The Process of Change
Empowerment to change is the most essential aspect of feminist therapy. To change, the individual must understand and remove socialized conditioning that restricts decision making based on societal expectations of what is appropriate for men and women. A process of resocialization allows clients to value themselves and realize that their lived experiences are important. What was once considered pathology can be renamed as coping mechanisms. The client then begins a process of relearning and practicing new behaviors that promote egalitarian relationships. An indicator of change is when clients actively advocate for themselves and for other oppressed groups while participating in social action groups that promote societal change.
Traditional Intervention Strategies
Feminist counselors use many intervention strategies that they have adapted from the more traditional theories and approaches to counseling. All feminist counseling interventions seek to empower clients. The goal is to mobilize the client's resources to effect change at the personal, relational, and sociopolitical levels. Two important empowerment strategies are demystifying counseling and self-disclosure.
Feminist counselors strive to create an egalitarian relationship with their clients so that the inequities found in society are not replicated in the counseling relationship. For example, if the counselor calls the client by his or her first name, the counselor introduces herself or himself using her or his first name. A strategy for empowering clients is to demystify the counseling process at the outset of the relationship by paying careful attention to informed-consent issues. It is important that clients participate in identifying and naming their problems; understand and agree to goals and procedures; realize that they are in charge of the direction, length, and choices of techniques to be implemented; and know their rights as consumers of counseling services. Feminist counselors provide their clients with information about their theoretical orientation, competencies, and alternatives to counseling so that the clients can make fully informed choices (Enns, 2004).
Feminist counselors engage in self-disclosure and state their values explicitly to emphasize the commonalities among women and decrease the client's sense of isolation. Brief and timely self-disclosures about the counselor's own struggles with issues serve the purposes of modeling coping responses to difficult issues and equalizing the therapeutic relationship. Feminist counselors share with counselors of other theoretical orientations the commitment to ensuring that self-disclosures are in the client's best interests and are relevant to the client's needs.
Reframing and relabeling are intervention strategies frequently used in feminist counseling. To reframe is to change the frame of reference for looking at an individual's behavior. When feminist counselors reframe a client's behavior, they consider the sociopolitical and cultural contributions to the client's issues, thus shifting the etiology of the problem from the individual to the environment. This change in perspective avoids "blaming the victim" for her problems. Negative labeling, such as defining a behavior as dysfunctional, is relabeled as a positive coping strategy. "Feminine" characteristics such as sensitivity, compassion, or subjectivity, which may be devalued as weaknesses when viewed through an androcentric lens, are revalued as strengths through the feminist lens. Thus, through reframing and relabeling, symptoms can be seen as coping mechanisms and weaknesses can be seen as strengths.
Bibliotherapy, although not unique to feminist counseling, is another strategy that feminists often find useful. Bibliotherapy involves reading and processing books or articles, carefully chosen by the counselor, to help the client understand societal influences that affect her personal experiencing (Remer et al., 2001). This literature may address issues such as women's body image and appearance, sexual violence, relationships, and aspects of the life span. For example, a client concerned about her relationship with a significant other might be asked to read Lemer's The Dance of Intimacy (1989). Such reading assignments serve to empower clients by increasing their expertise on topics of concern to them.
Another intervention strategy that has been associated with feminist counseling is assertiveness training. Because some women do not feel powerful, they may not act assertively and thus give up some control over their lives (Sharf, 2000). Feminist counselors teach these clients assertiveness skills using direct teaching methods, bibliotherapy, and role play. Through assertiveness training, women learn to stand up for their rights without violating the rights of others. The aim of this training is to facilitate women's use of personal power to achieve personal change and effectively challenge their environments (Remer et al., 2001).
Although much of feminist counseling is conducted with individual clients, group work is often a preferred modality for some issues that women experience (Herlihy & Corey, 2009). For example, group approaches have been recommended for dealing with incest and sexual abuse, body image issues, battering, eating disorders, and sexual functioning (Enns, 2004). Feminist counselors may also encourage clients to participate in consciousness-raising groups to increase their awareness of sexism and other forms of oppression. Consciousness-raising groups offer women a supportive environment in which they can share personal experiences with gender role stereotyping and expectations, experience the commonalities among women, and see more clearly the link between their own experiences and the sociopolitical structure (Remer et al., 2001). Other types of groups, such as advocacy groups or political action groups, may also be recommended to empower women and allow them to experience their connectedness with other women.