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Why Feminist Therapy?

By May 19, 2016May 26th, 2019No Comments

Do we still need feminism?

When I taught the very first class in feminist therapy at UC, Berkeley in 1973, the room was filled with enthusiastic students who wanted to tell their own stories and who wanted a fair hearing. And that is what they got. They told of being hospitalized by their husbands for seeking an abortion or a divorce, subjected to shock therapy for having discovered that he was having an affair and all sorts of similar horrors. They spoke of therapists not believing their stories.

Empirically, most psychological studies including those on heart disease and breast cancer were done only on male subjects, along with the exclusive use of male experimenters. In essence, therapy and research incorporated the values of the culture unconsciously and it became the work of feminists to demonstrate the inextricable relationship between social context and what was then named individual pathology. This is an accepted principle today, as most of feminist therapy is really considered common sense. As another example, of course the therapist having sex with a female client is not a cure for abuse, but an addition to it now considered entirely unethical.

We have come a long way in understanding what causes psychological pain and most of it has been contributed by feminist psychology as it morphed into trauma theory or into epigenetics. Most readers are familiar with trauma theory and PTSD, but not as familiar with epigenetics, which stakes the claim that genes can be and are modified by context and by treatment. While not ignoring biology or chemistry, feminism has been responsible for showing just how malleable they are and just how many problems of women and other humans derive from the way society and individuals treat them/us.

Yes, we have come a long way in these 40 plus years, but there is still a long way to go and happily many young women and men working on these problems, looking for a fair and just world for themselves and others on issues from violence to rape to gender fluidity. Here we are in 2016.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.