The 1970s saw a paradigm shift in gender studies. Traditionally, gender is a reality that shapes our thoughts and behavior (Eichenbaum and Orbach, 1982). From the moment we are born, our environment dictates our identity from the way we dress, think, through to the way we behave. A good example is when a woman gives birth in a hospital a female baby is wrapped in a pink blanket while a boy in blue as a way for society to distinguish between the two main sex. For a feminist, however, the demarcation is unjust as it “labels” the child and unwittingly dictates how it will be treated from the moment of birth through the all too familiar process called sex role-stereotypes. Hence, feminist therapy was born as a way to contest these stereotypes and social constructs that have restrained, restricted and suppressed women through the decades (Eichenbaum and Orbach, 1982).
Key Concepts Feminist therapy can be said to have germinated from the golden days of psychoanalytical therapy. Freud’s theories greatly discriminated women as the weaker sex as he believed it was due to biological makeup, an aspect that is inherent and can neither be altered nor reversed. And the legion of therapeutic techniques and studies of human behavior that followed were always conducted by and on men (Mander and Rush, 1974). With the increasing temper of French feminism and Anglo feminism that took place, female psychologists began to voice out that science, let alone psychology, were patriarchal and male-dominated, narrowing a decent understanding for women and their female concerns (Mander and Rush, 1974). Above all, they opined that most of women’s dilemmas were caused by the social constructs men created and thus, could never be understood, let alone be treated, by male therapists (Eichenbaum and Orbach, 1982).
View of human nature The last twenty years have shown immense changes in the lives of women. Parental roles and structure within the family, greater career opportunities, and media influences have opened a Pandora’s Box for female complexities. There seem to be enormous pressure to fulfill the needs, wants and roles of a woman. For instance, a woman has to straddle herself with the role of being a wife, companion and lover to her husband; a mother to her children; a daughter to her parents; a subordinate to her employers; and an employer to her staff. Gone is the simplicity where a woman’s place was in the kitchen, to bear children, and raise a family (Mander and Rush, 1974). Needless to say, a woman’s life becomes an over-layering of marginality, and the demands and expectations stretches her mind, soul and body, requiring specific form of therapy that would comprehend the trials and tribulations of a woman. In the final analysis, the biggest discrimination between male and female therapists are the natural fact that men view the world in terms of power, competition and hierarchy, while women view their world through relationships, connection and emotions. This need for female support, empathy and consideration has become crucial in order for women to overcome their personal obstacles (Mander and Rush, 1974).
The primary characteristics of feminist therapy abide by the following framework: the personal is political; women have choice; equalization of power; therapist as role model; androgyny (deconstructing sex-role stereotypes); social action; and ethics (Mitchell, 2000). Its therapeutic process begins with the therapist educating and empowering a client with one’s rights as a woman (Mitchell, 2000). Once her orientation has been established, the therapist and client will work towards a mutual understanding of the therapeutic goals and for the therapist to identify the socio-cultural conflicts faced by the client (Mitchell, 2000). The values and messages of the society are re-examined and the client is made to understand what has been “appropriated” to her and what is “appropriate” for her. Among the goals of the therapy is for the client to understand that her symptoms are recognized as social oppressions rather than individual pathology (Mitchell, 2000). Anger is encouraged to be vented as part of overcoming self-doubt. The client has to feel empowered not just as a woman but above all, as a person, so with her new sense of perspectives, she is able to function in her social environment without the previous symptoms, pressures and hang-ups she was experiencing (Mitchell, 2000). Once the goals have been accomplished, both parties can work towards terminating treatment based on mutual agreement and confidence of the client.
The role of the therapist is to reinforce the female rights of her client and to provide the suitable level of support and understanding in order for the client to achieve her goals (Mitchell, 2000). The therapist is looked upon as a role model and a figure of knowledge where other individuals in the client’s life have failed. A substantial amount of feminist therapy is to share strength and create a role-model relationship which the client can look up to and utilize as a benchmark in all her other relationships. Meanwhile, the role of the client is to cooperate and acknowledge the pressures she is experiencing with honesty, courage and a willingness to work towards her goals as she will be the key factor in deciding whether or not she is prepared to terminate her treatment (Wilson, 1989). The nature of the relationship has to be mutual and supportive. The therapist can be said to carry a profound role as the client would be depending on her for emotional support. However, the therapist has to be careful. She needs to be aware of her own cultural values, beliefs and conviction especially from a feminist standpoint and make them clear to the client prior to treatment (Wilson, 1989). Both parties have to begin therapy on common ground and the therapist has to constantly remember not to impose ideas and doctrines which the patient may not be prepared to undertake (Wilson, 1989). The therapist has to appear as an equal, not a superior and has to be careful not to use the term “feminist” (Wilson, 1989). Among the techniques she can apply include: raise consciousness; help client make appropriate choices; enhance self-esteem; do group work; provide information; or use expressive method such as art, music and dance (Mitchell, 2000). Clients can range from those suffering from common anxiety attacks when faced with their source of trouble, reproductive, body issues or career concerns, through to serious problems such as physical or sexual abuse and trauma. My personal approach would be to utilize art as a form of expression as works to many other advantages aside from helping the client counter her problems. First, she learns how to re-channel her stress and anxiety using a form of expression other than verbal articulation. Second, using art such as dance for instance, she can learn to be independent in solving her problems other than having to seek companionship in order to vent. Third, I believe by using art as a catharsis, the client hones a skill that will in turn enhance her self-esteem. (Least likeable approach) Though every therapist should help raise consciousness in a client, however, she needs to be careful not to tilt the scale when using that approach. How she conveys information is more important than what she conveys as she may come across as preaching feministic ideals and “brainwashing” her client. The level of information shared is crucial and the therapist has to create a boundary to her own personal convictions as much as avoid information overload with the client. Not every woman may agree with another’s notions of feminism and there is nothing wrong with disagreeing. This choice, I believe, is imperative for the client to claim as her right throughout treatment.
Feminist therapy may pose a big problem with the Scriptures. For one, even the voice of religion is patriarchal. Though women are created as men’s companion, the patriarchal undertones of religion still prescribe that men remain the breadwinner in the family and that the women’s main duty is to look after the needs of their husbands and families. This perspective alone is challenged in today’s world where the women may strongly disagree that their roles be relegated to their homes. Women today want more than what the women in the days if the Bible were satisfied with. One may say that women today are more complex emotionally, spiritually and physically. Another problematic area is the notion of freedom, sexuality and responsibilities which are constantly pushing the envelope of social constructs and religious norms. A good example is extreme feminism such as the French feminists where they concede the role of men altogether and celebrate bra burning as a symbol of sexual freedom and explore homosexuality. Such excessive behavior seems to render religion as useless and old-fashion which can be detrimental for the vulnerability of a woman. It also adds to the current complexities, and for women with children there comes a time when they need to remember the well-being of those depending on them other than dwell on their own social unjust. As much as God may sound “male” and is commonly portrayed as such even in the media, I strongly believe that when the Lord created men and women to co-exist, it was with the interpretation that the two sexes complement their strengths and weaknesses, not pit them against each other, which feminists are fond of doing. Both sexes do need each other just as a child needs both maternal and paternal upbringing. As archaic as religion may sound in certain aspects, it needs to be looked at from a bigger, wider perspective. For instance, when God said men are to lead and women are to follow, it was not due to women’s weaknesses or incapability, but because certain decisions and responsibilities are better left to the men to decide, similarly certain aspects are better off dealt by women than men. I think women ought to feel relieved that men are to carry certain burdens in life. Instead of feeling offended, women ought to feel elated of the generosity, and instead of trying to compete with the men, women could – and should – focus on what they are better off doing and celebrate their differences rather than wallow in what they are missing. I think that is what God intended. The moment women decided to venture out of their homes to work in the office, they were dragging home additional problems that are unnecessary. Similarly, when God proclaimed a woman’s place is at home it was because women are better at the finer details in life and are more emotionally apt in dealing with familial issues compared to men, which I think is a noble acknowledgement. Instead of asking why, I would rather say, why not? And personally, I think even if God is male, He seems pro-female.
1. Eichenbaum, L. and Orbach, S. (1982). Outside In Inside Out: Women’s Psychology : a Feminist Psychoanalytic Approach. Michigan, Penguin books
2. Mander, A. V. and Rush, A. K. (1974). Feminism as Therapy. New York. Random House.
3. Mitchell, J. (2000). Psychoanalysis and Feminism: A Radical Reassessment of Freudian Psychoanalysis. New York. Basic books.
4. Wilson, H. T. (1989) Sex and Gender: making cultural sense of civilization. New York. Brill Academic Publishers.
In the similar vein of the theory, postmodern therapy works around the dominating theme of “deconstructionism” where we dismantle what we perceive as normal and bring forward new interpretations and definitions on reality. For instance, like reading a story, everyone has his own interpretation of it thus, no one can claim the story to be as A, B, or C and deem others’ explanations as wrong (Lyotard, 1984). Similarly, a proper definition of postmodern therapy would be unjust and inaccurate as many proffer different explanations (Lyotard, 1984). A highly philosophical approach to counseling, the postmodern movement has been around since 1960s questioning the meaning of “truths” and whether or not there is such a notion. Its key concept is that everything is questionable. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and the movement became popular as it allowed one idea to give birth to new perspectives, encouraging creativity while pushing the borders of philosophy (Lyotard, 1984). The theory looks at human nature as two types of people: a group that readily accepts life at face value and as how they were raised according to social constructs; and a group that questions these social constructs and tries to be independent and live “out of the box” rather than in (Goffman, 1959). The theory teaches us that every facts or truths that we know are based on what society approves and dictates as the truths, but what if they aren’t? Who distinguished the grass as green, the sky as blue, and black is black as how we know it? Meanings according to the theory is “constructed meaning” based on human interaction and exposure with others influencing our perceptions on life. The more we interact with others, the more we are susceptible to swallowing what culture dictates as human are “interpretative beings” (Goffman, 1959). Meanings are apparently transitory, hence, changes when something or someone convince us to think otherwise (Goffman, 1959). This ever-questioning and curious nature is what separates us from animals and is applied into therapy via a creative process rather than a discovery process (Goffman, 1959).
Characteristics Postmodern therapy engages three great traditions within which truths and subjectivity of the mind have been explored throughout history: science (the truth and philosophy of knowledge), art (the truth of beauty and aesthetics), and mysticism (the truth of religion, God and spirituality) (Lyotard, 1984). In this kind of therapy, there is no such thing ‘real” problems, only problems people describe (Lyotard, 1984). The therapist becomes the learner as he collaborates with the client to deconstruct old narratives and rebuild new, better ones. A unique kind of dialogue or conversation is created between therapist and client where simple words and instructions develop into intensely personal, infinite complex narratives and dialogues become the main medium of change (Gergen and Kaye, 1992). The role of the therapist is to be a participant-observer with the client utilizing one of the three main approaches: narrative therapy, solution-focused therapy, or collaborative language systems. In the final analysis, the goal of the therapy is to make clear that diagnosis is not an objective science but a discursive possibility.
Postmodern therapy is no longer viewed as a professional service sought by individuals, couples, or families who need to understand their core identity, their true feelings, or their denied problems. It seeks to explore the multiple possibilities for identity construction and how they fit with significant relational networks with which a client or clients engage. Most pragmatically, clients might leave this therapeutic context armed with a variety of ways to comfortably talk about themselves and their relationships (Gergen and Kaye, 1992). The process can be described as a form of “interested inquiry” (Gergen and Kaye, 1992), a sort of “not knowing approach,” (Anderson and Goolishian, 1992), or curiosity. In this spirit, there is emphasis on questions rather than answers, on multiple interpretations rather than any singular meaning, on the historical, cultural, and situational nature of any description of identity (Anderson and Goolishian, 1992). An advantage to this mode of therapy is it provides a revolutionary method that allows the client to be treated outside the norms of other therapy. The focus is not entirely on the client but also on the therapist and together they embark on the process, removing the feelings of isolation or being under the microscope for the client. It can also be exciting as the dialogue shared can pave new insights for the client. However, limitations would be it creates a sense of unease for clients who are unaccustomed to the theory or unfamiliar to the philosophy. As a theory many feel uncomfortable with the constant inquiry. And the fact that everything is ambiguous can be scary to some, especially those who need a sense of truth in everything in their lives to make them feel safe and secure. Only those who thrive on seeking new knowledge would appreciate this approach and that is what I like most about this therapy: it is adventurous.
In reference to the Scriptures, postmodern therapy floats on treacherous waters. The first to be denounced by postmodern pundits would be everything that has been taught in the bible as the bible itself is greatly questioned on its authenticity and originality of thought. All books of religion have been victims of endless interpretations that they have lost their true meaning as the words or wisdom spoken by God. Postmodernists question even the very existence of God let alone His teaching. And even for believers, postmodernists would contend that one’s interpretation would vary to the next, thus how could people be under the same umbrella for understanding? Some parts of the bible agree that God encourages man to be curious and thinking beings as that is how he intended. However, He disagrees pushing the boundaries of one’s curiosity. Too many ideas and ponderings can weaken the man instead of strengthening him. And I feel that postmodernists are the very people who walk on this tightrope as what is forbidden is what appeals to them like the forbidden fruit. As much as I feel postmodernism is enlightening for expounding ideas, I feel it is best treated as a tool for harmless – but learning – discussions in universities and among friends, but not as a weapon for anti-establishment activities. To a certain extend there is still much “truth” in the words of the Scriptures no matter how you interpret them and one of them to not question beyond your own good. One needs to be a resistant reader learner and be able to balance or iron out truths instead of dismissing them altogether. And even God contends that at the end of the day, the truths we seek are already within ourselves.
1. Anderson, H. and Goolishian, H. (1992). The Client is the Expert: A Not-Knowing Approach to Therapy. In S. McNamee and K.J. Gergen (Eds.), Therapy as Social Construction (pp. 25-39). London: Sage.
2. Gergen, K.J. and Kaye, J. (1992). Beyond Narrative in the Negotiation of Therapeutic Meaning. In S. McNamee and K.J. Gergen (Eds.), Therapy as Social Construction (pp. 166-185). London: Sage.
3. Goffman, E. (1959) Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. NY: Doubleday/Anchor.
4. Lyotard, J.F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.