Feminist Therapy and Counselling
Various traditional gender responsibilities and roles interdependencies significantly impact men and women as therapists or clients in the societies they live in. Gestalt therapy identifies several aspects of gender; they include principal functions of dialogic relationship, types of disorders, type of abuse, male-female gatherings, psychotherapeutic efficacy, selection of therapist, and transference spectacles. The gender-specific factors of education, class, family, and ethnicity interact with the unique group sex and biography gender.
Perceiving human nature on the ground of feminist theoretical aspects involves innate capacities, abilities, and motivational concepts. Thus, it significantly differs from many approaches to psychotherapy. Feminist explanations are grounded on diversity in behaviors during socialization, therefore warrantying that human development is a continuous process. Dissimilar to Gestalt therapy, the feminist conception of pathology or maladjustment is based on sexism and oppression, and the client lacks a sense of personal power. As indicated by Joyce & Sills (2018), undesirable behavior stems from mental torture and the socio-political status assigned to individuals, believing that many social problems and societies are oriented to males, hence splitting up developmental paths between women and men. Based on Gestalt theory, a well-functioning individual should identify any oppressive force in his/her and find new ways of achieving goals and aspirations. Such people should act as interdependent parts of the community and can exhibit tenderness and toughness.
Most concepts of Gestalt therapy integrate the belief in a therapeutic environment, which lacks biased assumptions concerning females and other oppressed or marginalized populations. Feminists seem to concur with the Gestalt approach because they focus on social equity and interests. Besides, they perceive therapy as a shared life-changing path for the client and therapist, believing that every patient can effectively and constructively move forward.
From the feminists’ perspective, the client-therapist relationship’s structure affects the effective and responsible use of power. The inclusion of victims in both the assessment and treatment processes and keeping the relationship balanced as much as possible is the defining idea of patient-therapist relationships. Nonetheless, although they criticize various therapeutic approaches, feminists are well acquainted with the strategies they might abuse their powers in a therapeutic setting, for example, diagnosing when it is unnecessary. In many instances, diagnosing when not necessary happen without the awareness of the client. It occurs through offering advice or even disregarding the impact of power balance between therapist-client conversations. A feminist’s therapeutic exercise goals involve empowerment, valuing, and promoting equality and change rather than adjustment, self-nurturance, affirming diversity, attaining social change, and balancing between independence and interdependence. This feminist therapy’s chief goal is to help clients perceive themselves as important change agents in their lives and that of other people.
OVERVIEW OF GESTALT THERAPY
Gestalt therapy refers to the patient-centered approach of psychotherapy. It focuses on the present, helping clients to understand current proceedings in their lives rather than dwelling on their past encounters. Instead of discussing past events in the patient’s life, the therapist helps the patient to re-enact the events as though they are occurring in the present time. Gestalt therapy equips clients with skills that enhance their self-awareness skills in harmful behaviors, patterns, and thoughts that interfere with their happiness. This approach can help clients suffering from mental issues like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and physical ones like ulcerative colitis, back spasms, and migraine headaches. According to Öztürk (2019), Gestalt therapy suits clients who intend to improve their self-awareness. Nevertheless, they may fail to understand their role in their unhappiness and discomfort. The gestalt approach integrates art, bodywork, dance, and many other therapies to improve clients’ quality of life.
The term Gestalt has its origin in Germany, meaning the whole. Fritz Perls is the founder of Gestalt therapy. He founded the approach on the idea that people exist as a whole package with the body, soul, and mind as its components. His concept can be comprehended when human beings are evaluated by fetching their past into the present. He believed that to get rid of unresolved anxiety, pain, resentment, anger, or pain, these emotions should be actively demonstrated in the present moment instead of discussing them, failure to which psychological and physical symptoms will manifest. Perls maintained that people ought not to live to other people’s expectations. By improving self-awareness, Perls’ model promotes self-understand among patients, helping them establish the impact of their decisions on their relationships and health. Knowledge gained from Gestalt therapy helps individuals to comprehend the development and connections between their emotional and physical selves and hence start addressing their problems appropriately. Despite its benefits, this therapy has received a lot of criticism from scholars who feel it oppresses and undermines women.
Concepts of Feminism
Feminists maintain that an individual is politically sensitive, an idea that originates from the assumption that personal problems that clients present with for therapy stem from both political and social settings. Their approaches emphasize changing both individuals and societies. They highly honor and value the approaches and voices of women and girls, and the assertions of other individuals who have experienced marginalization and oppression, “traditional approaches such as Gestalt operate on heterosexist norms, androcentric embedded in the white middle-class heterosexual culture and describe marginalized groups and women as deviant” (Para, 2018). In contrast to Gestalt therapy, the relationship counseling that feminists promote advocates for equality and characterizes authenticity and mutuality. In this context, it considers respect as a fundamental element.
They give more attention to the restructured explanation of mental oppression and its strength because feminism is conflicted and ambivalent with the diagnostic model and labeling psychological heal issues. Historically, women assumed the roles of secondary citizens. Their power was limited, and they were predestined for positions that made them submit to men. These roles forced women to center their worth and value to the socialized levels to which they were relegated. Feminists dispute such purposes and advocate for girls and women’s equality through empowerment to help them reclaim their strength and power to transform into important change agents. Therefore, they disapprove of Gestalt therapy for its failure to promote gender equality.
From this perspective, men can also serve as feminist therapists, and the same kind of therapy can apply to male clients. Hence, male feminists must be sensitive to and own the privileges of their male gender, and must be willing to criticize any sexist elements both in themselves and other males, “It can be argued that the Gestalt approach does not attempt to redefine femininity and masculinity based on different elements instead of traditional values” (Fogarty, 2017). Every therapist needs to advocate for equal relationships by being proactive in supporting women’s determination and struggles to create a just society. The principles and practices of feminist psychology assist male patients, individuals from different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, and people devoted to fighting social injustice in therapeutic settings.
In contrast with the Gestalt approach, feminist approaches emphasize empowering the client by stressing the significance of self-disclosure. From this viewpoint, it is right to state that the Gestalt approach fails to use self-disclosure in the best interest of the clients they handle. Therefore, the approach fails to balance patient-counselor relationships, normalize women’s collective experiences, establish informed consent, and empower clients. Assessment of social identity must be the benchmark of any therapeutic exercise. Evaluation of gender roles helps patients identify the effect of the socialization of their gender roles on their values, thoughts, and behavior. Gestalt therapy perceives clients as having psychological challenges or as sick.
Supports of Gestalt therapy do not believe that victimization or suffering from the biased system leads to the development and adaptation of survival techniques rather than coping strategies. The assessment of therapy progress involves a collaborative discussion between the client and therapist. In this scenario, the therapist must include the patient in the assessment and treatment processes. From the feminism viewpoint, Gestalt therapy fails to model the correct and responsible use of power. This occurs because most therapists who support this model are not aware of their power and how to regulate it when dealing with clients. Failure in this capacity means that proponents of the Gestalt approach do not motivate patients to express their feelings adequately and identify ways of practice their power. Midden reiterates that feminism is strong multiculturally given that it protects the rights of individuals, including women or minority populations. Nevertheless, feminists have incorporated the “the personal is political,” indicating that women’s personal experiences originate from gender inequality and their political situation (Kelly, 2008). On many occasions, therapists who embrace Gestalt therapy fail to work within the client’s culture; they fail to consider consequences and alternatives.
One of the limitations that feminists identify in the Gestalt approach to counseling and psychotherapy does not relate to the theory itself. Proponents of Gestalt therapy are gentler and less confrontational, and feminists relate this approach to Perls’ antics. They consider the approach as an integration of different assumptions, partly Freud, and a little Jung. It is analytically realized that there are several ways of implementing Gestalt therapy, and some counselors dilute its practice. The therapy can easily tempt inexperienced therapists to use processes such as an empty chair without sufficient user training, locating feelings, dog-underdog, and figure-round. However, none of these techniques is valuable in effective addressing of the patient’s needs.
Furthermore, the techniques mentioned above evoke excessive emotions harmful to the client if misused or abused by an inexperienced counselor. Some therapists use Gestalt therapy in integration with other techniques to form a hybrid approach of counseling that does not align with Gestalt theory’s tenets. On many occasions, the techniques they incorporate conflict with Gestalt therapy, and they are unrealistic. The majority of feminists strongly believe that the client’s cognitive process in psychotherapy and other practices associated with psychiatric counseling, but proponents of the theory overlook cognition by focusing more on feeling.
Feminism emphasizes that Gestalt therapy’s holistic nature and its accommodation for the counselor’s creativity when attending to the patient’s needs focus more on present patterns of healthcare specialization. Besides, several female therapists have contended Gestalt does not effectively involve behavioral contracting during treatment, limiting its application in managed care environments. Conversely, feminist therapists (women and men) suppose that Gestalt therapy’s holistic nature is one of its most fascinating elements regardless of the limitations highlighted. In contrast with empirical scientific approaches, it provides several alternatives to promote the client’s development towards good health, thus improving his/her quality of life.
Gestalt therapy is not appropriate for every client because some individuals find it harsh and confronting, making them unable to return for subsequent visits. Its efficacy is restricted to the ability to influence the patient; nevertheless, clients are unique, and the counselor should be flexible when treating patients. In this approach, therapists consider interaction more important than the problem. Feminists consider this valuable in addressing family issues, divorce, anxiety, adjustment disorders, and many other inter-relational problems like personality disorders. Feminist therapists do not Gestalt can effectively address depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar. It is similarly inappropriate for clients with several psychological illnesses because they need to be sufficiently willing or stable to understand what is happening to themselves and their sub-conscious. Gestalt approach fails to encourage clients to participate in social activism for more empowerment, which is a key aspect of feminism. In their argument against Gestalt therapy, feminists maintain that it is a product of one individual. They maintain that it involves some aspects of Perls’ personality (weaknesses), which rendered it limited.
Feminist therapists consider Gestalt therapy as self-centered. Hence, it only focuses on the client’s development, with a higher likelihood of counselors misusing their power with the client, given that it does not involve assessment and diagnosis (Mann, 2020). Feminism advocates applying a medical approach when addressing individual illusions or hallucinations resulting from drug or substance abuse. Nevertheless, Gestalt therapists consider illusions and delusions as normal aspects of an individual, and the counselor encourages discussions centered on the client’s feelings, disregarding how anomalous some may consider them. There is no immediate solution on this ground because a patient needs to trust the therapist before taking part in the therapeutic process.
Gestalt does not align with feminists’ aim to achieve equality and minimize suffering. The approach can be intensive and traumatic because the client may discover things concerning him/herself which s/he was not conscious of in the past. Perls’ model is also moralistic because it encourages patients to think instead of allowing them to think freely, making it scientifically questionable. Without a doubt, Gestalt therapy cannot contribute to or buoy up the field of psychotherapy and perfectly suit the modern sphere of clinical psychology because it lacks the fundamentals to fit in mainstream psychology.
Gender is a crucial aspect of feminism. Some individuals consider gender and biological sex the same. Although the majority of people identify their gender in this perspective, a good number do not. Various things like attitude, stereotypes and biases, social norms, expectations, and experiences influence gender. Feminist therapists focus on gender stereotypes to assist their clients in establishing how gender socialization affects them. As a result, they d Gestalt therapy because it is not tailor-centered. It handles women and men the same, overlooking their gender-specific needs. The majority of societies are subject to gender stereotypes that usually lead to problematic attitudes concerning a particular gender, resulting in discrimination, trauma, oppression, and many other undesirable experiences. Gestalt therapy does not consider key feminism aspects, including analysis and intervention of gender roles, power assessment, social action, and power assessment.
By Shadrack Wandera