Now, continuing from my previous post, lets look at the core assumptions of Feminist Theory and see how they might relate to Marriage and Family Therapy. If you would like to read my first post, click here.
There are several common core assumptions under the umbrella of feminist theory. First, a client’s personal problems are a symptom of greater societal and political issues (Corey, 2000). According to Corey, “A fundamental goal of feminist practice is social transformation: that is, to change the status quo and to improve the status and well-being of all women” (p. 351). A feminist therapist must have a “commitment to conceptualizing clients’ difficulties and distress in social and cultural context” (Code, 2002, p. 472). Female clients as part of the feminist therapy process come to realize that “they have suffered from oppression as members of a subordinate group and that they can join with other women to right these wrongs” (Corey, 2000, p. 351). The client can then utilize his or her outrage at this oppression as motivation to change. Corey further stated, “The goal is to advance a different vision of societal organization that frees both women and men from the constraints imposed by gender-role expectations” (p. 351).
All feminist theories agree that the subordination of women to men and current gender relations are intolerable, and must be altered (Osmond & Thorne, 1993). Therefore, it is important that the relationship between the client and the therapist be egalitarian to model an equal relational structure (Corey, 2000). The client is always viewed as already having the natural ability to improve his or her life. The therapist is not seen as in an expert position, but simply as an additional point of view. The feminist therapist must develop “sensitivity to the power dynamics of the therapy relationship” and “a commitment to power-sharing and respect in the therapist/client relationship” (Code, 2002, p. 473). It is important that the therapist demystify therapy, so as not to perpetuate society’s inequality in the therapeutic context (Corey, 2000). Therapists also use techniques such as therapist self-disclosure and the client’s informed consent to maintain the egalitarian balance.
Experiences of Women
Another shared element of feminist theory is the importance of bringing honor to the experiences of women. Corey wrote, “A goal of feminist therapy is to replace patriarchal ‘objective truth’ with feminist consciousness, which acknowledges a diversity of ways of knowing” (p. 352). In feminist theory, there is no one objective reality; clients are free to use their own experiences to find their own reality. Therapist also must be sensitive to that women often encounter
Hoffman wrote, in 1993, that, “Family therapy theories have only just begun to be sifted for gender bias, and already terms like ‘over-involved mother’ or ‘enmeshed family’ are coming under attack” (p. 93).
Now that we have a theoretical foundation established, we can examine several of the the major Feminist Family Therapy Theorists in my next post. Not to criticize our Marriage and Family Therapy pioneers, but do you think our major therapy models have been influenced by the dominant cultural narrative at the time they were developed? Is it possible to not be influenced?
- Code, L. (2002). Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories. London, New York: Routledge.
- Corey, G. (2000). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Hoffman, L. (1993). Exchanging voices: A collaborative approach to family therapy. (p. 93). London: Karnac.
- Osmond, M., & Thorne, B. (1993). Feminist theories: The social construction of gender in families and society. In P. Boss, W. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. Schumm, & S. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 591-623). New York: Plenum Press.
*Courtney Stivers, PhD, earned her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, and she is licensed as Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselor in Arkansas. Additionally, she is an adjunct professor for Liberty University and has a passion for teaching family systems theory and professional issues.