c. Therapist concept of self as a competent role model:

When the therapist believes in the "equality of worth" of herself and her client based on her own competency in terms of counselling skills, and the client's expertise on her own feelings and experience, she will encourage client feedback on her style and effectiveness, and be willing to suggest alternatives to therapy when they seem appropriate. She will refuse to participate in therapeutic encounters where social control elements such as prison, court, or mental hospital, predominate (Sturdivant, 1980). Because she believes that "the personal is political" she will share her own feelings and experiences when they are relevant to the client's needs. She will make her own values explicit to the client when they touch on an issue with which the client is working. She will recognize that she is a role-model for her client by the very fact that she is a feminist and has worked through, or is in the process of working through, similar issues in her own life. Levine argues that sharing the personal helps women to find the commonalities in their lives and thus "to link personal and political in the service of change". When the therapist shares her own personal experience in a way that focuses on the commonalities, she is not only "leveling" in the relationship, she is validating her client's experience, and perhaps, modeling a solution. In my own practice, clients frequently comment that something I had shared from my own personal journey had been the most helpful moment in a previous session.


a. Self-actualization:

While Sturdivant claims that feminist therapy does not have "a clear-cut theoretical stance", I think that the theoretical stances that could apply are limited. At very least, the theory must be humanistic, calling for the belief that women are inherently good and possess a drive toward self-actualization. Humanistic psychology rejects labelling and classification schemes because such activity obscures the uniqueness of the individual.

Feminist therapy is self-actualizing but it is extremely important to note that it is self- actualizing in a different way than in the past. Sturdivant summarizes her findings regarding traditional psychotherapy by writing that "Feminists allege that therapy is bad for women because it is a male enterprise designed to assure that men's needs continue to be met at the expense of women's self-fulfillment..." (p. 65) She lists three biases in psychology that obscure the self-actualizing process for women: fostering of traditional sex-roles; expectations for, and devaluation of, women; and responding to women as sex objects. Part of "re-defining the problem (Levine 1982) is redefining for society what is a woman's self." The grave danger in self-actualization for women is that the process of therapy will actualize a false self, a "self" that will continue to serve a culture that is male-oriented. Feminist therapy interventions are based on the premise that women's emotional conflicts are generated by being forced into a female sex role (Sturdivant 1980) rather than on the psychoanalytic premise that emotional conflict is generated as a result of being female.
Wendy Wortsman
Women can actualize their real selves by learning how to assume responsibility for their own lives. Three steps laid out by Karen Lindsay are: helping the client to learn what her feelings are, helping her learn to recognize the process of those feelings and how to be in charge of their expression, and accepting responsibility for her own actions. Particularly important is the recognition of women's anger as a therapeutic issue. Learning to use it constructively is a means of attaining a sense of personal power.

In redefining women's selves, feminist therapists call for a redefining of female sexuality with a "tacit acceptance of lesbianism as an alternate lifestyle and an implicit belief in the bisexuality of all human beings..." (Sturdivant).

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