Feminism and feminist therapy
Feminism refers to movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women’s rights. Feminism is mainly focused on women’s issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men’s liberation is therefore a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles. Feminists – that is, persons practicing feminism – can be persons of either sex.
Feminist theory emerged from the feminist movements and includes general theories and theories about the origins of inequality, and, in some cases, about the social construction of sex and gender, in a variety of disciplines. Feminist activists have campaigned for women’s rights – such as in contract, property, and voting – while also promoting women’s rights to bodily integrity and autonomy and reproductive rights.
They have opposed domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. In the economic sphere they have advocated for workplace rights, including equal pay and opportunities for careers and to start businesses.
Feminist theory aims to understand gender difference and gender inequality and focuses on gender politics and sexuality. Providing a critique of these social and political power relations, much of feminist theory focuses on the promotion of women’s rights. Themes explored in feminist theory include discrimination, stereotyping, objectification (especially sexual objectification), oppression, and patriarchy. Feminist theory is academically concentrated in women’s studies and encompasses work in history, anthropology, sociology, economics, literary criticism (supported by women’s literature, music, film, and other media), art history, psychoanalysis, theology, philosophy, geography, and other disciplines.
Basic Concepts of Feminist theory include:
1. Viewing all people regardless of their gender or culture within the context of society. In addition to processing counselling information through a cultural lens, the feminist counsellor conceptualizes past and present social constraints (due to gender, culture, etc.) and hence, considers the current psychological damage that society has placed on the individual;
2. Promoting egalitarian relationships in all settings, including the counselling relationship. Feminists reject the patriarchal medical models in the therapeutic relationship. The goal of counselling is to empower the client, within the context of counselling, towards psychological strength in equality;
3. Realising that social and personal identities are intertwined. The individual conceptually cannot be removed from his/her history (socially and personally). There are always underpinnings of social privilege and/or oppression. Traditional psychological theories, as well as all other societal norms, are based in patriarchy. Government policies, history books, religious dogma, cultural norms, work places, literature, and all other parts of society interplay with a person’s self image, selfefficacy goals, and expectations. Due to the psychological and emotional limits and expectations placed on people by society, well-being is often wounded. Most traditional psychological theories (incorporating acceptance of gender roles, ignorance of cultural differences and the role of social oppression) now need both multicultural and feminist principles integrated into them, as automatically as counsellors incorporate empathy into their practices.
Feminist therapy is a set of related therapies arising from what proponents see as a disparity between the origin of most psychological theories and the majority of people seeking counselling being female. It focuses on societal, cultural, and political causes and solutions to issues faced in the counselling process. It openly encourages the client to participate in the world in a more social and political way.
Feminist therapy contends that women are in a disadvantaged position in the world due to sex, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, age and other categories. Feminist therapists argue that many problems that arise in therapy are due to disempowering social forces; thus the goal of therapy is to recognize these forces and empower the client. In a feminist therapy setting, the therapist and client work as equals. The therapist must demystify therapy from the beginning to show the client that she is her own rescuer, and the expectations, roles, and responsibilities of both client and therapist must be explored and equally agreed upon. The therapist recognizes that with every symptom a client has, there is strength.
Feminist therapy grew out of concerns that established therapies were not helping women. Specific concerns of feminist therapists included gender bias and stereotyping in therapy; blaming victims of physical abuse and sexual abuse; the assumption of a traditional nuclear family; and the ongoing erasure of women from the psychological discourse.