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Engendering Psychology and Psychotherapy

A Feminist Perspective

The current practice of psychotherapy can seem like a confusing psychological marketplace because it is in a process of profound change, paradigmatic change, change in our understanding of what change is. Neuroscience has made an important contribution to this process and so have feminist and multi-cultural psychology.

The first important shift away from 19th century psychological paradigms to ones that are relevant for the 21st century was pioneered by feminist psychology in the mid and late 20th century. Feminist psychology has been responsible for nothing less than a Copernican revolution in psychology, for demonstrating that no one gender or race or other societally privileged group is the center of the psychological universe or of psychological theory and practice.

Feminist psychology is often charged with being a narrow, specialized approach, applicable to what are myopically called "women's issues" It is precisely the opposite that is true. Feminist psychology is the most comprehensive theory and practice that we have today.

Feminist is not a specialty. It is an entirely different way of seeing everything. It is the practice of asking a previously unasked question-the question of gender. And not settling for the easy stereotyped answers. Asking of each answer-whose is it, how is it known, who is defined by psychology as normal and normative and whose answers to these questions are given a respectful hearing, are given credibility.

And looking for all the places that gender has been hidden or missing leads and has led inevitably to unearthing other central human experiences that have been ignored or defined as different from the dominant norm and, therefore, pathology by traditional clinical psychology.

Feminist psychology works exactly opposite to and against the reduction of human experience of the more traditional approaches. We can no longer search for a narrow reduced psychological cause, for that buried kernel of truth. Truth is not a kernel. It is complex and paradoxical and comes from different locations in life in addition to early childhood, in addition to life in the nuclear family. Feminist psychology involves noticing what you are not supposed to see, noticing whose perspective, whose experience, whose story is missing or untold, disbelieved or ridiculed, unspoken or unspeakable.

Engendering psychology has allowed a new and inclusive theory and practice that is based in the ordinary experience of women and men, girls and boys. It is a depth psychology and psychotherapy fully embedded in the very real social, cultural and political world in which we all develop and live. As simple as this seems, systems of psychotherapy have been able to do most everything except understand what ordinary experience is.

It is not only people who are gendered, but knowledge itself, psychology itself, psychotherapy itself. Psychopathology itself. And the question of gender is not just one of difference, but of the difference it makes to be a girl or a woman in a woman-hating and woman-consuming society. To be a boy or a man in a society in which aggression and violence is more a part of what is considered normal masculinity than is empathy or tenderness.

It is the work of feminist psychology to uncover the subtle and often unconscious ways that gender organizes psychological experience, psychological possibility and what our profession wrongly call “disorders”. Most of these disorders can be seen to be completely orderly outcomes of socialization and of the all too ordinary traumas that are organized by gender or race or class or sexual orientation. They are as orderly as can be and, if we must label, should be called STDs-socially transmitted diseases.

We can call on childhood experience, not for ultimate causes, but for better methodology. To return to the child's sense of outrage at unfairness, to return to that childlike vision of seeing what is right before us before we learn what not to see. To question and question and question. It is a daily practice. Embedded in the ordinary, in the engendering of our lives.

More from Ellyn Kaschak Ph.D.
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