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Feminist Family Therapy. ACSW 2008 Annual Conference Dr. Deborah Foster, RSW Dr. Karen Nielsen, RSW . Slides will be posted on ACSW Web site next week. Outline. Development of feminist family therapy What is feminism What is family therapy Feminist family therapy Philosophy Themes

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feminist family therapy

Feminist Family Therapy

ACSW 2008 Annual Conference

Dr. Deborah Foster, RSW

Dr. Karen Nielsen, RSW


Development of feminist family therapy

  • What is feminism
  • What is family therapy

Feminist family therapy

  • Philosophy
  • Themes
  • Interventions
  • Premises congruent with values of social work.
what is feminism
What is Feminism?
  • Radical - capitalism is barrier to ending female oppression. No alternative other than the total uprooting and reconstruction of society to achieve goals
  • Socialist - women being held down as a result of their unequal standing in workplace and the domestic sphere. Both must change for equality.
what is feminism1
What is Feminism?


  • Equality will happen through political & legal reform


  • Belief in the interconnectedness of all forms of life and each act effects the whole.
  • All forms of oppression affect us all
  • Two kinds of power: power over & power within. Power from within is empowerment& is unlimited & renewable.
  • Diversity is needed in the system to maintain stability. (true for political and economic systems also.)
the influence of feminism three waves
The Influence of Feminism: Three Waves

First Wave - Right to vote

Second Wave – Right to reproductive control, equal pay for equal work, no fault divorce, gender neutral language & sanctions against marital rape

Third wave –celebrate diversity; combat inequalities women face as a result of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status or level of education; access to NRT for single women and lesbians

gender role socialization exercise
Gender Role SocializationExercise
  • What messages did you get about being an man/woman when you were growing up
  • How has your socialization influenced your practice
  • Assign a recorder/discuss
  • Be prepared to report back
  • 10 Mins
family therapy types
Family Therapy Types
  • Structural
  • Strategic
  • Bowenian
  • Narrative
  • Feminist
structural family therapy
Structural Family Therapy

Salvador Minuchin

  • Directive & action orientated
  • Goal: modify the present, not explore past
  • Goal: not symptom relief but for family to reorganize itself around a symptom
  • No pathologizing/ labeling of individuals
  • Therapist not to impose their beliefs on family
  • No consideration of power differential between men, women & children
strategic family therapy
Strategic Family Therapy

Jay Haley

  • Does not address gender/power differences
  • Therapist responsible for influencing family
  • Associated with use of paradoxical techniques
  • Give tasks and homework
  • Not concerned with the past
  • View of dysfunction: symptoms regulate homeostasis in families; symptom is a type of behavior. Symptoms carry a function for the family
strategic family therapy1
Strategic Family Therapy
  • The identified patient ( symptom carrier) cannot be viewed separate & apart from the family. Unless the system changes, it is difficult for the individual to change.
  • Insight is not needed for change to take place.

Murray Bowen

Goal for the individual to differentiate & take "I" position in family of origin

Individual must stay connected to family & therapy generally involves 3 generations of family

Triangulation is a key concept. Triangles are likely to develop during times of distance.

In relationships, the partner who experiences the most distress will often connect with someone else as a way to gain an ally.

  • Conceptualizes togetherness and individuality as competing forces
  • Therapy focus on "overcoming togetherness needs and increasing individuality"
  • No recognition that women are relational
  • Therapist neutral
  • Does not address gender/power differences
narrative family therapy
Narrative Family Therapy

Michael White and David Epstein

Developed as a reaction to labelling & pathologizing of traditional family therapy

Stresses a collaborative relationship with family

Key concept is externalization, creates a team made up of therapist & persons united against an outside problem

narrative therapy
Narrative Therapy
  • Emphasis is on victory over problems & not on problem-saturated story.
  • Emphasis is on uniqueness of persons, not their “deviance”
  • Fits very well with a feminist approach
my big fat greek wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • As you watch the video clip, consider the socialization messages?
  • Who carries the power in this family?
feminist family therapy1
Feminist Family Therapy
  • Developed in Second Wave
  • Rachel Hare-Mustin (1978): A Feminist Approach to Family Therapy
  • Application of feminist theory & values to family therapy, including personal & political
  • Understanding gender & power is the core of therapeutic practice
  • Understanding client’s problems requires a socio-cultural perspective
  • Societal changes & empowerment of the individual
feminist family therapy2
Feminist Family Therapy
  • Explores way gender roles & socialization affect each individual & their relationships with one another in family system, society & within the client therapist relationship
  • Recognizes the unequal status of women & the reasons for that inequality
  • Feminist family theory is a philosophy, not just a set of techniques
  • Therapists help clients examine & challenge gender rules & roles
themes in feminist therapy
Themes in Feminist Therapy
  • Understanding power & control issues
  • Examining external forces that influence behavior
  • Identifying messages receive in growing up
  • Learning to accept appropriate responsibility
  • Exploring personal values/beliefs
  • Recognition that both women & men live in a gendered context & that male gender roles can also be problematic
  • Parenting is not the sole responsibility of women
feminist family therapy3
Feminist Family Therapy
  • Egalitarian role of feminist therapist
  • Therapeutic alliance: Recognize power imbalance between client & therapist
  • Judicious use of self-disclosure to reduce power differential between client & counselor
  • No labelling & pathologizing
  • No giving interpretations
  • Client is “expert” on self
feminist family therapy4
Feminist Family Therapy
  • Historically women & men have been socialized in different way. Men socialized to be task focused; women are socialized to be emotional caretakers.
  • Masculinity is defined through separation; femininity is defined through attachment.
  • Important to incorporate a gender lens when counselling couples & families. Empowerment is a key concept.
brokeback mountain
Brokeback Mountain
  • How do same sex relationships challenge our assumptions about male female socialization
  • Consider the importance of a gender lens

Empowerment: the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices & to transform those choices into desired actions & outcomes.

feminist family therapy5
Feminist Family Therapy
  • Includes male clients and male therapists
  • Seeks non-gendered & culturally fair ways to approach & interpret traditional psychotherapeutic theories and techniques
  • It looks at gender role strain for both men & women
  • Family seen as powerful resource for positive change
  • The task of therapy is to mobilize that resource
intervention techniques in feminist family therapy
Intervention Techniques in Feminist Family Therapy
  • Gender-role analysis
    • Help family understand the impact of gender-role expectations in their relationships
    • Provides clients with insight into the ways social issues affect their problems
  • Power analysis
    • Emphasis on identifying the power differences in relationships, in society, and impact on family
    • Clients helped to recognize different kinds of power they possess and how they and others exercise power
intervention techniques in feminist family therapy1
Intervention Techniques in Feminist Family Therapy
  • Power issues detrimental to the family system are confronted
  • Feminist family therapists help clients examine and challenge rules and roles and reorganize them so that destructive patterns can change
  • Feminist family therapists encourage the development of inner resources and goal setting
  • Turns problem behaviors into resources & conflict situations into platforms for agreement
  • Fundamental shift in our cultural paradigm
  • Encouraged & rewarded to be problem-solvers from early age
  • Seeing self through the filters of being a problem solver sets our perceptual filters to "scan for problems"
  • Life is seen primarily as a source of problems being served up so that we can maintain our status as master problem solver
  • Problem solving is dominant theme in schools, psychotherapy, management & counseling
  • This orientation can hide from us the small successes that if noticed and nurtured, can lead to creative spirit of continuous improvement & success 
  • An individual attitude of reframing problems into potential and opportunity is more than just “sleight of mind”. It is literally a way to change the perceptions of ourselves and others
gaylord s wall
Gaylord’s Wall
  • Acknowledging small successes: is it sleight of mind?
social work feminist family therapy
Social Work & Feminist Family Therapy

Core Social Work Values and Principles

Value 1: Respect for Inherent Dignity and Worth of Persons

Value 2: Pursuit of Social Justice

Value 3: Service to Humanity

Value 4: Integrity of Professional Practice

Value 5: Confidentiality in Professional Practice

Value 6: Competence in Professional Practice

core ftt values and principles
Core FTT Values and Principles

Value 1: Respect clients' freedom to choose; emphasize development of collaborative relationships; 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 in herself. Client as expert (Respect for Inherent Dignity and Worth of Persons)

Value 2: The personal is political; consider problems within societal context; actively seeking to change gender injustices experienced by women and men. (Pursuit of Social Justice)

social work feminist family therapy1
Social Work & Feminist Family Therapy

Value 3: Feminist therapist seeks multiple avenues for impacting change, including public ed. & advocacy within professional organizations, lobbying legislative actions (Service to Humanity)

Value 4: Feminist therapist is accountable self, colleagues & clients. (Integrity of Professional Practice)

social work feminist family therapy2
Social Work & Feminist Family Therapy

Value 5: Open agenda, informed consent; egalitarian relationship (Confidentiality in Professional Practice)

Value 6: A feminist therapist will contract to work with clients & issues within the realm of her/his competencies (Competence in Professional Practice)