowered to live life to the fullest. Feminist therapy may stress learning how to balance self-care with care of others. The therapist is likely to ask the woman to search for those qualities in the self that don’t respect the diversity of humans and that have led to sexism or other forms of prejudice.

It should be emphasized that feminist therapy is not about hating men, and some men benefit from it. Instead it is more about bringing forth and treating the uniqueness in each person. It strives for balance between the genders and sees men as victims of systemic sexism too.

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