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Feminist Therapy: Part I

What is Feminist Therapy?

Feminist Therapy: Part I
It’s 2022 and feminism is getting more and more recognition, yet some people still assume it’s just for women and is somehow even against men. Feminism is for everybody! (Here is a primer on what feminism actually stands for.)

In this three part blog and video series, we hope to share more information about Feminist Therapy and what to expect from Feminist Therapists. 

Part I: What is Feminist Therapy? (Check out the video explanation here!)

Feminism has evolved over the last few hundred years, and psychotherapy has too. Psychotherapy started with many upper class white men (Freud, Beck, Rogers, etc) exploring ways to help people improve their mental health and quality of life. They did groundbreaking work, and the views and goals of therapy were mainly from white men. The problem was, anyone who wasn’t male or white were sometimes pathologized or even abused in therapy- a place they came to get support. 

Feminist therapy was originally designed to challenge harmful, oppressive aspects of psychotherapy, and feminist therapists were mainly upper class white women. This meant that at its beginnings feminism was primarily advancing the rights of middle-class white women. Women who did not fit this category were excluded or exploited through the movement.

The approach went through some serious growing pains in addressing these inequities within the framework (and we’re still doing so today). More recently through the inclusion of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1996), feminist therapy has broadened its scope to support all oppressed groups. It evolved to support not just white middle class women, but anyone who is interested in understanding how oppressive social structures impact their lives, and what they can do to resist these pressures and connect with their authentic selves. 

Feminist therapy focuses on how systemic patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism and other social hierarchies cause distress by creating and normalizing inequality and the oppression of marginalized groups. These systems are trying to operate with invisibility because once people can see them, they’re less likely to be controlled by them.

These problematic social hierarchies lead to oppression, bias, and discrimination that cause mental distress, and leave individuals feeling like this oppression is normal, and that there is something wrong with them if they can’t handle it. Feminist therapy draws attention to how it is not individual inadequacies that have led to someone’s mistreatment, but instead belonging to certain groups that have been unfairly marginalized and targeted. 

A feminist therapist aims to empower clients to recognize how these (often invisible) external pressures are causing problems in their lives. Ideally, clients can start to see these issues differently than they may have been socialized to.

Through the safety, humanity and humour of a feminist therapy relationship, clients often find unique ways to connect with the power they do have to resist oftentimes unimaginable oppression. Clients, counsellors and supervisors are all benefiting and growing through the work -benefitting both individuals and society as a whole. 

Stayed tuned for Part II of this 3-part blog series.