My work has been influenced greatly by feminist therapists such as
Toni Ann Laidlaw, Cheryl Malmo, Joan Turner, Jan Ellis, Diane Lepine,
Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Joan Hamerman, Jean Baker Miller, and Miriam
Greenspan -- to name only a few. I've found that what seems
to be the universal core of such therapy is that clients and therapist
must operate as equals in the therapy endeavor. This perspective fits
well within my own personal values and belief system.
her book, A New Approach to Women and Therapy" (1983),
Miriam Greenspan explores the impact of "traditional"
and "growth" therapies on women as well as describes "feminist"
therapy in action. In doing so she offers a great deal of insight
regarding the role of the therapist in feminist work including:
1) That the
therapist's most essential tool is herself as a person.
There have been
so many occasions in my years as a therapist that I've sat speechless
with a client, knowing all too well that there are no words that
will comfort, justify, or explain the pain away. There have been
all too many times when all my years of studying the human psyche
and condition still render me helpless to alter a particular circumstance,
belief, or feeling. On these occasions I can only offer my support,
my caring, and my understanding. I'm humbled at these moments but
not disempowered. I've learned that in joining another human being
in his or her pain; in being a steady and present witness; in respecting
the magnitude and depth of their feelings, I can't lead them out
of the darkness, but I can stand beside them. Anyone who has ever
been deeply afraid or saddened recognizes that an outstretched hand
can be a true gift.
2) That it is
essential therapy be demystified from the beginning in order for
clients to achieve a sense of their own power (and responsibility,
I would add) in therapy. Greenspan observes that, "Therapy
must be geared to helping the client see that she must be her own
rescuer - that the power she longs for is not in someone else but
I was visiting
with a very special friend and fellow therapist one day discussing
movies we'd seen over the years. She reminded me of a scene in a
movie whose title I have long since forgotten. In this particular
scene, the main character is at a party where she meets up with
her therapist. They chat for a few moments and then part company.
A friend approaches the main character and asks who the woman was
that she had been talking to. The heroine responds, "that's
no woman. That's my therapist!"
This scene illustrates
the mystique that therapists often have with their clients. While
intellectually our client's realize that we, too, are imperfect
and possess our own difficulties and short-comings, they very often
manage somehow to perceive us as somewhat "larger than life."
They often look to us to provide the "right" answers,
point the way, or tell them how to "fix it". Our responsibility
is not to oblige them (even if we could), but to assist them in
recognizing and learning to trust their own power and wisdom.
3) That rules
of the therapeutic relationship should be overtly stated and mutually
agreed upon. This doesn't mean that the therapist explains the rules
by which the client is expected to operate, but rather that the
client and therapist explore their expectations of one another together
and jointly come to an agreement of what each person's role and
responsibilities will be.
4) That within
every symptom, no matter how painful or problematic, there exists
Douglas in The Eleanor Roosevelt We Remember" ("The
Quotable Woman", Vol. Two, edited by Elaine Partnow, 1963,)
Eleanor Roosevelt have had to struggle to overcome this tortuous
shyness if she had grown up secure in the knowledge that she was
a beautiful girl? If she hadn't struggled so earnestly, would she
have been so sensitive to the struggles of others? Would a beautiful
Eleanor Roosevelt have escaped from the confinements of the mid-Victorian
drawing room society in which she was reared? Would a beautiful
Eleanor Roosevelt have wanted to escape? Would a beautiful Eleanor
Roosevelt have had the same need to be, to do?"
would have still accomplished all that she was to achieve in her
lifetime, beautiful or not; however, it's been reported that Eleanor
herself confided that her insecurity about her looks often motivated
in Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful
Childhood (1992) observed while working with individuals who
had experienced painful childhood's that,"...even as they struggled
to be free, the reverberations of family sorrow continued to infect
their adult lives, their loves, even their dreams. Yet, at the same
time I've also noted that adults who were hurt as children inevitably
exhibit a peculiar strength, a profound inner wisdom, and a remarkable
creativity and insight."
In the introduction
of "Healing Voices: Feminist Approaches To Therapy With Women"
(1990), Laidlaw and Malmo state that feminist therapists welcome
their clients' inquiries about the therapist's values, methods and
orientations. They also:
(1) at appropriate
times share their own experiences in order to assist their
their clients to take an active part in making decisions about the
course of therapy;
(3) and allow
the client final say over the content of a session, the choice of
method, and the pacing of therapeutic work.
The degree of
therapist self-disclosure is an area in which a wide range of opinions
exists. For some, the therapist should not provide personal information
to the client in almost any circumstance. Others firmly maintain
that some personal information is not only acceptable at times,
but advisable. I find myself agreeing with the latter. In order
for a true therapeutic relationship to develop, in my opinion, therapist
and client generally must achieve some level of intimacy. I dont
believe that such intimacy can exist without the therapist sharing
some limited aspects of his or her own life from time to time. Carl
Rogers urged therapists to be genuine. How can one be genuine when
conscientiously hiding all personal aspects of oneself? When a client
asks if I am angry with them and I say that I'm not (after all,
therapists should never experience anger toward a client) when in
fact I am angry, I am not only being disrespectful, I'm inflicting
damage. When a client observes that I look like I've had a hard
day, and I deny that I have, when the truth is that the day has
been extremely difficult, I've become a liar to someone whose trust
is extremely important. This doesn't mean that I should proceed
to describe my day to the client, but that I merely acknowledge
that the client's observation is a perceptive and accurate one.
Lenore E. A.
Walker, in her piece, "A feminist Therapist Views The Case"
from "Women as Therapists" ( Cantor, 1990), provides an
overview of the guiding principles of feminist therapy, including:
relationships between clients and therapists serve as a model for
women to take personal responsibility to develop egalitarian relationships
with others instead of the more traditional passive, dependent female
role. While it is excepted that the therapist knows more in terms
of psychology, the client knows herself better. That knowledge is
as critical as the therapist's skills in developing a successful
2) The feminist
therapist focuses on the enhancement of women's strengths rather
than remediation of their weaknesses.
3) The feminist
model is nonpathology-oriented and non-victim blaming.
therapists accept and validate their clients feelings. They
are also more self-disclosing than other therapists thus removing
the we-they barrier between therapists and their clients.
This limited reciprocity is a feminist goal that is believed to
enhance the relationship.
spoke often of the importance of joining with our clients. It's
difficult from my perspective to accomplish this if we're placed
somewhere above our clients and often out of their reach. To truly
understand another, we must be willing to get close enough to really
see; we can miss so much when keeping back too great a distance.
Perhaps, in part, the distance is recommended, because it's not
possible to observe imperfections and vulnerabilities close up without
risking our own being exposed from time to time. Therapists need
not be perfect in order to be effective; in fact, they don't even
need to be smarter.
and Katy Taylor in the book, Women Changing Therapy (1985),
edited by Joan Hammerman Robbins and Rachel Josefowitz Siegel, provide
a number of insights and recommendations for working with victims
of sexual abuse including:
(1) A controlling
therapist is too much like the abuser to be helpful;
When we encounter
an individual who has been abused, our assuming control of the therapeutic
process is bound to be threatening to most. Such individuals have
been told what to do very often for much of their lives, and voluntarily
surrendering now to the mandates of yet another feels uncomfortably
familiar. Victims and survivors need to be empowered to act in their
own best interests, to make their own decisions, and communicate
their needs effectively. Attempting to acquire these abilities in
the presence of a controlling "expert" is hardly conducive
to producing these results.
(2) The client
must be encouraged to recognize her own strengths.
and survivors of abuse are acutely aware of their inadequacies and
have little faith in their strengths. It is important that when
working with these individuals that the therapist focus on and strive
to develop strengths vs. honing in on and seeking to remediate inadequacies.
In fact, many of the tendencies that survivors (and some therapists)
perceive as weaknesses are, in fact, just the opposite -- assets
to be recognized and appreciated.
(3) The therapist
must honor the client's own healing process and allow the healing
to proceed at the client's own pace.
Not being controlling
need not mean being non-directive. In operating from a brief treatment
perspective, it's absolutely necessary that the therapist remain
active and quite often provide direction. This from my perspective,
indicates that we must serve as guides and facilitators. It may
be important to remember that when one engages the services of a
guide when embarking on a journey, it's ultimately the role of the
one to be guided to determine the destination, the limits of the
distance to be traveled, the stops along the way, and the overall
pace. It's the guides responsibility to meet the objectives
of the guided.
Fowles, MSW, Ph.D.
Dr. Fowles is a psychotherapist, author, consultant, and trainer
currently residing in Columbia, South Carolina. She received her
Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Connecticut
and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Southwest University.
She is the author of "BirthQuake: A New Vision of Hope and
Healing," and "Finding the Forest: The Incorporation of
Holistic Treatment into a Brief Treatment Model with Survivors of
Trauma." She is currently working on her new book,
"Healing into Wholeness" Before moving to Columbia in
1995, she lived in Augusta, Maine and practiced in the nearby community
Dr. Fowles is available for consultation, training, and to conduct
"Healing into Wholeness" retreats as well as "Myth
and Meaning" workshops. She is willing to offer these programs
at no charge to non-profit service organizations. She can
be reached by e-mail ,
website, or by calling