Feminist psychology applies to a number of theories and therapies. Its roots are often traced to the well-known neo-Freudian Karen Horney, who refuted many of the classic Freudian concepts, especially the idea that women spent their lives experiencing penis-envy. The women’s movement in the 1960s brought many more ideas into feminist psychology, including sociological/anthropological notions about the nature of most women in the world and theories on how to empower women to embrace their femininity and seize their power.
In its emergence, feminist psychology sought to correct several problems with the way women were viewed by psychological frameworks. Theorists felt that traditional theories of psychology were based on observation and the study of men and did not account for gender differences. If the baseline for study was male behavior, then things like a tendency towards greater emotionality in women could be viewed as emotional deviance or “insanity.” Overwhelmingly, theorists wanted to create a psychology that was specifically representative of the female viewpoint, to counter the earlier problems with male-based models.
There have been a number of ways that feminist psychology has worked in educational, research, and clinical settings to further the cause of understanding the female mind and experience. Research focused exclusively on women provided evidence that there were indeed differences in the way women and men might work, problem-solve, and navigate relationships. This research was then used in teaching settings and among counseling feminist psychologists to help empower and teach women about their differences, which were finally divorced from a sense that such differences implied inferiority or weakness.
An important thrust of feminist psychology is that, in many cultures, women are still subject to men’s rules. In a counseling setting, a client might explore her experience of discrimination. In some cultures, this has changed to a degree, but many feminist psychologists assert that it has not changed as much as people think. This can be shown by things like the lower salary that most women earn, as opposed to the higher salaries of men at all professional levels. Feminist psychologists also suggest that an important part of the experience of most women is being part of a discriminatory society, and this may have numerous effects on how women perceive themselves.
Another area in which feminist psychology has shown interest is in gender, sexuality preference, and identity theories. Some of the theories on these specialized areas of study are adapted from feminist theories. Practicing counseling feminist psychologists may not only work with women but may also work with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBTQ) communities. Feminist psychologists may also work with heterosexual males, especially on issues like sensitivity training, though generally they have worked more closely with female or LGBTQ clients.