How do you define Feminist therapy and what does it look like in practice?

Hi Em,

I will do my best to answer you questions below, feel free to follow up!

  1. Feminist therapy, just like feminism is a big tent! Feminist therapy is credited to Jean Baker Miller, a psychoanalyist and psychiatrist who created relational-cultural theory (RCT) in the 1960s. Since then there have been many additions, revisions, and changes to feminist therapeutic practice as well. There are some key components that comprise feminist theory in mental health practice, outlined in six main principles:
    1: Egalitarian Relationships: The relationship between the counselor or therapist and client is equal, and the counselor or therapist does take on an “expert” role.
    2: Power Analysis: The client is encouraged to explore and analyze their relationship to power, privilege, and oppression and consider how those forces impact their presenting concern and relationships. 
    3: Strengths Based: Specifically, feminist therapy endeavors to highlight strenghts of women (i.e., collective values, empathy, caregiving, emotional insight) versus de-valuing these factors. Client specific strengths and resilience are also promoted and fostered.
    4: Non-Pathologizing: Feminist therapists prefer to not use diagnoses (DSM-5 or ICD 10 terms) to “label” clients. This comes from the standpoint that women and other marginalized groups are not pathological, but rather suffering from oppression and marginalization based on their relationship to power and privilege. Non-pathologizing is also strongly related to non-victim blaming. 
    5: Education: Clients are encouraged to educate themselves about personal, social, and/or cultural issues to benefit themselves and others. This can be through formal (higher) or non-formal education. 
    6: Acceptance and Validation of Feelings: Empathy and unconditional positive regard are key components of feminist therapeutic practice. Clients and counselors work together to explore emotions and process events from an affective standpoint.
    In closing, in practice feminist therapy should be intersectional and it should be supportive, not just for women but for people of all genders. It is phenomenological, in the sense that as therapists we understand each client will have a unique lived experience that is equally valid to all others. Emotional expression is encouraged. Power analysis and discourse is included in therapeutic practice as appropriate. Clients will be supported in therapy to find solutions that work best for them and the important relationships that they have in their lives.
  2. This is another great inquiry. There are some interesting emerging therapies and research in the area of neurofeedback/biofeedback. Essentially an EEG is used to examine the brain’s reactions to stimuli or therapeutic interventions. There are clear brain-related outcomes to specific therapeutic interventions and treatments (i.e., empathy, CBT, PTSD, etc.) that can be seen using an EEG. This is really an emerging area of research and I’m excited to see what comes of it. I think it will continue to support existing research that talk therapy (counseling) is most effective for treating mental health issues and disorders. 
    This question also grazes on the debate that surrounds mental health; is it nature v nuture? Biology or socialization? Medical or holistic? I occupy a space that is probably common for many counselors, but I cannot speak for us all. Psychotropic medication helps many and the use of these medications should not be stimatized. However the reserach shows that the most long-term improvement in mental wellness is through a combination of medication and talk therapy, not just medication alone. I like to think of the medication as the surgery that helps set your broken leg, and counseling or therapy as the rehab/PT that allows you to use your leg effectively again. Except in this case its not your leg its your mental wellbeing.
  3. We are all encouraged to have therapists of our own. Many of us (and this is speaking anecdotally) actually become counselors because of a positive experience we had with counseling/therapy in our past. That was my case. Counseling is not only a hard job because of the cases you see every day (the sadness does weigh on you!), but counselor are also a special type. We’re self-reflective, aware, thoughtful, compassionate people. We need to take special care of ourselves to be at our best. So in short, I would say most of us seek out counseling; its good for us and we know (believe) that it works.

I hope my answers provided some clarity and were helpful! Thank you for asking! :)


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