What is Feminist Therapy?

The Counseling Center for Women bases its work on the feminist perspective.  This approach, which can be integrated into any type of therapy, sees psychological and emotional problems  in general, and of a woman in particular, as a product of her unique personality combined with the social and political context, and the values, of the society in which she lives.  The feminist perspective emphasizes a woman’s capability to recognize her desires, her preferences and her true needs, and to enlist her abilities and her inner resources to achieve them.  According to the feminist approach, therapy is a partnership between equals.

The feminist approach began to develop during the second feminist wave in the United States during the 1970s. It is as relevant today as it was during those years, in that a deep change has still not taken place in the structure, values and philosophies of society with regard to the status of women, their role in society and the social norms that apply to them.

Feminism challenges the criteria of mental health, which were based on traditional male assumptions, perceptions and therapeutic philosophies, and on stereotypical gender- based values. These include: a lack of psychological knowledge about women and problems with existing methods of intervention; a dissatisfaction with traditional theories of male and female development that set male behavior as the norm and female behavior as deviating from the norm; the exclusion of women from knowledge centers in the field; stereotypes of “femininity” and “masculinity” as healthy behavioral adaptations; the norm of blaming the victims of physical or sexual abuse; the gender-based division of roles in the family and more.

The feminist approach is a therapeutic approach that seeks to empower women and enable them to find their unique voices, through the use of a number of principles:

  • Challenging basic gender-based assumptions: The feminist therapist helps the client to see the way in which she has internalized negative stereotypes regarding women and femininity. Therapeutic work reduces the pathological view, in that it points to the woman’s strengths, her abilities and her capabilities, and supports an understanding of the need for the defense mechanisms she has used so far.  The feminist therapist helps a woman discover the connections between her feelings and behaviors that are preventing her from fulfilling her human potential and her full talents in all areas of life.  In this way, the client learns to recognize that the personal is political, contemplates the courage in her inner world, understands herself better, recognizes her strength and thereby broadens her possible choices in various areas of her life.
  • Minimizing hierarchy in the therapy session: While hierarchy is widespread in society and in many therapeutic approaches (men in relation to women and the therapist in relation to the client), feminist therapy strives to minimize hierarchy and strengthen the point of view that women share similar life experiences and similar challenges, and that every woman, whether she is a therapist or a client seeking therapy, has significant knowledge and experience. In feminist therapy, the therapist is not perceived as the all-knowing expert; instead, respect is given to the client’s interpretation and knowledge of her own life.  Feminist therapy supports the de-mystification and transparency of the therapy process: The therapist explains the method of therapy to the client, as well as her insights into the psychodynamic processes that the client is going through. She may share her feelings with the client, along with incidents from her own personal life, to the extent that she believes this will move the therapeutic process forward.
  • Assertive communication: The feminist therapist encourages the woman to follow her heart and make her desires come true; she allows anger to be legitimate and provides effective ways in which it can be expressed. The feminist therapist is steadfast in her unequivocal stand against exploitation, violence and sexual, physical and emotional abuse, based on the belief that taking a neutral stand regarding abuse in fact blames the victim.

The feminist therapeutic approach is relatively new in Israel, and the Counseling Center for Women is the oldest leading therapeutic organization that treats clients using this approach.  We view feminist therapy as a mission, and believe that the change that clients experience in therapy can lead, in the future, to a change in society outside of the therapeutic framework.