The feminist approach to counseling has not been researched extensively, although studies that have been conducted generally show positive results. Additional quantitative and qualitative research is needed to clearly establish the effectiveness of feminist counseling.
Feminist counseling has not been defined as clearly as some of the more traditional approaches. It is difficult to find adequate training programs. Mistaken perceptions continue to exist that feminist counseling is conducted only by women and for women.
The theory and practice of feminist counseling have grown rapidly, outpacing their empirical support (Remer et al., 2001; Worell & Johnson, 2001). Therefore, validating the effectiveness of the feminist approach remains an ongoing challenge. Studies that have been conducted, however, generally show encouraging results.
In comparison studies, feminist counseling has been found to be a distinct modality (Worell & Remer, 2003) that is as effective as other, more traditional forms of counseling (Follingstad, Robinson, & Pugh, 1977; Johnson, 1976). Recently, controlled outcome studies have assessed whether feminist counseling is effective in meeting the goals it espouses. Cummings (in press) found that both brief (fewer than four sessions) and extended (more than seven sessions) feminist counseling had a positive impact on clients' sense of personal empowerment. In a long-term follow-up study of feminist counseling outcomes, client self-ratings of improvement over time were assessed; results indicated that clients' resilience increased over time (Chandler, Worell, Johnson, Blount, & Lusk, 1999). Olson (2001) found evidence that feminist therapy using a narrative approach was helpful in treating clients with a history of anorexia.
Israeli and Santor (2000) evaluated existing research on several components of feminist counseling practice. They concluded that consciousness-raising appeared to be the most studied feminist counseling intervention and that the research literature suggests consciousness-raising provides therapeutic benefit by allowing women to feel supported. Israeli and Santor recommended that future studies focus on evaluating the efficacy of other interventions and tenets of feminist counseling, such as gender role analysis and social activism.
Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of feminist counseling using not only traditional empirical methods but also qualitative techniques that are more synchronous with feminist principles (Evans et al., 2005). Qualitative studies, guided by the ethic of caring, offer perspectives and information that are not available when research is constrained by imperatives of objectivity, value neutrality, and emotional detachment (Blakely, 2007). A major challenge for the future of feminist counseling is to validate the efficacy of its applied practices with research that demonstrates client change (Worell & Johnson, 2001). This challenge is complicated by the fact that feminist counseling looks beyond individual change (Evans et al., 2005) and aims to achieve outcomes that are not easily quantifiable, such as improved self-esteem and quality of life, gender role flexibility, involvement in social action, and awareness of socialization and oppression (Chandler, Worell, & Johnson, 2000; Moradi, Fischer, Hill, Jome, & Blum, 2001).