What Is Feminist Therapy?

black senior woman in therapy

Lucy Lambriex / Getty Images

What Is Feminist Therapy?

Feminist therapy is a type of psychotherapy specializing in gender and examines the stressors that women experience due to biases, discrimination, and other areas that may affect one’s mental health. 

It was developed in response to the previously male-dominated field of psychology so that women could have a therapeutic environment free from the misogyny and sexism common in the field until then.

Though it acknowledges societal causes and issues at play, feminist therapy holds individuals accountable for their own decisions and problems. Since this therapy began in the 1960s, it has evolved to include work with all genders.

Types of Feminist Therapy 

There are four primary schools of thought in feminist therapy:

  1. Liberal feminism: This approach is centered around helping women take back control from the constraints put on them by society through personal empowerment. In other words, this kind of feminist therapy looks more at the individual than the zoomed-out societal view of some of the other following therapies.
  2. Cultural feminism: If you believe in a gentler society that emphasizes feminine characteristics such as nurturing, you might be interested in feminist therapy. This school of thought also believes that oppression comes from society emphasizing gender differences and downplaying women’s strengths.
  3. Radical feminism: In a radical feminist therapy lens, you and the therapist look closely at the effects of oppression on women, particularly the patriarchy’s impact on them. Followers of this model believe that all therapy is political and a vehicle for effecting change.
  4. Socialist feminism: This type of feminist therapy focuses on making societal changes to change oppressive institutions. This approach also looks closely at marginalized intersectional identities and further oppression based on socioeconomic status, race, and other types of discrimination such as sexuality or religion.

Techniques

Since feminist therapy is not a manualized or operationalized form of therapy, there is no strict set of techniques that must be used.

Additionally, while other therapies may be considered more directive (where the therapist takes the lead), a core tenet of feminist therapy is creating an egalitarian relationship between you and the therapist.

This means that you are the expert of your own life, not the therapist. You and your therapist will explore your intersectional identities and how they are showing up in the therapy room, which may help you see how you interact in similar situations outside of the therapy room.

Some techniques they may use:

  • Bibliotherapy: Your therapist will give you suggestions of things you might like to read on issues such as gender inequality, how gender roles are perpetuated, or power differentials between different genders.
  • Viewing symptoms as communications: Feminist therapy is generally non-pathologizing, meaning feminist therapists are less interested in diagnoses and disorders. The therapist will, instead, deconstruct your symptoms, tying them back to larger societal concerns. For example, anxiety about job performance might be linked back to societal patriarchal norms.
  • Power analysis: You and your therapist will examine areas where genders have different powers and how that contributes to a lack of power in non-male genders. This isn’t to be confused with blaming society for all of your problems, but, instead, learning about its role in things out of your power.
  • Assertiveness training: While assertiveness training alone won’t change longstanding societal inequalities, it can help you learn more about your rights in various relationships. By doing this, you can take steps to speak up when it is safe for you to change power dynamics on the micro-level.
  • Reframing: This technique does not mean looking on the bright side. Instead, it is taking more of a community psychology approach of you exploring the interplay between your issues and your local and broader communities to understand how they influence your actions. 

What Feminist Therapy Can Help With

While feminist therapy can help with anything—and attempts to be non-pathologizing—it may help with the following conditions and issues:

  • Complex trauma
  • PTSD
  • Severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders
  • Socioeconomic issues
  • Life stage issues
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical disability

Benefits of Feminist Therapy

Since feminist therapy is not just concerned with diagnosis (it also actively eschews it as a tool of the systems that oppress women and other marginalized groups), the advantages of this kind of therapy look a little different than those of other types of therapies.

The idea of pathology is moved from being located in individuals to be located in social environments.

Instead, benefits are slightly less clear or measurable than, say, a lessening of symptoms in depression treatment. Some of the benefits include empowerment, enlightenment, and feelings of independence and assertiveness.

Effectiveness

Although feminist therapy has been around since the 1960s, there is little research done on how effective it is. This is primarily because, as a treatment that doesn’t follow a specific protocol, it would be hard to measure it uniformly.

Things to Consider

Before trying this kind of therapy, here are few things you may want to consider.

Intersectionality

Though this is slowly changing now, one criticism of feminist therapy has been its lack of intersectionality, or, recognizing the roles that multiple overlap identities such as gender, sexuality, race, class and religion, for example, may affect us.

Implicit Biases

No matter how hard we work on ourselves, we all have implicit biases to some degree—attitudes towards people or groups of people that we don’t even realize we have. Many people have associations with the words feminist or feminism that may turn them off from this kind of therapy.

Less Structured

Additionally, feminist therapy is not as well-defined as other therapies, so it has a less defined framework when compared to different types of therapies.

If you’re used to a more structured therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you will find feminist therapy very different. However, many also welcome this more unstructured, post-modern therapy.

How to Get Started

If you've decided to give feminist therapy a try, here are few things you can do to begin your journey.

How to Find a Feminist Therapist

There is no formal certification or association for feminist therapists, so your best bet is to use an online directory such as Inclusive Therapists and filter for feminist therapists or search for those who are feminist-allied. Additionally, you can always search for “feminist therapy” in your location. 

What Will the First Appointment Be Like?

The first appointment with a feminist therapist may actually look a little different in some ways than other first appointments. While the therapist will still ask you questions about your background and what brought you to therapy, you will also discuss how the patriarchy or dominant culture groups have affected your life.

Additionally, you will work with the therapist to create an egalitarian relationship between the two of you as a model for your relationships outside of therapy.

Questions to Ask

You might want to put some more thought into the four types of feminist therapy outlined earlier in this article as you are searching for a therapist. Do you want to examine change on the individual level or societal level? Once you've answered that question, it will help you narrow down your search.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Conlin SE. Feminist therapy: A brief integrative review of theory, empirical support, and call for new directionsWomen’s Studies International Forum. 2017;62:78-82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2017.04.002

  2. Frew J, Spiegler MD, eds. Contemporary Psychotherapies for a Diverse World. 1st rev. ed. Routledge; 2013.