Feminist Therapy

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While traditional therapeutic approaches can and are helpful, feminist therapy is distinct in its addressing the role of gender in psychological distress. Gender is a reality that shapes our behavior. Our world is organized through its influence. Feminist therapy recognizes that environmental pressures affect a woman's identity. Women live in a world dominated by males and masculine patterns of thought and behavior, or the patriarchy. Until recently, studies of human behavior were almost always conducted by and on men. So men's ways of being often were -- and are -- used to describe women as well as men and therapy techniques useful for men are applied to women equally. Feminists argue that men and women are not the same and, indeed, have developed from early childhood in different ways. Men tend to view the world in terms of power and competition, or in a hierarchy. Women, on the other hand, view the world through relationship and connection to others. So most psychological theories and the therapy techniques derived from them may not fit women very well. Feminist therapy, on the other hand, recognizes the central place relationship and connections hold in women's lives. It considers the nature of sex-bias in a male-dominated culture. It honors women's experiences as valid and unique. Focusing on the damaging effects of gender-role socialization, it seeks to address the inequalities in educational and career opportunities. Feminist therapy also helps women overcome barriers they experience in achieving their personal goals and assists them in recognizing and reaching their full potential. It specifically addresses such questions as family and marriage relationships, reproductive concerns, career issues, the role of violence and fear in their lives, physical and sexual abuse, body image and eating disorders, and self-esteem Therapists literally must learn to see with solution-seeing eyes and hear with solution-hearing ears and feel with solution-feeling emotions. They must learn how to trust that solution seeking part of their clients and help the client find ways of letting that part have a bigger say in their day-to-day lives. Four principles undergird the work of the solution-focused therapist:

Now to look at the principles in more detail. Principle A: Meeting the client at his or her model of the world. The way the client makes sense of her life is very important to her. What she does helps her life hold together, and make sense. If the therapist meets her at that level, then the client can trust the therapist. Then some of the resistance is avoided, and a lot of the repetitive returning to "old issues" is avoided. For example, a therapist might accept any first goal a client wishes to work towards, however "out of order" it might seem to the therapist. From this principle, a homeless drug-abusing pregnant client would be helped to solve her first priority first: getting housing, and not the therapist's or society's goal of getting her off drugs. The therapist must trust that in time, as successive goals are accomplished, the client will turn her attention to reducing her dependency on drugs. Meeting the client at her model of the world naturally helps with Principle B: Transform the client from being a "visitor" or "complainant" into a "customer." A "customer" for therapy is ready to do the "work" of therapy because he or she recognizes, in his or her own way, the benefits of actively participating in therapy. A "visitor," at bottom, maintains a wariness or distance from the expectation that he or she might change. Sometimes when a client is sent by someone against his will, he arrives in a "visitor" mode, that is, he just physically shows up for his sessions without the intention of making any personal changes. A "complainant" comes into therapy complaining that someone else is responsible for their difficulties, or feels frustrated by their difficulties yet isn't ready to change. The client may feel no need to...
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