Feminism and feminist therapy

feminist counseling

Feminist Counseling approaches gender in a similar way to Gender Aware Therapy, highlighting the destructive potential of gender, since it limits role expectations and relegates half the population to second class status. Chaplin (1999) describes feminist counseling as a different approach that implicates attitudes, values and ways of thinking. She argues that it relates more to the development of a different “feminine” value system through raising awareness and the rejection of the dominant male values and characteristics typical of the society in which we live. Feminist counseling is concerned with inequality generally, not just that associated with gender. It is eclectic in approach, so can be used with any other approaches to therapy which accepts that external factors contribute to the problems of clients. Ivey et al. 1997, summarise the main features of feminist therapies being;

 the creation of an egalitarian relationship in counseling;

 valuing and respecting individual difference;

 emphasizing the influence of external influences;

 assisting with support for clients beyond the individual therapy sessions (for example, mobilizing support groups, community services);

 active and participatory approach to therapy (for example, using techniques like assertiveness training for women);

 a strong information giving component in counselling sessions to ensure that clients understand the origins and nature of gender, oppression and inequality; and

 helping the client to gain a more positive self image and personal validation.

Principles of feminist approaches to counseling:

1. Socio-political analysis: Women’s experiences are a product of interactions between their internal psyche and external material worlds, and thus are political. All schools of feminism believes that women’s social value and feelings of self worth are anchored in patriarchal societal values and prescriptions about what it means to be a female. These must be understood and eventually challenged.

2. Emphasis on gender and sex role stereotyping: Even when some experiences are linked with their sex, the meaning of these experiences is socially constructed, for example parenting. In a counselling situation, it is the meaning of the experience that is important. Therefore, feminist counselling aims to facilitate equality in personal power between men and women, and help clients to challenge culturally prescribed sex roles. Nevertheless, it recognizes that while men have also been victims of a sexist culture and its rigid patterns of socialization. It is still men who hold the balance of power and are more benefited from the social conditions.

3. Women–centered focus: Women’s lives and experiences are at the core of feminist counselling. It seeks to understand sex role stereotypes and their contribution to women’s problems, undertakes socio–political analyses of women’s position and highlight women’s strengths and potential.

4. Power and powerlessness: Feminist counselling seeks to identify different forms and sources of power and powerlessness and help clients to recognition of their potential for gaining access to both personal and social power. Power within the therapeutic process is acknowledged.

5. Positive vision of the future: Feminist counselling offers positive visions of the future for women. These visions are of more equitable society, in which being female is valued and in which social resources are allocated equitably. In an unequal society, it is argued women’s self-image, ability to be self-directed and ability to be happy are constrained by their lack of access to external power. Feminist counselling helps women dream of and achieve a future in which who they can be, who they want to be, not just who they are expected to be.

6. Commitment to social action and social transformation: Key to this approach is a commitment to social transformation in order to achieve liberation of women and a commitment to some form of collective action in order to actively contribute to and create social change.

values of feminist approaches

Egalitarianism: The value of egalitarianism is seen in the goals of feminist counselling,
which seek to achieve a more equitable place for women in society, as well as in the counselling practice, which seeks to render the therapeutic process transparent and open. Knowledge and understanding are shared and jointly negotiated between client and counselor.

Care and Commitment: The value of care and commitment directly informs the ethical basis of feminist approach to counselling. Commitment to and care towards, clients do not end with the consultation session. For many women, whose psychological distress is closely linked with fractured relationships and sense of identity, as well as lives full of practical difficulties. It will sometimes be necessary to make contact outside counselling sessions.

Diversity: The value of diversity is to accept, welcome and celebrate difference, not to pathologise it. A commitment to diversity would enable us to identify within our practice the harm done to people by the workings of a competitive, individualistic society, where perfection is expected and, those who are not perfect are seen as lesser and excluded.

Reflexivity: Reflexivity is a process of continual reflection, analysis, evaluation and decision making. To practice counselling with this feminist approach is possible only if the counselor has a high degree of self awareness and a willingness to learn from others and from one’s own practice.