Feminism and Feminist Therapy:
Lessons From the Past and
Hopes for the Future
Kathy M. Evans, Elizabeth A. Kincade, Aretha F. Marbley,
and Susan R. Seem
Feminist therapy incorporates the psychology of women (e.g., J. B. Miller, 1976), developmental research (e.g., C. Gilligan, 1982), cognitive-behavioral techniques (J. Worell & P. Remer, 1992), multicultural awareness (L. Comas- Diaz & B. Greene, 1994), and social activism (L. S. Brown, 1994) in a coherent theoretical and therapeutic package. It is an orientation that is effective in various venues and with diverse populations. In this article, the authors trace the relevant historical aspects of the orientation along with implications for practice, critiques, and trends Feminist therapy and counseling emerged nearly 40 years
ago to better meet the needs of women experiencing psychological distress (Enns, 1997). Since its inception, feminist
therapy has evolved in terms of theory, therapeutic
techniques, and scope of application. Although initially
feminist therapy and counseling focused exclusively on
women and excluded men, both as therapists and clients,
contemporary feminist therapy now includes male clients
and therapists and seeks nongendered and culturally fair
ways to approach and interpret traditional psychotherapeutic theories and techniques (Sharf, 2003).
Feminist philosophers, therapists, and clients have had a
profound effect on the fields of counseling and psychology,
especially regarding gender bias and gender role stereotyping (Worell & Johnson, 1997). As a result of raising the consciousness of the profession, there have been significant changes in
conceptualization, diagnosis, and treatment. The basic premise of feminist therapy—that the political is the personal (Enns, 1992)—remains. In feminist therapy, there is no lasting individual change without social change. Clients are enmeshed
in their sociopolitical and cultural contexts, and true and lasting psychological change must address the issues within these
contexts as well as individual issues. This theme is primary throughout our discussion of feminist counseling and therapy. History of Feminist Therapy
Feminist therapy is an outgrowth of feminism and, as such, is intertwined with gender, race, and other sociopolitical factors. Unlike most other theoretical orientations, feminist therapy grew out of political and social consciousness. To best understand the therapeutic and philosophical stance of feminist therapy, it is important to gain a grounding in the sociopolitical factors that spurred consciousness and action among oppressed groups.
Feminist-informed counseling practice emerged from the civil rights and social change movements of the 1960s and engendered awareness of women as an oppressed group in U.S. culture.
It is important to note that during this time, when feminism was called “the women’s movement,” women of color were estranged from the movement (Brown, 1990). Awareness of women as an
oppressed group grew out of the privileged class of women who were, for the most part, White and educated. Contemporary feminist therapies emerged from three aspects of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s: consciousness-raising groups, battered women’s shelters, and the antirape movement (Worell &
Johnson, 2001). The women’s liberation movement, as just noted, sought to change social, political, and cultural beliefs about the role of women in the world. In lieu of the perceived patriarchal, racist society, an egalitarian society founded on mutual respect and collaboration, the equitable distribution of power and resources, and shared responsibility between women and men was
conceptualized (Kravetz & Marecek, 2001).
Consciousness-raising (CR) groups were nonhierarchical,
leaderless groups in which women met to discuss their experiences as women. CR resulted in the analysis of patriarchal and
oppressive societal arrangements. The goal of CR groups was...
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