Feminist therapy (FT) arose in the 1960s as a result of women’s increasing awareness that discrimination resides in the way traditional psychology views female mental health. It was an attempt to enhance women’s autonomy and it was based on the integration of psychology and feminist theory. According to this theory, women form their identity through a perspective of constantly providing care for others at the expense of their own free will and initiative. This view represents the traditional gender role, which is not biologically determined but rather socially derived.
FT emphasizes the principle of equality in all aspects’ of human experience. Its major tenet is that psychological difficulties arise from political and social causes, namely discriminative attitudes not only towards females but also towards ethnic, cultural, religious and sexual minorities (Landrine, 1995 & Worell, 1997). FT attempts to provide care through a novel perspective which respects the patient’s wishes and needs instead of rigidly meeting societal expectations according to existing racial and sexist stereotypes.
The client holds a central place in the treatment setting, and is encouraged to take initiative and guide the therapeutic process. The therapist is not viewed as an authority but as an equal partner, whose task is to educate and empower the patient. Therapists aim at demystifying the process of therapy in order to enhance clients’ sense of power and self-efficacy. In addition, they are particularly careful at avoiding power display in the therapy setting and may frequently use self-disclosure to restore equality and reciprocity in the therapeutic relationship (Worell, 1997).
FT supports the idea that the client knows better than anyone what is best for him/her. Its main aim is to increase people’s awareness of internalized stereotypes and replace them with more realistic beliefs, to elaborate on issues of control and power and how they affect human experience and to enhance independent decision-making. Apart from gaining self-awareness and free choice, clients are also encouraged to actively participate in political and social groups, given that personal experiences are considered deeply political and personal evolution can arise only through social change (Landrine, 1995 & Worell, 1997).
The vast majority of feminist therapists and clients are women. However, it is a theory that hopes to address issues concerning both genders, ignoring any societal and cultural bias. The principles of FT are fruitfully applied in the field of physical and sexual abuse, eating disorders, body image distortions and issues of somatic health and reproduction. Commonly used techniques include gender-role analysis and intervention, power analysis and intervention, bibliotherapy, assertiveness training and self-disclosure (Landrine 1995, & Worell, 1997).
FT has provided new insights on managing mental health issues through a social and cultural perspective. It has fought prejudice in the practice of psychology, by adopting an egalitarian approach, regardless of gender, race, religious affiliation or sexual orientation and it has focused on the clients’ individual needs, strengths and wishes. The therapeutic context enhances collaboration and reciprocity and individuals are encouraged to become active members of their society in order to produce change.
However, when placing too much value on cultural and social causes of mental disorders, there is the risk of ignoring the significance of personal factors and intrapsychic phenomena. When all psychological difficulties are considered to stem from the abuse of power and the effect of social prejudice and discrimination, then the individual fails to assume responsibility for his/her experience. In this way, true personal evolution may be sacrificed for the sake of social activism.
In addition, the collaborative nature of the therapeutic process and the misuse of self-disclosure by feminist therapists may abolish professional and ethical boundaries and further damage the clients’ fragile psyche. Finally, this approach may prove extremely frustrating for people and cultures that place great emphasis on traditional societal roles. Post-modern Approaches Post-modern Approaches (PMA) evolved through the influence of post-modernism on the theory and practice of psychotherapy. Traditionally, philosophy and science have been dedicated to the conquest of the absolute truth.
Post-modernism suggests that there is no such thing as objectivity and reality is constructed through language. In this view, mental illness is considered a social construct, originating from the dominating societal tendency to dichotomize and label all aspects of human experience (Boston, 2000). PMA, which include Solution-Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Social Constructionism, are client-centered. The therapist’s role is not to provide authority-driven solutions but to help the client develop a new communication and new interpretation of his/her experience.
Contrary to traditional psychotherapeutic views, they do not focus on symptoms and their historical context but on the present and on clients’ strengths and wishes. Post-modern theories place great value on language as a way of creating reality and consequently as a tool to produce change (Boston, 2000 & Walker, 2006). For example, in Solution-Focused Therapy, clients are encouraged to discuss goals for change and means by which this change can be achieved (Gingerich, 2000 & Lethem, 2002).
Likewise, in Narrative Therapy the explicit description of the presenting problem allows the client to see his/her difficulties as a matter of personal and societal interpretation, distinct from his self-identity, thus contributing to the formulation of a less dysfunctional narrative (Boston, 2000). Post-modern Therapy is based on the individual’s existing strengths and resources. It frequently uses the technique of exceptions by urging clients to contemplate on paradigms where their difficulties were not so prominent.
In this way, it empowers clients and provides them with a glance to future change. Another common technique is coping questioning which reveals effective coping strategies already used by the client, when faced with his/her current problems. Problem-free discussion is also used to address non-problematic domains of the client’s experience and enhance his/her sense of self-efficacy and confidence (Gingerich, 2000 & Lethem, 2002). PMA have been successfully used in eating disorders, substance abuse and relationships problems.
Psychiatric patients, couples, youth and criminal offenders have benefit from their application. Their techniques, which focus on the person and not the diagnostic label, may enhance the therapeutic alliance and the development of empathy, both associated with better therapy outcomes (Lethem, 2002). Social Constructionism which suggests that mental illness is a social construct, a product of medical terminology, has contributed to fighting discrimination and stigma. However, it entails the risk of devaluating all achievements in the field of psychiatric research.
In addition, the abolishment of the therapist’s authority may for some individuals produce a sense of insecurity and confusion. Finally, another major disadvantage is that the efficacy of Post-modern Therapy is hard to be scientifically evaluated. Both FT and PMA have challenged traditional views including the classical Christian axioms (Arlandson, 2010). Nevertheless, their emphasis on equality, empowerment hope and motivation for change, seems to be in agreement with the spirit of the Bible’s teachings.
To my opinion, counsellors should take into consideration their clients’ needs, strengths and aspirations as both FT and PMA dictate. To be effective, the counselling process must focus on the present and the future instead of trying to unravel mysteries of the distal past. Although most clients come to therapy with certain difficulties, a significant therapeutic force regardless of the counsellor’s theoretical background is the development of an empathetic alliance which can provide a sense of self-efficacy to the client and hope for the future.
References Landrine, H. (1995). Bringing cultural diversity to feminist psychology: Theory, research, and practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Worell, J. , & Johnson, N. G. (Eds. ). (1997). Shaping the future of feminist psychology: Education, research, and practice. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Boston, P. (2000). Systemic family therapy and the influence of post-modernism. Advances in psychiatric treatment, 6, 450-457. Walker, M. T. (2006).
The Social Construction of Mental Illness and its Implications for the Recovery Model. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. 10 (1), 71-87 Lethem, J (2002). “Brief Solution Focused Therapy”. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 7(4), 189-192. Gingerich, W. J. & Eisengart, S, (2000). “Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: A Review of the Outcome Research”. Family Process, 39(4), 477-498. Arlandson, J. (2010). Postmodernism and the Bible: Introduction. The American Thinker, 2010.