This is definitely a model that emphasizes high responsibility of clients and highly values social interest. This model places a great deal of work on the part of the client, teasing out life’s inequalities as rooted in the omnipresent web of patriarchy. It requires that both the client and the therapist engage in looking at situations from new perspectives; the hegemonic system is so ingrained into everyday thoughts, it takes a strong amount of determination and willpower to question each and every aspect of the prevailing dogma to eventually overturn these incorrect notions and view equality as an achievable goal. Furthermore, it is important to note that “[b]ecause feminist therapy locates pathology in the realm of the larger patriarchal social structure – outside of the individual, not within – the concept of psychopathology is generally eschewed. Instead, feminist therapy describes a person’s distress and dysfunction” (Brown & Bryan, 2007, 1123). In the process of getting to know the client’s specific worldview, the therapist begins to understand the client’s unique perspective in relation to oppression and privilege in her own life. Once these identifications have been made, pointing out that so much of the client’s strong emotions have been misdirected at just what the system proposes (e.g., anger directed at her mother even though her father left them and her mother raised her alone), the therapist and the client engage in dialogue about how to redirect these feelings so they are more productive and begin to resist the patriarchal underpinnings of modern society (e.g., realize that anger is rightly deserved to be directed at her father, and try to see her mother as a confidante instead of an opponent) (Walker, 2010, p. 53).
Now, perhaps because feminist therapy is such a broad grouping of theories, or perhaps because it is heavily based on philosophies from the feminist movements of the twentieth century and is still a work in progress, or perhaps because it is more focused on personal and social change than on anything more concrete per se – for whatever reason, I have had extraordinarily difficulty looking for research findings that would give more credence to this therapy. However, I do have some perspective on this issue from a feminist therapist:
There are moments when I am in discourse with colleagues whose epistemologies admit only to knowledge gathered via randomized controlled trials that I worry … The world of psychotherapy in the early 21st Century is one in which taking the time to genuinely connect, to know and be known by our clients, is rarely available. Yet the data speak loudly; when we fail to act in ways that evoke clients’ experiences of being seen and known, when empathy is absent and therapy done by rote, then even our most empirically supported interventions work less well. (Brown, 2007, p. 258).
There you have it, folks. Feminist therapists are not in any general way overly preoccupied with scientific results of studies. To a feminist therapist, I’d imagine the best proof lies within her experience of sitting in session with her client, engaging in an empathic and connected dialogue, two people striving toward all that is good and fair in humanity. Maybe the proof is an increase in hope in the client’s life, which reflects back onto the therapist’s life and, in a very small way, the life we are all living as human beings.
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