Feminist Psychology: Feminist Therapy


  1. Introduction
  2. Issues with traditional therapies
  3. Principles of empowerment
  4. Techniques
  5. Application to other theories
  6. Core issues covered in therapy
  7. Feminist therapists 


Feminist therapy is a type of therapy that places people in their sociocultural context. The main idea behind this therapy is that women's and minorities' psychological problems are frequently a symptom of larger problems in the social structure in which they live. Women are generally diagnosed with internalising disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders at a higher rate than men. Feminist therapists disagree with previous theories that this is due to psychological weakness in women and instead see it as a result of experiencing more stress as a result of sexist practises in our culture. It is a common misconception that feminist therapists are only concerned with women's mental health. While this is an important component of feminist theory, feminist therapists are also concerned with the impact of gender roles on individuals of all genders. Goldman discovered the link between psychoanalysis and feminism in the recognition of sexuality as preeminent in the makeup of both men and women. Freud discovered that men's ideology was forced on women in order to sexually repress them, linking the public and private spheres for women's subjugation. The client's empowerment is the goal of feminist therapy. In general, therapists avoid assigning specific diagnoses or labels, preferring to focus on problems that arise as a result of living in a sexist culture. Clients are sometimes taught to be more assertive and encouraged to comprehend their problems in order to change or challenge their circumstances. Lack of power is a major issue in the psychology of women and minorities, according to feminist therapists. As a result, the client-therapist relationship is intended to be as egalitarian as possible, with both parties communicating on equal footing and sharing experiences.

Feminist therapy differs from other types of therapy in that it goes beyond the concept of treating men and women equally in the therapeutic relationship. Political values are incorporated into feminist therapy to a greater extent than many other types of therapy. Furthermore, feminist therapy promotes both social and personal change in order to improve the client's and society's psychological well-being.

Issues with traditional therapies 

Gender biases 

Many traditional therapies assume that in order for women to be mentally healthy, they must conform to sex roles. They believe that gender differences are biological, and they encourage female clients to be submissive, expressive, and nurturing in order to be fulfilled. Psychotherapy is a male-dominated profession that promotes women's adaptation to stereotypical gender roles rather than women's liberation. The therapist may do this unconsciously – for example, they may encourage a female client with the same abilities to be a nurse when they would have encouraged a male client with the same abilities to be a doctor – but there is a risk that the goals and outcomes of therapy will be evaluated differently in accordance with the therapist's beliefs and values. Evolutionary psychology perpetuates gender inequality and restrictions on sex roles, but we can understand the role of gender in scientific communities by employing feminist research strategies and admitting to gender bias (Fehr, 2012).


Traditional therapies are predicated on the assumption that maleness is the norm. Male characteristics are regarded as the default, and stereotypical male characteristics are regarded as more highly valued. When comparing gender differences, men are considered the standard of comparison, with feminine traits viewed as a deviation from the norm and a deficiency on the part of women.  Psychological theories of female development were developed by men who were completely uninformed about women's actual experiences and the circumstances in which they lived.

Intrapsychic assumptions 

Traditional therapies place little emphasis on sociopolitical factors, instead focusing on the client's internal functioning. This can lead therapists to blame clients for their symptoms, even if the client is dealing with a difficult and oppressive situation admirably. Another issue that can arise is when therapists pathologize normal reactions to oppressive environments.

Principles of empowerment

The personal is political 

This principle is based on the idea that psychological symptoms are caused by their surroundings. The therapist's goal is to separate the external from the internal so that the client can become aware of their socialisation and oppression and attribute their problems to the appropriate causes. The feminist position is largely marginalised and seen as outside of mainstream psychiatry, and there is power-based knowledge distribution, which allows therapists to label women's disorders without knowing their lived experiences.

Therapists do not consider their clients' cognition or behaviours to be maladaptive; in fact, symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are frequently regarded as the normal, rational response to oppression and discrimination. Traditional therapies place little emphasis on sociopolitical factors, instead focusing on the client's internal functioning. This can lead therapists to blame clients for their symptoms, even if the client is dealing with a difficult and oppressive situation admirably. Another issue that can arise is when therapists pathologize normal reactions to oppressive environments.

Egalitarian relationships

Power inequalities, according to feminist therapists, are a major contributing factor to women's struggles, and as such, they criticise the traditional therapist role as an authority figure. Feminist therapists believe that interpersonal relationships should be based on equality, and they consider the client to be the "expert" in their own experiences. To reduce the power differential, therapists emphasise collaboration and employ techniques such as self-disclosure.

Value the female perspective

Feminist therapy seeks to revalue feminine characteristics and perspectives. Women are frequently chastised for defying gender norms while also being devalued for acting feminine. Therapists encourage women to value the female perspective and self-define themselves and their roles in order to break free from this double bind. Clients will be able to value their own characteristics, bond with other women, and embrace traits that were previously discouraged.


Sex role analysis

One aspect of feminist therapy is a critique of cultural conditioning, which creates and sustains socially biassed structures. Women are taught from birth which behaviours are appropriate and face consequences if they do not conform to these standards. Gender stereotypes are taught explicitly or implicitly by the family, media, school, and workplace, and they result in gender-related belief systems and self-imposed expectations.

Before women can be free of these expectations, they must first understand the social systems that shaped and encouraged these gender stereotypes, as well as how this system affected their mental health. Women begin by identifying the gendered messages they have received, as well as the consequences. Then, women investigate how these messages have been internalised, deciding which rules they want to follow and which behaviours they want to change.

Power analysis

Power systems are organised groups with legitimised status, sanctioned by custom or law, and the ability to set societal standards. Women in Western society are expected to conform to power structures that see them as submissive and inferior to men. Power comes in many forms, including the legal, physical, financial, and institutional ability to influence change. Men frequently wield direct power through concrete resources, while women must rely on indirect and interpersonal resources. In addition, sex roles and institutionalised sexism play a role in limiting women's power.

Power analysis is a technique for examining the power disparities between men and women and empowering women to challenge the interpersonal and institutional inequalities they face.

Assertiveness training 

Because assertiveness has traditionally been associated with masculinity, women may have felt compelled to be more passive in their interactions with others. Feminist therapists help women distinguish assertive behaviours from passive or aggressive behaviours, overcome beliefs that tell women they can't be assertive, and practise assertiveness skills through role play. Studies on the effects of assertiveness training on women have revealed increases in self-esteem and confidence following completion of the training.

Application to other theories

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

The most serious feminist criticism of cognitive-behavioral therapy is that it fails to address how behaviours are learned in society (NetCE, 2014). The emphasis is frequently placed on encouraging women to change their "maladaptive" responses and conform to normative standards. By putting the onus on the woman to change her thoughts and behaviours rather than changing the environmental factors that cause the problems, the theory fails to call into question the social norms that allow for women's oppression. Despite this, feminist therapists use cognitive-behavioral techniques to assist women in changing their beliefs and behaviours, particularly sex-role analysis and assertiveness training (NetCE, 2014).

Psychoanalytic therapy

Many psychoanalytic concepts are viewed as sexist and culturally bound by feminist therapists (NetCE, 2014). However, feminist psychoanalysis adapts many traditional psychotherapy ideas, such as the emphasis on early childhood experiences and the concept of transference. Therapists, in particular, act as a mother figure, assisting clients in connecting emotionally with others while maintaining an individuated sense of self (NetCE, 2014).

Family systems therapy

The main criticism levelled at family systems therapy is its acceptance of power imbalances and traditional gender roles. For example, family systems therapists frequently respond differently to men and women, emphasising the man's career or putting the mother in charge of childcare and housework (Braverman, 1988). Feminist therapists strive to make gender roles explicit in therapy, as well as to focus on the needs of and empower the woman in her relationship (Braverman, 1988). Therapists assist couples in examining how gender role beliefs and power dynamics contribute to conflict. The emphasis is on promoting more egalitarian relationships and validating women's experiences (NetCE, 2014).

Core issues covered in therapy

Rape/domestic violence 

A feminist approach to rape or domestic abuse emphasises empowerment. Therapists assist clients in analysing societal messages about rape or domestic abuse that encourage a victim-blaming attitude, and they attempt to assist clients in moving beyond shame, guilt, and self-blame. Often, women are unaware of the true definitions of abuse or rape and do not recognise themselves as victims.

Survivors frequently face negative reactions from others when seeking help, which leads to re-victimization, so therapists can assist the woman in navigating medical and legal services if she wishes. Despite the fact that safety is always the primary concern, the therapist empowers the woman to explore her options and make her own decisions (for example, to leave the relationship or stay following an attack).

It is stressed that any symptoms are normal reactions to the traumatic effect, and the woman is not pathologized. Rape and domestic violence are not seen as things that can be recovered from, but rather as experiences that can be incorporated into one's life story as one restructures one's selfesteem and self-confidence.

Career counseling

Choosing a career is a major theme in feminist counselling. Women are more likely than men to earn less and to work in lower-status occupations. This career path is influenced by a number of factors, including gender stereotypes about which jobs are appropriate for men and women. Women are frequently directed toward nurturing jobs, while men are directed toward leadership positions.

In the educational system, institutionalised sexism frequently encourages girls to study traditionally feminine subjects while discouraging them from studying math and science. Discriminatory hiring practises also reflect the belief that men should be breadwinners and that women are a riskier option because their work will be disrupted once they have children.

These societal messages frequently lead to internalised negative messages, such as lower self-confidence and self-esteem, lower assertiveness and willingness to negotiate, and the impostor syndrome, in which women believe they do not deserve success and are merely fortunate. When women seek nontraditional employment, they are put in a position where they must be competent at their job while also being feminine. Trying to be competent and successful as a woman, especially in male-dominated fields, is difficult.

Feminist therapists

Feminist therapists work with both men and women seeking counselling to address a variety of mental health issues. Feminist therapists are fascinated by gender and the impact that multiple social identities can have on an individual's functioning. Feminist therapists are psychologists or therapists who identify with feminism, the belief that men and women are equal, and/or feminist psychological theory. There are currently few postdoctoral training programmes in feminist psychology, but models for these programmes are being developed and modified in order for institutions to begin offering them. The majority of this training is based on gender-sensitive counselling techniques.


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