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The feminist theory of family therapy is a novel theory that acknowledges the influence of society on formatting family behavior. It was created in order for women to help women, as the majority of traditional family therapy practices viewed the processes within the family from a male perspective and did not address or acknowledge the subjugated and disadvantaged position of a female (Gladding, 2018). The purpose of this paper is to review and evaluate the feminist theory based on its model, views on mental health, goals, and the role of the counselor in the process.
Feminist View of Human Nature
Feminist theory objects the views supported by traditional theories of human nature, which state that there are differences in the male and female state of mind and being. Some of these theories inherently suggest the inferiority of female nature. In contrast, feminist theory perceives human nature as an entity not defined by gender. Humanist feminists state that there is a shared human nature separate from sexual differences (Williams, 2018).
Social constructionist feminists, on the other hand, argue that gender is a social construct rather than a biological one. They believe that women are being raised and not born. This facet of the feminist theory states that women do not experience full selfhood because of various constraints forcefully imposed on them by society (Williams, 2018). Both humanists and social constructivists share views on common human nature and seek to stimulate society through socio-political activism.
What Creates Mental Health?
The feminist family theory views mental health as liberation from traditional views on genders and the dualistic notion of masculinity and femininity by embracing the idea of androgynous personality. Awareness of the oppressiveness of traditional roles, experience, high self-esteem, habits that assist with self-definition as well as the discovery of self, independence, and assertiveness are the factors that, according to feminist therapists, constitute for a healthy mental image of self (Brown & Root, 2014). These factors are influenced by the perceptions of oneself in relation to family, society, and various community practices and beliefs. Culture and ethnicity play an important role in defining stereotypes of what is acceptable and what is not.
Disturbances to Mental Health
As feminism views social constructs and gender roles as some of the primary factors that influence lives, it examines the various ways in which these factors impact mental well-being, identity, and self-worth. According to various researches, there are many differences between the mental health of men and women. For example, depression and anxiety are more prevalent in women than men, due to exposure to various pejorative influences of modern society, such as body image, poverty, sexual and domestic violence, single parenting, gender stereotyping, etcetera (Brown & Root, 2014). At the same time, feminist theory acknowledges the influence of gender roles on men as well. Men have much higher rates of suicides due to gender-related conditioning that emotions and sensitivity are a sign of weakness. Men are less prone to seeking professional help and more likely to try to deal with problems on their own, which frequently results in substance abuse. Alcoholism and drug usage are considered “socially acceptable” ways for men to deal with their sorrows, as opposed to seeking help (Williams, 2018). In short, disturbances to mental health are caused by gender roles and expectations of the society coupled with the inability to comply with the high standards set for each gender.
Goals of Counseling
There are several goals of feminist counseling and therapy. The main goal in family therapy is to develop a mutually equal relationship of caring and support between both family members. Other goals involve discovering the challenges and barriers existing in the modern society, liberation from stereotypes enforced upon a person by the “man’s world” and discovering self-awareness, personal desires towards intimacy, sexuality, and views on having children, as well as establishing a base on developing personal autonomy (Williams, 2018). Revision of traditional gender roles within the scope of the family in order to balance them based on fairness to all family members is also an important goal within the scope of the therapy.
Stages of Feminist Counseling Therapy
Feminist counseling therapy resembles cognitive-behavior therapy in many ways. It comprises four stages, which are the assessment stage, cognitive stage, behavior stage, and learning stage (Dobson & Dobson, 2016). During the assessment stage, the counselor and the patient get to know one another, as the issues in one’s family life and personal behavior are being discussed. In many situations, the assessment stage discovers many underlying issues that the patient was unaware of, as in many cases, detectable symptoms are only a part of a larger problem. The cognitive stage involves a process during which the therapist and the patients work together in order to consciously understand the subconscious thought patterns going on in their own minds. For instance, automatic acceptance or rejection of an opinion based on their gender or family role is an issue that can be analyzed during the cognitive stage of the therapy.
During the behavior stage, the patient and the feminist therapist work together in order to develop new ways of thinking. This is done by consciously objecting the automatic responses to various habits and stimuli, replacing them with purposeful choices until they become the new norm and the old paradigms are effectively pushed out. This applies both to men and women undergoing family therapy, as in order for it to succeed, the therapist must challenge and change harmful ideas and habits present in them.
The learning stage is the final stage in feminist therapy, during which the patient and the therapist make certain that the positive changes achieved through therapy are permanent (Dobson & Dobson, 2016). Harmful ways of thinking and perceiving each other through the prism of gender roles and predetermined criteria for success, beauty, and family must be replaced with choices made by patients themselves.
The Role of the Counselor
In feminist therapy, the counselor is not viewed as an expert or a superior. It embraces egalitarianism, in which both the counselor and the patient are on equal footing. Feminist family therapists accept the fact that their patients are experts in their own family matters and possess an infinitely greater body of practical knowledge regarding their own lives and patterns of thinking. The purpose of the counselor is to offer them tools in order to challenge and change the existing notions that affect their family lives, replacing them with feminist values based on equality, diversity, and acceptance (Gladding, 2018). Culture and ethnicity play an important, but not the defining role, as every patient is viewed as a unique person, whose views and perceptions are not to be homogenized with those of her ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Feminist family therapy is an integrative approach to group psychology and psychoanalysis that focuses on the issues of gender and is primarily used to help women suffering from mental health issues attributed to social pressure and demands of the male-dominated society. In addition, this therapy is useful to men, as it allows breaking out of the shell of limits imposed by dominant masculinity and lead to the discovery of one’s true self. As a result, a more balanced family will be formed.
Brown, L. S., & Root, M. P. P. (Eds.). (2014). Diversity and complexity in feminist Therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Dobson, D., & Dobson, K. S. (2016). Evidence-based practice of cognitive-behavioral therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Gladding, S. (2018). Family therapy: History, theory, and practice (6th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
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Williams, E. F. (Ed.). (2018). Voices of feminist therapy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Revivals.