Feminist therapy recognizes that all of humankind exists within a socio-political framework. Core values of feminist therapy include an emphasis on diverse perspectives, an attempt to understand and remove cultural bias, the goal of empowering the client, and a commitment to broader social change. Feminist therapists strive to reduce the power differential in the therapy setting and work as collaborative partners with their clients.
A founding belief of feminist therapy is that the personal is political. This means that an individual’s “issues” are influenced by the cultural context in which they live and, in fact, may not be personal at all. A feminist therapist recognizes that oppression is harmful to those experiencing it. Rather than blaming an individual for their responses to oppression, feminist therapy suggests that it is expected that one would have extreme reactions (i.e. symptoms of depression or anxiety) to extreme circumstances (i.e. facing constant racism/homophobia, discrimination, potential physical danger). Because we live in a patriarchal society founded on the assumptions of ableism, heternormativity, and white-supremacy, those with physical disability, BIPOC people, women, immigrants, or members of the glbtq+ community endure continuous emotional – and often physical – threat. The identification of this reality and creating a safe space to name it is a critical part of feminist therapy.
Feminist therapy can be used with all people because all people are harmed by oppression. It is critical to acknowledge that some members of our society benefit by being at the top, but it is also worthwhile to then look at the nuance of how even those who receive privilege from our biased systems also take on some burdens. For example, men are often encouraged to cut off from themselves emotionally as a result of the pressures they receive that they must be strong and independent. Ultimately, this message hurts all by perpetuating strict roles that limit human expression and connection and encourage a hierarchical structure where some people continue to be oppressed.
While feminism has been criticized for initially being centered on concerns pertaining to white, middle class, predominately heterosexual women, today’s feminist therapy is “intersectional” and is committed to including all genders, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations and ability statuses.