Psychotherapy Theory Paper(Psychology Major Please)

For each theory discussed you will submit a paper with the following sections:

I. Brief 3 or more sentences summary of theory

II. Brief descriptions of major tenets of the theory (3 or more sentences per tenet)

III. Brief descriptions of common techniques of the theory (3 or more sentences per technique)

IV. Personal reflection/reaction to the theory (2 paragraphs)

V. Questions about the theory or its implementation (2 questions)

The first 3 sections will serve as a brief summary to which you may refer back in future courses, during practicum experiences, or when preparing for comps. The latter 2 sections are meant to help you process your reactions to each theory. Remember that you will have already summarized the theory in sections 1-3, so section 4 should focus on the thoughts and feelings that arose for you as you read the chapters associated with each theory.

Handbook for Social Justice in Counseling Psychology: Leadership,

Vision, and Action

Toward a Radical Feminist Multicultural Therapy: Renewing a Commitment to Activism

Contributors: Susan L. Morrow, Donna M. Hawxhurst, Ana Y. Montes de Vegas, Tamara M.

Abousleman & Carrie L. Castañeda

Edited by: Rebecca L. Toporek, Lawrence H. Gerstein, Nadya A. Fouad, Gargi Roysircar &

Tania Israel

Book Title: Handbook for Social Justice in Counseling Psychology: Leadership, Vision, and


Chapter Title: “Toward a Radical Feminist Multicultural Therapy: Renewing a Commitment to


Pub. Date: 2006

Access Date: November 30, 2017

Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc.

City: Thousand Oaks

Print ISBN: 9781412910071

Online ISBN: 9781412976220


Print pages: 231-248

©2006 SAGE Publications, Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

This PDF has been generated from SAGE Knowledge. Please note that the pagination of

the online version will vary from the pagination of the print book.



Toward a Radical Feminist Multicultural Therapy: Renewing a Commitment to Activism

Feminist counseling and psychotherapy, having emerged from the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, would appear to be naturally situated in the social justice arena in counseling psychology. However, many of the qualities that characterized feminist therapy as it emerged from its grassroots origins (e.g., radical critique of mental health systems and psychotherapy, consciousness raising, political analysis and activism, and commitment to social transformation as integral to work with clients) have faded into the background as feminist therapy has become more mainstreamed and feminist therapists have focused increasingly on individual solutions to human problems (Marecek & Kravatz, 1998b; Morrow & Hawxhurst, 1998). In addition, for a significant period in the herstory of feminist therapy, multicultural perspectives were included unevenly and have been centralized only recently in an integrative feminist multicultural therapeutic approach (Bowman & King, 2003; Bowman et al., 2001; Brown, 1994; Comas-Díaz, 1994; Espín, 1994; Israel, 2003; Landrine, 1995). This chapter will review the evolution of feminist multicultural psychotherapy, identify theoretical underpinnings for its ongoing development, and propose a social justice agenda for feminist multicultural therapy in counseling psychology. In addition, we provide two examples from our work as feminist multicultural counselors for social justice.

Herstory and Evolution of Feminist Multicultural Counseling

Feminist and multicultural counseling perspectives emerged from the social and political unrest of the 1960s. As disenfranchised groups began pressing for social change, counselors and other mental health professionals found themselves stranded without the tools to address cultural differences and oppression (Atkinson & Hackett, 2004). Feminist and multicultural scholars and practitioners began to criticize traditional therapies for their racist and sexist underpinnings. Mainstream psychology, particularly through the diagnostic process, pathologized women, people of color, and others for qualities and behaviors that were outside of the White, male, heterosexual norm. In addition, “symptoms” arising from victimization (e.g., battered women’s syndrome; anger or fear responses to racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.) were often labeled as personality defects (e.g., borderline personality disorder, paranoia) instead of being understood in the context of trauma theory as a reasonable consequence of intolerable and oppressive circumstances.

Another criticism of traditional therapies was their exclusively intrapsychic focus (McLellan, 1999). McLellan also argued that traditional therapies assume that all people have equal access to choice and power and that each individual is responsible for her or his own life circumstances and unhappiness, failing to recognize the ways in which oppression limits choice and power.

The impetus for multicultural counseling came from increasing attention to cross-cultural counseling and cultural diversity emerging from ethnic and cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1973 American Psychological Association (APA) sponsored conference on clinical psychology in Vail, Colorado, was an important turning point for the profession of psychology when it was declared unethical to provide counseling services if the provider lacked the appropriate cultural competence to do so (Korman, 1974). Multiculturalism in psychology and counseling was not easily accepted in the field given the predominantly intrapsychic focus and the view that human distress was primarily psychophysiologic in nature. In response to this resistance, Smith and Vasquez (1985), in their introduction to a

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special issue of The Counseling Psychologist on cross-cultural counseling, wrote the following:

We believe that the doctrine of color blindness in mental health and counseling psychology has outlived its usefulness. Therapists are not color-blind. Culture is a major factor in the life development of individuals, and ethnicity is a major form of identity formation and group identification. (p. 532)

Over the years, the multicultural competency (MCC) literature has focused on five major themes: “(a) asserting the importance of MCC; (b) characteristics, features, dimensions, and parameters of MCC; (c) MCC training and supervision; (d) assessing MCC; and (e) specialized applications of MCC” (Ridley & Kleiner, 2003, p. 5). Early training in multicultural counseling stressed the importance of knowledge, awareness, and skills in working with diverse populations; this trifold objective remains central in the training literature today. The multicultural counseling literature has moved from a focus on merely appreciating and celebrating diversity (as important a beginning as this was) to an insistence on examining the underpinnings of privilege, power, and oppression, particularly as they relate to groups of people who have been marginalized (Liu & Pope-Davis, 2003). The recent adoption by the APA (2002) of Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists was a stunning victory for the profession and provided psychologists with aspirational goals to guide their work with ethnic minority individuals.

Feminist therapy grew out of political activism in the United States in the 1970s and was conceived of as a political act in and of itself (Mander & Rush, 1974). From its inception, feminist therapy was a response to feminist critiques of traditional therapy practices that were identified as harmful to women (Chesler, 1997). Its goals were twofold: to engage women in a process of political analysis geared to raising their awareness of how interpersonal and societal power dynamics affect their well-being, and to mobilize women to change the social structures contributing to these harmful power dynamics (Ballou & Gabalac, 1985).

The first decade of feminist therapy was characterized by “a critical examination of mental- health services to women, feminist consciousness-raising groups as an alternative to psychotherapy, an activist and grassroots orientation to therapy for women, an emphasis on groups as opposed to individual psychotherapy, and assertiveness training” (Morrow & Hawxhurst, 1998, p. 38). In the second decade, feminist therapists worked to further define feminist therapy by identifying and describing its goals, its processes, and the skills needed to practice it (Enns, 1993). Books and articles about feminist therapy proliferated during this time, as did critiques from within and outside the discipline (Morrow & Hawxhurst, 1998).

As feminist psychotherapy became increasingly mainstreamed and professionalized, radical feminist writers such as Kitzinger and Perkins (1993) sounded the alarm that feminist therapy —along with therapy in general—served a domesticating, depoliticizing function. Instead of the “personal being political,” the political was being inexorably whittled away until it was once again privatized, individualized, and personal. In a special issue of Women and Therapy (1998) on “Feminist Therapy as a Political Act,” researchers and practitioners addressed this problem in a number of ways. Hill and Ballou (1998) found that feminist therapists addressed power issues in the client-counselor relationship and helped clients examine oppression and the sociocultural causes of distress; in addition, some therapists actively worked for social change by advocating for their clients and teaching clients to advocate for themselves. However, Marecek and Kravatz (1998a, 1998b) found very little in their study of feminist

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therapists that distinguished the therapists as uniquely feminist. Most of the characteristics espoused by participants in the study were characteristic of humanistic or New Age therapies (McLellan, 1999).

In addition, prominent women of color in psychology and social work spoke out, bringing to light some of the omissions that characterized the predominantly White feminist therapy movement (Comas-Díaz, 1994; Espín, 1994). These authors provided an analysis of how feminist therapy, as it existed then, was harmful to women of color and to other women who were marginalized because it ignored important dimensions of their identities and life circumstances (Brown, 1991, 1994). Women of color have historically—and justifiably—viewed feminism as ethnocentric and class-bound and have challenged the centrality of gender oppression espoused by many Euroamerican feminists (Bowman et al., 2001). Alternatively, Espín (1994) recognized the potential value that feminist therapy could have for women of color if it were to recognize ethnicity as a major component of oppression along with gender. In describing her own journey of evolution as a feminist therapist, Brown (1994) referred to her earlier practice as “monocultural” (p. 75) and articulated the importance of considering each client’s unique constellation of identity dimensions and life circumstances rather than having her or him choose one aspect of identity on which to focus in counseling. This process of self- reflection has characterized multicultural and feminist endeavors with increasing honesty and success over time.

A particular example of the ongoing integration of feminism and multiculturalism arose at a working conference of the APA Division 17 Section for the Advancement of Women (SAW), where conference organizers had been explicit in their planning for a feminist multicultural agenda of a project that was intended to result in significant scholarly contributions in a number of areas of feminist multicultural research and practice. Although organizers and working group leaders embraced the terminology of “feminist multicultural” and working groups were recruited for diversity across race/ethnicity, international status, sexual orientation, gender, and professional/student status, issues emerged surrounding whose voices were privileged. The SAW conference became a microcosm for working with issues of privilege and voice. Feelings ran high, and the ensuing months led to conversations (informally, through presentations and discussion hours at APA, and through writing and publication), most particularly about the integration of racial/ethnic multiculturalism and White feminism. Following the conference, Bowman et al. (2001) provided a particularly powerful critique questioning the “real meaning of integrating feminism and multiculturalism” (p. 780). These conversations continue to be an important venue through which feminist and multicultural scholars and practitioners move toward greater integration. This does not necessarily imply that the road is straightforward or easy. A core challenge to this integration is to resolve a multicultural commitment to respect diversity of cultural values while simultaneously holding a feminist value that women’s subservience to men is something to be overcome. The complexity of working to empower women when their cultural or religious beliefs dictate certain limits on their behavior is something that needs to be addressed continually in order to continue the dialogue.

Gradually, feminist and multicultural counseling principles and practices have been integrated into a form of therapy in which client and counselor analyze power dynamics on an interpersonal and societal level and include in this analysis the ways that the various aspects of the client’s identity and privilege (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, ability/disability status, etc.) affect these power dynamics. Scholarship has continued to emerge in this integrated field and promises to guide feminist multicultural practice (e.g., Asch & Fine, 1992; Bowman et al., 2001; Landrine, 1995;

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Palmer, 1996; Russell, 1996; Wangsgaard Thompson, 1992). Critical analyses of feminism by scholars such as Bowman and King (2003) continue to challenge the assumptions of White feminists, particularly around issues related to separatism and apparently contradictory identities, while at the same time raising questions about the dilemma faced by women of color when they are asked to “join with the struggle against racism and subordinate any feelings of discrimination by sex for the greater good of saving the race” (p. 60). Integrative work such as that by Israel (2003) identifies the importance and challenge of integrating multiple identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. As feminist multicultural counseling and psychotherapy move forward in the 21st century, several contemporary influences have import for our commitments to social justice.

Concepts and Principles Related to Radical Feminist Multicultural Counseling for Social Justice

Situated at the beginning of the 21st century, philosophical and political writings from critical theories, liberation psychology, and recent writings in counseling for social justice and third- wave feminist psychotherapy converge. The relevant concepts and principles from these approaches provide strong underpinnings toward enhancing the possibilities of feminist multicultural counseling and therapy for social justice.

Critical Theories

Critical race theory (CRT) is defined as a “radical legal movement that seeks to transform the relationship among race, racism, and power” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 144). The CRT movement began in the 1970s and was largely influenced by critical legal studies and radical feminism; however, it has been used in education and other fields (e.g., Delgado Bernal, 2002) and is applicable to feminist/ multicultural education, counseling, outreach, and research. Critical race theory and its associated perspectives seek to better understand divisiveness that surrounds issues of race and other forms of oppression and are strongly driven by activism (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). From this perspective, then, for many feminist multicultural therapists, traditional forms of psychotherapy fall short in empowering clients, especially those who are oppressed or marginalized. One reason for this shortfall is that traditional therapies have been built on a European American worldview. Alternatively, critical race gendered epistemologies emerge from numerous worldviews without regarding a White, Euroamerican, male lens as the standard by which other perspectives are measured (Delgado Bernal, 2002). Thus, CRT and other critical theories help to understand the complexities with which clients are confronted.

“Critical race theorists have built on everyday experiences with perspective, viewpoint, and the power of stories and persuasion to come to a better understanding of how Americans see race” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 38). This understanding is facilitated by the use of counterstorytelling, the hallmark method of CRT. Counterstorytelling is writing that attempts to critically analyze “accepted premises” held by the majority (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 144). Thus, storytelling becomes a tool to better engage and involve clients in therapeutic work.

CRT’s emphasis on narrative analysis supports much of the work in which feminist and multicultural psychotherapists engage their clients (McLellan, 1999). CRT is also a powerful tool to train professionals who not only are empathic to a diverse clientele, but also strive to more fully understand the complexities of clients’ lives that go beyond the immediate

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assumptions and who are genuinely attempting to meet clients’ individual needs. Client experiences may not neatly fit the theories and textbook descriptions traditionally studied in graduate training; thus, the process of telling and listening to stories can lead client and counselor to an understanding of the complexities of their lives. CRT maintains that stories “serve a powerful psychic function for minority communities” because stories are opportunities to voice discrimination and also serve to uncover shared experiences of discrimination (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 43).

The quest to more fully understand individuals from diverse communities has led critical race theorists to focus on the specific experiences and needs of diverse communities. Some of the offshoots of CRT include feminist critical theory (Fem Crit), Latina/o critical theory (LatCrit), and critical theory drawn from queer theory (QueerCrit). Feminist critical theory (FemCrit) is an important critical perspective that relates to feminist multicultural counseling. Specific to FemCrit is the deconstruction of the concept “that there is a monolithic ‘women’s experience’ that can be described independently of other facets of experience like race, class, and sexual orientation” (Harris, 1997, p. 11). Overall, CRT and its offshoots seek to address the braidings of racism; sexism; heterosexism; and other forms of privilege, power, and oppression (Wing, 1997). These movements offer feminist multicultural counselors and therapists an opportunity to move beyond previous, more simplistic understandings of oppression to embrace the complexities that are necessary to understand in order to promote social justice.

Liberation/Critical Psychology

Like critical race theories, the basic premises of liberation psychology are to take a critical view of and challenge the accepted assumptions in the field of psychology. Liberation psychology had its genesis in liberation theology in Latin America, in which Biblical scriptures were reinterpreted with a focus on the poor (“a preferential option for the poor”) and on social justice. In the field of education, Paolo Freire (1970) insisted that this pedagogy “must be forged with and not for the oppressed” (p. 48), emphasizing a core principle that the work of those with privilege is not to liberate those who are oppressed but to join with them. This is best illustrated in the words of an Aboriginal woman, who said, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together” (Instituto Oscaro Romero, n.d.).

Asserting that traditional psychology serves to maintain the status quo in society, Prilleltensky (1989) charged psychologists to become aware of their ideological constraints and to deliberate on “what constitutes the ‘good society’ that is most likely to promote human welfare” (p. 799). A core strategy for achieving this goal is conscientization, “the process whereby people achieve an illuminating awareness both of the socieoeconomic and cultural circumstances that shape their lives and their capacity to transform that reality” (Freire, 1970, p. 51). Prilleltensky (1997) proposed an emancipatory communitarian approach “that promotes the emancipation of vulnerable individuals and that fosters a balance among the values of self-determination, caring and compassion, collaboration and democratic participation, human diversity, and distributive justice” (p. 517).

Counseling for Social Justice

Counseling psychology’s growing commitment to a social justice agenda parallels the rise in critical perspectives across a number of disciplines, including CRT and critical/liberation psychology. A commitment to social justice implies that counselors and psychologists look past the traditional narrow focus on counseling and psychotherapy and address societal

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concerns such as discrimination and oppression, privilege and power, equity and fair distribution of resources, liberty, and equality (Vera & Speight, 2003). Social justice work has long been on the agenda for feminist and multicultural therapists, despite the mainstreaming and professionalization of feminist therapy described above. “A social justice-informed psychologist seeks to transform the world, not just understand the world” (Vera & Speight, 2003, p. 261). Vera and Speight further suggested that such a transformation will require that psychologists rethink their training models, question their overdependence on “individual factors to explain human behavior” (p. 261), and expand the scope of their interventions beyond individual counseling. In particular, counseling psychologists need to reclaim our historical roots of prevention, person-environment interaction, and a focus on strengths; attend to larger-scale interventions in institutions such as schools and social systems; work to influence public policy; and engage in psychoeducation, community outreach, and advocacy.

Third-Wave Feminist Psychotherapy

The third wave of feminism in the United States is characterized by a generation of young women—and men—who have been raised with expectations of greater gender equality and freedom from oppression than women of the first and second waves experienced, along with greater awareness of diversity (Bruns & Trimble, 2001). Many second-wave feminists have expressed concerns that their efforts will have been in vain, that their “hard-won gains will be lost and the women’s movements of the twentieth century eliminated from the history books or relegated to the margins of history” (Kaschak, 2001, p. 1). Today’s young have learned about feminism in the halls of academe in women’s and gender studies courses rather than through the personal call to action initiated by incidents of overt discrimination—what second-wave feminists called the “click.” Believing that their consciousnesses had already been raised and that equal rights were a practical reality, third-wave feminists have been “shocked and amazed when affirmative action was first overturned and abortion rights challenged” (Bruns & Trimble, 2001, p. 27). Third-wave feminist psychologists and therapists have identified a number of issues that have implications for feminist mult icultural counseling and psychotherapy. Among them are the rejection of an economic model of power in which there are “haves” and “have-nots” in favor of one that is relational (i.e., power is shared), the incorporation of diverse narratives and experiences, and the need for mentoring from second- wave feminists (Bruns & Trimble, 2001). Rubin and Nemeroff (2001) wrote of “embodied contradictions of feminism’s third wave” (p. 92) in which young women are addressing the many contradictions of their lives (e.g., viewing gender inequality as a thing of the past while at the same time experiencing an antifeminist cultural backlash). In addition, as third-wave feminists identify their own feminist agendas, they “aim to disrupt, confuse, and celebrate current categories of gender, sexuality, and race” (p. 93). Bodies and body image are central issues in which the third-wave feminist movement is grounded.

Critical race/gender theories, liberation psychology, counseling for social justice, and third- wave feminism have in common an unapologetic analysis of power and oppression and a commitment to advocacy and activism. Together, they enhance current multicultural and feminist agendas and move the field closer to actualizing its social justice agenda.

Toward a Radical Feminist Multicultural Model of Counseling and Psychotherapy for Social Justice: Implementing Feminist Multicultural Counseling

The practice of feminist multicultural therapy for social justice integrates historic and contemporary feminist theory and therapy with increasingly complex understandings of

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multiculturalism, critical theories, and radical perspectives. It involves feminist multicultural perspect ives on assessment and diagnosis; the personal as pol i t ical , including consciousness-raising, conscientization, and demystification; an analysis of power in psychotherapy—power dynamics between client and therapist as well as issues of privilege and power in the life of the client; the importance of group work to empower clients; and political action and activism.

Feminist Multicultural Perspectives on Assessment and Diagnosis

How can we work in academe or mental health systems that characterize the dominant culture without participating in the conventional wisdom of mainstream counseling and psychotherapy practice? Brown (1994) identified the “master’s tools” (Lorde, 1984) as

expressions of dominant attempts to control and define the process of healing so that it does not threaten patriarchal hegemonies. These are the techniques used to classify people, to impose social control… tools that a feminist therapist may find herself required to learn about and use. (p. 179)

Diagnosis is one powerful example of such a process and system of techniques presented in the context of science and medicine as reality. As feminist multicultural therapists working for social justice, it is essential to call into question psychiatry’s sacred scripture (i.e., the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV]) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and other “master’s tools” to which we continue to subscribe.

Sinacore-Guinn (1995) proposed an approach to assessment and diagnosis that is culture- and gender-sensitive and that provides an alternative to traditional diagnostic models. She also provided a useful training model designed to assist students in learning how to make culture- and gender-sensitive diagnoses. Sinacore-Guinn proposed four broad categories that can be used to understand a client’s presenting problem(s): (a) Cultural systems and structures are considered broadly and include such variables as “community structure, family, schools, interaction styles, concepts of illness, life stage development, coping patterns, and immigration history” (p. 21); (b) Cultural values have five value orientations: time (focusing on past, present, or future), activity (doing, being, or developing and growing), relational orientation (individualistic, communal, or hierarchical), person-nature orientation (in harmony with, control over, or subjugated to), and basic nature of people (innately good or evil); (c) Gender socialization concerns what is considered gender-appropriate across cultures and how gender variance is pathologized; (d) finally, trauma is a far-reaching and life-changing event that must be considered within its social environmental and sociopolitical context. Trauma must be considered both in its more acute forms (e.g., sexual abuse and assault) as well as in its more insidious and chronic forms such as racism or homophobia.

A failure to explore the above-mentioned categories in depth with a client could easily lead to an inappropriate diagnosis or a misdiagnosis by DSM-IV standards. Misunderstanding a cultural value could result in misdiagnosis (e.g., a child whose culture is oriented toward “being” rather than “doing” might meet many of the criteria for attention deficithyperactivity disorder). In addition, counselors need to consider the possibilities of bicultural struggles or conflicts that could lead to misdiagnosis, recognizing that, as cultural variables are more diverse (e.g., multiple oppressions based on gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender expression), the struggle is more complex. It is troubling to speculate about the numbers of clients who are diagnosed and pathologized using DSM criteria when the presenting “symptoms” or problems could be explained and understood from the perspective of one’s

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cultural context, bicultural conflicts, and history and nature of trauma. From this broad perspective, a client’s “symptoms” may actually be a culturally appropriate, nonpathological management of cultural conflict. Only after an in-depth cultural analysis, which includes a consideration of bicultural conflict and trauma, can a diagnosis be made. Even then, it is important to call into critical question the existing systems of diagnosis and treatment, examining ways that they perpetuate oppression and injustice.

The Personal as Political, Including Consciousness-Raising, Conscientization, and Demystification

Consciousness-raising or conscientization engages people in an analysis of their sociocultural realities in such a way that they become better able to transform that reality. Part of this process involves demystification. Mystification was defined by McLellan (1995) as “the deliberate use [by the dominant group] of mystery, deceit, lies and half-truths for the purpose of presenting a false reality” (p. 146) in order to ensure the continued dominance of that group. Thus, consciousness-raising in the counseling setting engages clients in demystifying their experiences (e.g., workplace discrimination) so that they understand the systemic forces that affect them. Ideally, this process occurs in a group setting, whether the group is a political discussion forum such as those of the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a political action project (e.g., Freire), or feminist multicultural group counseling.

Analysis of Power in Psychotherapy

Feminist multicultural therapists examine with the client power dynamics between client and therapist as well as issues of privilege and power in the life of the client. Thus, differing statuses related to privilege and power in the therapy dyad—those related to gender, race/ethnicity, culture, class, sexual orientation, and so on, as well as those related to the therapist-client hierarchy itself—are raised by the therapist in order to provide a context for understanding how dynamics of oppression may operate in the therapy relationship. It is important that this examination take into account not only the therapist’s relative power but the client’s as well if, for example, the counselor is a person of color and the client is White.

In addition to examining power in the therapy relationship, feminist multicultural therapy assists clients in analyzing power in their l ives at the personal, interpersonal, and sociopolitical levels. Morrow and Hawxhurst (1998) defined empowerment as “a process of changing the internal and external conditions of people’s lives, in the interests of social equity and justice, through individual and collective analysis and action that has as its catalyst a political analysis” (p. 41). They argued that empowerment involved both analysis and action, similar to Freire’s (1970) notion of praxis, which combines reflection and action. Thus, consciousness-raising is accompanied by action taken on one’s own behalf in the interest of freedom.

The Importance of Group Work to Empower Clients

The centrality of group work for feminist therapists emerged, in part, from the consciousness- raising movement of the early 1970s. Groups help to reduce the power discrepancy between client and counselor, and group dynamics serve to better facilitate clients challenging the power and mystique of the facilitator. A basic assumption of feminist group work is that “women need to carve out their own space in what is essentially a hostile environment” (Butler & Wintram, 1991, p. 16). The same can be said about members of any oppressed group.

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Thus, a core aspect of feminist group work is safety and trust, which needs to be established early and revisited. The isolation of women, people of color, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) people, as well as abuse survivors, people with eating problems, and the like, is potentially alleviated in the group setting. One of the most powerful aspects of participating in a group is finding out one is not alone. Groups also provide support and friendship and are a door to creating community. Although this goal may seem at odds with counseling approaches that discourage contact among members outside of group sessions, we believe that providing the option for group members to meet outside of group helps to reduce dependency on group leaders as well as empowering members by providing them the opportunity to give and receive support as well as build a social network and community. Groups themselves are microcosms of societal dynamics; thus, issues of privilege, power, and oppression can be dealt with in an open environment in the group, with facilitators modeling intercultural communication and respect. When people are able to successfully address their experiences of isolation, alienation, and oppression within the group setting, they are empowered to take steps on their own behalf and that of others in the world outside.

Political Action and Activism

Of all the components of feminist multicultural counseling, counselors and therapists—even feminist therapists—struggle most with the idea of political action and activism. We propose two foci for activism: activism on the part of the therapist and action/activism on the part of the client. The two can converge in powerful ways.

Counselors and psychotherapists earn their living trying to heal the wounds inflicted by an unjust society. Feminist multicultural therapists consider it unethical to do so without taking steps to change social systems that oppress our clients. The Feminist Therapy Code of Ethics (Feminist Therapy Institute, 2000) states that the feminist therapist seeks avenues to effect social change and “recognizes the political is personal in a world where social change is a constant.” Many feminist therapists have removed themselves from political action in the feminist community in order to avoid overlapping relationships. Although feminist psychologists have led the way over time in the move to protect clients from therapists’ abuses, there are situations in which these overlaps can be empowering if processed carefully. When client and counselor work together to create sociopolitical change, some of the mystique surrounding the therapist is reduced and the client sees herself or himself as capable and competent.

Client action and activism occur on a number of levels. It may be necessary for many clients to take their first steps as activists on behalf of themselves or their families before it is realistic for them to engage in larger social, institutional, community, or political change. Although it is not necessary for all clients to engage at a larger political level, it is important to understand the exceptional potential for empowerment and transformation that accompanies participating in social change, both for oppressed people and for their allies. When activist efforts converge on the part of a client-counselor dyad in which one is a marginalized group member and the other a dominant group member, the consequences can be astounding for both. For example, when a heterosexual counselor and a lesbian or bisexual woman client work together for gay rights, the counselor’s commitments become more apparent, and the client is viewed by herself and her counselor as “the expert” in the activist work. Traditional therapeutic boundaries are challenged in an appropriate manner, and power in the counseling relationship moves toward a more egalitarian frame.

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Feminist Multicultural Counseling for Social Justice in Action

At the heart of feminist multicultural counseling for social justice is the premise that this work is not restricted to the one-to-one psychotherapy hour. The examples below demonstrate the integration of research, practice, and community-based social change (in Example 1) and of counseling, prevention, education, and community action (in Example 2).

Finding Voice: The Music of Battered Women

The first author of this chapter, Sue Morrow, was privileged to consult with a faculty member in music therapy, Elizabeth York, at a nearby university, on York’s qualitative investigation of the efficacy of music therapy and creative arts interventions with women who were part of a support group at the Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency (CAPSA). Dr. York took a feminist research standpoint, which she defined as “women speaking their truth” (York, 2004, p. 3). The researcher conducted participatory action research in which she and the regular CAPSA support group facilitator engaged with client participants using “women’s music” over a period of 9 months. The 40 women who participated contributed their original songs, stories, and poems and took an active part in creating an ethnographic performance piece in order to share their experiences of domestic violence with shelter workers and the public. Fifteen of the original 40 women took part in a transformation from “therapy group” to “performance group” (York, 2004, p. 11). The profound healing and empowerment experienced by these women were accompanied by physical improvement in posture and coordination, “vocal projection, emotional expression, and eye contact” (p. 12). In addition to seven public performances as of this writing, the “Finding Voice” group has produced a book of poetry and a CD of the performance.

Co-author Sue Morrow interviewed Beth York during the writing of this chapter to discuss the feminist multicultural aspects of this project, and Beth’s responses were thought-provoking. All of the women were White and English-speaking, ages 18–58, and all but one were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). Their socioeconomic statuses ranged from working to middle class. Beth described her process of dealing with her own biases—based on being a non-LDS woman in a predominantly LDS community—that led her to expect that these women would likely have accepted cultural norms and messages to remain in their marriages and that these women would have a more difficult time leaving battering relationships than non-LDS women. Beth dealt with the conflict between her feminism and wanting to respect the religious values of her participants. She shared with me her anger at the church for having inflicted these values on the women, but she took care to examine and manage her feelings by journaling; debriefing with her cofacilitator, who was LDS; and, as she put it, having a “crash course” in Mormonism. This raises again the issue of the potential conflict between feminism and multiculturalism and demonstrates how one woman managed this conflict in a social justice project.

University of Utah Women’s Resource Center

The University of Utah’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) offers a feminist therapy field practicum for graduate students in counseling psychology, professional counseling, and social work to receive training in feminist multicultural counseling. Co-authors Donna Hawxhurst, Ana Montes de Vegas, and Tamara Abousleman have worked together integrally with this practicum as trainer and students. The staff and practicum counselors at the WRC

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represent a broad diversity of ages, ethnicities, cultures, socioeconomic origins, and sexual orientations. The WRC has had a commitment over time to a multicultural agenda and has formed strong relationships with the University’s Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA) and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. Over time, its multicultural perspective has moved from a focus on multiculturalism as race/ethnicity to one that is more inclusive. A turning point was reached as the WRC staff (including support staff) and practicum counselors moved into a shared commitment to a process that includes social justice as a major part of its mission and a regular self-reflective process in which individuals present their biases in a context of self-reflection, communication, feedback, and critical honesty.

Feminist multicultural therapy training includes not only bias awareness, but also a critical consideration of traditional therapy issues such as diagnosis and assessment. Sinacore- Guinn’s (1995) model, described above, provides a framework for assessment and diagnosis at WRC, with trainees learning to look critically at traditional assessment modalities. Training staff and practicum counselors engage in this process by starting with themselves, looking at cultural issues and cross-cultural dilemmas, examining their own cultural values, identifying coping strategies, and looking at gender and trauma (including direct, indirect, and insidious) in preparation for assessing clients. In conjunction with WRC, co-author Tamara Abousleman has developed a feminist multicultural outcome assessment tool for use specifically in feminist multicultural counseling environments.

Counselors are trained not just to provide individual counseling, but to conduct groups. Groups at WRC are open to community members as well as students, faculty, and staff at the university. In addition, a significant component of the training program involves outreach, prevention, and social action programs designed to make changes in the university or the larger community environment. The WRC partners with CESA, the LGBT Center, and the International Student Center to create programs and groups that will meet the needs of women who fall outside the groups traditionally served by campus women’s centers— predominantly White, middle-class women who are either nontraditional students (women returning to education) or already feminists. These partnerships have led to an International Women’s Support Social hosted at WRC for international women students and wives of international male students, a movie series for young lesbian and bisexual women, and a focus group for women of color to explore issues related to campus climate.

One example of the integration of therapy training, outreach, prevention, and programming is in the area of violence against women, where the WRC takes a multifaceted approach. In addition to specific training in feminist therapy seminar in working with victims and survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence, staff and practicum counselors participate in Peers Educating to End Rape, most recently implementing a 40-hour on- campus training for sexual assault crisis advocacy training with a particular focus on involving campus services to students who might be at risk or unlikely to seek help. The training is designed to develop competencies in dealing with victims of sexual assault and to raise the consciousness of the university community about violence against women. This program is especially important because it creates partnerships with men who become involved as allies by working with young men on campus in prevention outreach, calling into question male socialization to perpetuate violence. In addition, the WRC partners with community agencies such as the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the YWCA’s Women in Jeopardy Program for battered women in collaborative efforts to end violence against women and serve the needs of female victims and survivors.

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In conclusion, feminist multicultural counseling for social justice offers a unique perspective to the development of counseling psychology in which the complexities of an increasingly diversified population and important social needs call for something more than “talking therapy.” As counseling psychology revisits its roots in prevention and psychoeducation, feminist therapists must reclaim their roots as activists and multicultural counselors must move beyond knowledge, awareness, and skills to social action. Feminist multicultural counseling for social justice offers the potential to bring the best of all three traditions into alignment to contribute to meaningful and lasting change.

Susan L.MorrowDonna M.HawxhurstAna Y.Montes de VegasTamara M.AbouslemanCarrie L.Castañeda Authors’ Note: Correspondence concerning this chapter should be addressed to Susan L. Morrow, University of Utah-Educational Psychology, 1705 E. Campus Center Dr. Rm. 327, Salt Lake City, UT 84112–9255. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to

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