Occasionally I get questions of curiosity about what feminist therapy is. I’m always glad when people are willing to ask if they’re unfamiliar. As a feminist, therapist, and someone who is both an educator and an avid learner, I’m cognizant that unfamiliar jargon can sometimes be a barrier to access, and access is critical.
Feminist therapy is a strength-based framework that is cognizant of power, bias, prejudice and systemic oppression. The problems a person brings to therapy are viewed in relationship to society at large rather than the problem being intrinsic to the person.
I bring a perspective that acknowledges that our individual and collective experiences are shaped by the world we live in and that it’s important to consider our lived experiences in context.
In practical application, this means that in our work together I will consider you and your strengths and struggles in relation to the specifics of your own culture and life experiences, all the while never forgetting the various consequences of how your identity may intersect with our social and political landscape.
Let’s talk more specifics. Central to feminist therapy is working to create an egalitarian relationship. This is the idea that you are the best expert of yourself and your problems. The therapist brings all their skills, training, and insight, but doesn’t assert to be the expert of you. In this context, the therapist and person in counseling collaborate as equals to work toward the the person’s self-identified goals.
Feminist therapists may use a variety of tools to help validate and normalize a person’s experiences. This may include looking at how power, unequal power, or the abuse of power impacts your well-being and capacity to thrive. Many people find that feminist therapy is particularly useful when considering experiences of inequality and race-based or gendered traumas.
Sometimes this framework operates in the background and informs my work with people, even if we never talk about specific issues of equality or oppression. It’s never my place to force such topics if it doesn’t seem like it would be helpful to the person I’m working with.
Working with someone who has feminism at the foundation of their practice doesn’t mean I only work with people who identify as women or solely people who identify as feminist; these are common misconceptions. It does mean is that I believe in equality and similarly believe that it is helpful to understand how our experiences are shaped by forces such as access, power, privilege, and oppression. I do not believe in pathologizing people’s pain and will never blame, shame, or objectify you or your life. Rather, some approaches I take include:
Inviting you to show up as your whole self
Listening to what matters to you
Creating a safe space
Honoring your wisdom
Promoting self-esteem and self-confidence
Encouraging body positivity
Offering consistency and stability
Making space for feelings of anger
Working with you to build self-compassion
Approaching you with unconditional positive regard, acceptance, empathy, intuition, compassion and support
Valuing the role of family and community in your life
Promoting joy and pleasure
Helping you bridge the personal and political, individual, and social realities
Helping you develop skills to deal effectively with problems
Helping you to build a support system
Because I believe that healing and learning go hand in hand, if relevant I will encourage the growth of your understandings of yourself, your life and the world by suggesting books, articles, films, poetry, and other resources for you to utilize
Another core framework that has shaped my beliefs and approach to healing work is healing justice. You might be familiar with the Healing Justice podcast (a must listen), the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, or Allied Media Projects. All are based on, integrated with, or are the founding grounds for healing justice.
Healing justice is built on the intersections of culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing. Created by Cara Page and the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, “healing justice...identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence, and to bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds.”
A healing justice framework is embodied by underscoring the intersections between healing and social change work, recognizing we cannot have one without the other. Liberation work (an ongoing process of personal, collective, and systemic transformation in which we care for ourselves and each other, dismantle problematic systems, and create the world we want to live in) and healing justice go hand-in-hand.
I share this influence to let you know a little more about me and the values I bring to therapy and a therapeutic relationship.
Healing justice is both a framework and active practice, demonstrated through:
Starting all things with listening.
Centering and respecting the leadership of Black people, people of color, indigenous people, disabled people, survivors of trauma, and people of many genders, ages and classes.
Believing in lifting up and politicizing the role of health and healing in our social movements as a critical part of the world we are building.
Honoring individual and community agency, intuition, and innate wisdom, and therefore honoring people’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies.
Understanding that health and wellness should be determined by the individual or community receiving care, and for many of us this includes the reality of disability, illness, and harm reduction. Accepting and encouraging individuals and communities to define health, healing, and wellness for themselves, rather than based on normative models of healing.
Centering the genius and leadership of disabled and chronically ill communities…working from a place of belief in the wholeness of disability, interdependence, and disabled people as inherently good as they are.
Recognizing that we live in a country that denies health care access to people based on economic and identity status, and as such, we must build alternative structures for giving and receiving care that are grounded in community and ancestral traditions and in the values of consent and equality.
Working with the understanding that how we heal ourselves is directly related to how we see and interpret ourselves and the possibility for transformation.
Entering this work through an anti-oppression framework that seeks to transform and politicize the role of healing inside of our and communities.
Learning and creating this framework about a legacy of healing and liberation that seeks to: regenerate traditions that have been lost; to mindfully hold contradictions in our practices; and to be conscious of the conditions we are living and working inside of as healers and organizers in our communities and movements.
Believing in transparency on all levels so that we can have a foundation of trust, openness, and honesty.
Believing in open source knowledge; which means that all information and knowledge is to be shared and transferred to create deeper collaboration.
Keeping ourselves in mind—in particular our own capacity and well-being— as we continue to create spaces for healing and center sustainability.
Believing in movement building and organizing within an anti-racist and anti-hierarchical framework that builds collective decision making, strategies, vision and action and does not seek to support only one model or one approach over others.
Believing that there is no such thing as joining this process too late; as we move forward, anyone who comes in when they come in are welcomed; and we will always remember that we are interconnected with many communities, struggles and legacies who have joined healing and resiliency practices with liberation in their work for centuries.
list adapted from the Bay Area Healing Justice Collectives and Practitioners
Have more questions about these frameworks and philosophies? Reach out. I’d love to share more about how these show up in my practice.