Here's Why Feminist Therapy has Never Been More Relevant

Jessika Fruchter, LMFT on Feb 09, 2021 in Treatment Orientation

Let's be real, women and girls are shouldering the weight of pandemic-life in a BIG way right now. It's exhausting and for many ... dangerous.

Last week, the New York Times reported that one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, putting them on the front lines often underpaid and undervalued. It's no surprise the data also shows that women of color are more likely than anyone else to fill those essential job roles.

Meanwhile, a few steps back from the frontline the challenges that existed for women and girls pre-pandemic continue, but with a COVID twist.

Here's what I mean:

There’s the disproportionate amount of emotional labor we put forth to support our families and communities while sheltering-in-place.

There’s the mental energy expended to make our voices heard during a Zoom meeting because, it turns out, mansplaining and regular interruptions happen just as often virtually as they do in person.

For our teen and tween girls, I hear that sexual harassment in school hallways has made its way to social media platforms.

And then there's the reported increase in domestic violence since the stay-at-home orders have been in place, putting so many at risk.

And these are just a few examples.

Is it any wonder anxiety, stress and trauma symptoms are on the rise? No, not really. It seems a normal response to an unhealthy situation.

Hyper vigilance or feeling like you've always got to watch your back, makes sense. As does numbing out, tearfulness and racing thoughts. These are all symptoms of anxiety, stress and trauma -- though often people don't recognize them as such.

So then how do we tend to the psychological wounds of women and girls in such an unprecedented time? Well, from my perspective we need a therapeutic approach that holds the nuanced experiences of women and girls and also recognizes that one's emotional health hinges not only on a strong sense of self and nourishing relationships, but on a society where we all feel safe and respected.

Enter: Feminist Therapy (again).

Feminist Therapy emerged in the 1960s and was radically different from earlier therapeutic approaches, which positioned the therapist as expert and/or omitted the social and cultural context of a client's experience. These frameworks were also very much rooted in euro-centric, patriarchal values, and as a result women were underserved and often pathologized - 'Female Hysteria', anyone?

In contrast, Feminist Therapy emerged as a strengths-based approach. It viewed the political as personal, and valued diversity of experience. Feminist Therapy also held the therapeutic relationship as a partnership of equals.

I will say while Feminist Therapy was a significant improvement from previous therapeutic approaches, it was not without its problems. Just like the earliest waves of the feminist movement, Feminist Therapy tended to the needs of white middle/upper class women, largely ignorant to the challenges of poor women, LGBTQ IA+ women, women of color and many others.

While the approach has evolved since its inception, attempting to address intersections of identity and cultural humility more directly, I want to be clear that the field continues to grow and change.

I'm not speaking for all feminist therapists here or the field at large. Instead I'm sharing some values and principles that I incorporate into my own Feminist Therapy practice, which focuses specifically on the support of self-identified women and girls.

These include:

Honoring an individual's cultural, political and social experiences

Recognizing the importance of relationships and interconnection in our lives

Working toward social and ecological justice

Focusing on and cultivating strengths and resiliency, while honoring painful experiences

Practicing self-compassion

Creating partnership & authenticity in the therapeutic relationship

Cultivating joy, purpose and meaning in our lives

Exploring creativity & spirituality as a means for healing and growth

I share my approach here because as I've written many times before I believe Feminist Therapy is revolutionary, just as I believe healing is our birthright.

These are trying times indeed, and women and girls deserve support tailored just to them. Too often folks shy away from therapy because they fear their experiences won't be fully honored. It feels safer to push through on their own, despite the pain it may cause, not realizing there is a therapeutic frame that is inline with their own values and experiences.

If you're interested in knowing more about Feminist Therapy, the work I do, or are in need of support during this trying time, don't hesitate to reach out. Please know you are not alone in this.

Jessika Fruchter is a Marriage & Family Therapist in , CA.

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