Term Paper: Feminist Therapy and Postmodern Approaches

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Feminist Therapy and Postmodern Approaches

Feminist Therapy

Feminists have purported that male and female perspectives on life have been developed from early childhood in different ways. Men view the world in terms of power and competition, or hierarchy. Women, view the world as a series of relationships and connections to others. Therefore, most psychological theories and the therapy techniques derived from them may not fit women very well, since studies of human behavior were almost always conducted by men on men. So the masculine viewpoint was used to describe and define women, as well as men, and therapy techniques that worked on men were applied to women without the most successful results.

Whether through biology or socialization or both, by the time humans are grown up they have a full awareness of expectations. Culture, society and families expect them to act like "women" or "men," with the roles that traditions and culture expect of these genders. Children are constantly fed gender-biased messages: boys are supposed to be strong, stone-faced, independent, aggressive, dominant, ambitious, and successful. Girls are subordinate, obedient, caring, passive, emotional, and, above all, beautiful. (Guindon 2)

The gender roles played and the expectations culture has expected of us has put a roadblock in the way of addressing feminine psychology on the level of the therapist. There has been very little study done on the women's viewpoint of almost any problem and up until recently, no therapy addressing this viewpoint. (Dutton-Douglas 64)

Laura Brown discusses this in her book, Subversive Dialogues: Theory in feminist therapy, (1994) saying that Feminist therapy is an integrative approach that superficially resembles other psychotherapies, but the therapist is steeped in feminist political analysis and scholarship, in the psychology of women and gender. This gives her or him a unique approach to both males and females.

Feminist therapists are basically interested in the ways in which gender has shaped the lives and experiences of the people they treat, and want to understand how the gender role has informed them, has expected them to develop and deal with stress, race, class, sexual orientation, age cohorts and abilities. They are interested in the interactions of their client with others of their own and the other gender in the theater of power and dominance. The theories backing up this viewpoint have a history that, though not distant, are well-researched and based on multicultural data and literature. They deal with histories of women and races who have lost power or experienced social, cultural and political processes that have changed their lives. Therefore, therapy becomes pertinent as a political, as well as a social force in shaping the life of the client. (Brown 1994-6)

The desire to treat both men and women as equals in the therapy relationship is crucial to the success of the therapy and this is the benefit that this type of therapy offers. Not only is the client seen as equal to others in her or his milieu, but equal to the therapist. As such, it is unusually well-suited as a framework for understanding trauma and interpersonal violence because much of such violence occurs as a result of people's positions of relative powerlessness in the social realm. In Working With Men Survivors of Trauma and Abuse, Dr. Laura S. Brown demonstrated her approach to therapy with men who have been abused or suffered trauma in the past. In a taped session she worked with a 30-year-old man who was physically abused as a child. Dr. Brown was able to begin the process of helping this man to feel safe enough to trust another person. (Brown 2006)

The difficulty in this type of therapy is that it may not suit all clients. It tends by nature to limit itself to women, though this may be more relevant as time goes by. When Worrell (2002) reviewed the changing roles for women and men in contemporary Western society, she found unique and new psychological worlds are developing for women with a range of social identity locations, including gender, ethnicity, sexual and affectional orientation, age, socioeconomic class, culture, physical characteristics and abilities, national and regional origin, and religious commitment.

Postmodern Approaches

The definition of Postmodern Therapy is still under discussion. Sometimes Postmodern refers to non-traditional therapies, therapies that do not rely on diagnostic labels or therapies that disdain the medical model. But if Lois Shawver had her way, it would refer to philosophies of therapy influenced by the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. That would mean that the conversation could continue with people having different beliefs and frames - and we would all be engaged in ongoing conversation, or listen to the conversation a person has with him or herself. (Shawver)

In Pary and Doan's book, Story Re-Visions: Narrative Therapy in the Postmodern World (1994), there is a discussion of the basis for the "Postmodern Theory" expressed by Lyotard, Sawver and others who tout this approach to contemporary therapy. Based on a theory that seems confusing, it is nonetheless simple to understand, once you realize that the Postmodernists are basically throwing out intellectualism, reliance on statistics and returning to personal and romantic approaches to individual treatment. Pary and Doan begin with mythology and how meaning and origins were once understood through stories. In this way, man understood "why." There had to be an answer to satisfy the soul, but no one knew whether truth was factual or was "merely" metaphorical. Most of the first questions were about origins in early myths and then in religious literature. They were meaningful, if not truthful, and therefore credible. Truth came out of the meaning, rather than the true facts. But Jerome Bruner (1986) notes that truth is pursued more than meaning during the modern age. Thus the "paradigmatic," as opposed to the "narrative," makes up cognition. The two were recognized as separate modes of cognitive functioning. While the narrative seeks to convince based on being lifelike, the cognitive seeks to convince based on meaning and connectedness to events in a moral universe. (3)

J.-F. Lyotard (1984) says that Western thought has taken "grand narrative" or "metanarrative" and legitimized paradigmatic systems in philosophy and science, thus the two do not actually conflict in ways of presenting truth. Therefore stories may be told without having to be legitimized by metanarrative before being taken seriously. He claims that there are other means of discerning truth and the statistical analysis of modernity has been discredited, even though it is firmly embedded in the psyche of all researchers that it is the "truth." Tests to prove theories and companies basing their markets on test conclusions are rampant and make each discovery appear significant. Therapy is not based on the results of tests, but on individuals discovering meaning for themselves in therapy sessions with their therapists. Postmodernists believe that research statistics are worthless when it comes to the practical side, that of personal interaction with one's own relevance to human experience (Simon, 1994, p. 203). On the other hand, Simon says there is a conflict between therapists and researchers in this field.

One of the problems with this therapy is that it has attempted to find answers in narratives for groups. Postmodern family therapy has introduced the practice of externalizing the problem in the form of characterizing the problems that beset a family. So that "the man who came to dinner" might have "the whole family tied in knots of anger and recrimination." or, an intervention might define the problem as a community becoming one body and characterizing that community as one would an individual. However, it is doubtful whether "one size fits all" has a lasting effect on a large group of people, even multiple families, as this kind of therapy has attempted to treat.

On the other hand, in a one-on-one encounter, this therapy may be extremely… [END OF PREVIEW]

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