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July 25, 2022
What Is Feminist Therapy And How Does It Work?

Kendra Casey

A female smiles while looking at her self-reflection in the mirror.

It’s Time To Talk Politics In Therapy

How privileged I am to be able to practice my passions in my day-to-day work. This is exactly what I do when I engage with feminist therapy in my sessions. 

What is feminist therapy?

Feminist therapy is a therapeutic approach that focuses on gender and the particular challenges that women face in society as a result of prejudice, stereotyping, oppression, discrimination, and other factors that threaten their mental health. It comprises streams of social oppression but also incorporates the unique individual, drawing attention to intersectionality and how these identities create a unique person. It focuses on societal, cultural, and political causes and solutions to issues.

The personal is political

Feminist therapy incorporates feminist theory as a guideline when working with a client. The core principle is that “the personal is political”, a political statement originating from the Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s that asserted that the personal experiences of women are rooted in their political and social position and gender inequality. 

As such, these experiences — including access to health care, sexuality, childcare, domestic violence, sexual assault and workplace harassment — must be brought to the forefront and openly discussed because they impact the collective. 

Putting the personal is political in therapy means raising consciousness about gender issues that can contribute to psychological distress. Whether it is creating a safe space to talk about a sexual assault or calling out sexism in the workplace, “the personal is political” involves examining social infrastructure in lieu of engaging in victim-blaming or self-hatred.

The fight is far from over

Feminist therapy also embraces discourse on social change and the frustration caused by an apparent lack of progress. For example, the recent decision by the U.S Supreme Court to overturn Roe V Wade left millions of Americans of all genders feeling angry, sick and distressed. In this decision, millions lost their reproductive rights seemingly overnight. This event continues to be extremely upsetting to process, even for Canadians, as it challenges body autonomy and human rights. Memories, trauma, and triumphs can resurface in the face of such flagrant gender oppression, all of which can be discussed in the safe therapeutic space. 

Identifying social position

Being a feminist therapist requires a lot of self-reflection. Feminist theory often asks you to start with yourself and your social location before commenting on the world. My own social location as an English-speaking white person requires a lot of reflection on my privileges and how these differ from others. 

This means:

  • Acknowledging power differences when sitting down with a client of colour; 
  • Asking clients if they feel okay speaking with a therapist like me or if they would prefer a therapist with experiences closer to their own;
  • Seeking to identify and acknowledge any biases or prejudices I have (and sitting with the discomfort when I uncover them);
  • Asking myself if I am making assumptions or taking over the space in a session.

As a feminist therapist, I strive to never become complacent, and to ask myself uncomfortable questions that will ultimately make me a better resource for my clients. Clients in feminist therapy sessions are also required to practice self-reflection using tools such as the Power Flower

Standpoint theory

Another section of feminist theory is Dorothy Smith’s standpoint theory. This ideology is rooted in the idea that an individual’s perspectives are shaped by his or her social and political experiences. In other words, knowledge is socially situated and every individual has their own unique wisdom that comes from their lived experiences. 

Closing remarks

Feminist therapy offers guidelines, tools and insights into collective issues that impact the individual. Whether it’s discussing Audre Lorde and her philosophies, or exploring social stereotypes such as the Angry Black Woman or Boys Don’t Cry tropes, feminist therapy is flexible and diverse.

If you’re interested in feminist therapy, talk to your therapist about it. Start with social issues that elicit strong emotions in you. Ask yourself:

  • What news headlines make you angry? 
  • Why are you passionate about a cause? 
  • How has your gender identity impacted you? 
  • How have others identified you? 

Once you locate your social location, you can begin your journey. If you’re looking for support along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Referenced Literature

Intersectionality, Patricia Hill Collins & Sirma Bilge.

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,  Kimberlé W. Crenshaw.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Audre Lorde.

From the Margins: Women’s Standpoint as a Method of Inquiry in the Social Sciences, Dorothy E. Smith.

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