Feminist counseling puts gender and power at the center of the therapeutic process. It recognizes that in order to understand a client, a counselor must consider the client’s social, political and cultural context. Feminist counseling, therefore, uses a gendered analysis to understand a woman’s experiences and issues. A feminist counselor may help a client to understand how gender, social injustice and power imbalances between men and women impact her life so that the client can better understand and address her problems. Feminist counseling also stresses the importance of counselors’ attitudes, values, and beliefs on the therapy process and outcome. The counselor must maintain an equal relationship with the client at all times. This involves taking steps to reduce any power imbalances between the counselor and client and emphasizing the client’s power to make her own decisions. Feminist counseling always aims to empower the client.
Responsibilities of a Feminist Counselor
- Integrate feminist analysis into all spheres of your work. This means recognizing how inequality and discrimination affect your client and yourself, and taking steps to address it.
- Recognize the client’s socioeconomic and political circumstances. Understand her problem within that context without judging, labeling, or blaming her.
- Accept and validate the client’s experiences and feelings.
- Always be accountable to the client first.
- Be actively involved in ending oppression, empowering women and girls, respecting differences, and working toward social justice.
- Be aware of your own experience and identity (e.g., class, sex, race, gender, sexuality, etc.) and how this impacts your life.
- Continually self-evaluate and remedy your own biases and oppressive actions.
- Continually learn about other dominant and non- dominant cultural and ethnic experiences.
Techniques for Strengthening Counseling Skills
It is important for feminist counselors to practice their skills using role plays and case studies. Below is a table to remind you and your colleagues of key counseling techniques. It can be used to strengthen skills in your own practice, guide your observation of and support to colleagues, and help you to offer feedback to other counselors in a structured way.
- Engage in weekly practice sessions with colleagues. Focus on 1-2 skills per week and write down specific examples of how to improve each.
- Think about how you interact with clients. Do you engage with them as equals? Do your interactions create any power imbalances between you? Commit to at least one action today which will help you to build more equal relationships with your clients.
- Speak out in your own community about social injustice. Remember, your environment and experiences shape your counseling and its results.
- Help clients to recognize their own power to make decisions and change their lives.
- Keep a journal of ideas for improving your feminist counseling skills. Write down reflections each month on how well you have integrated these changes into your practice.
- Hold regular meetings with colleagues (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) to discuss challenges you are facing in your feminist counseling and propose ideas to address them.
- Continue to learn more about feminist counseling by reading, reaching out to others in the field, or discussing with colleagues.