Often I am asked why I chose to focus my psychotherapy practice on the support of self-identified women and girls, and I always appreciate the question because it prompts me to pause and consider my journey. The truth is, I didn’t think this is the work I would be doing in the world.
In fact, my previous experience in community mental health agencies had almost entirely focused on the emotional health of boys who were tangled up in foster care and/or juvenile justice systems, as well as facing extensive systematic oppression. It was humbling work that felt important, and I’d be remiss if I said I don’t miss it sometimes.
But in the last election cycle things shifted for me. Like all of you, I watched as an unqualified man spewed misogynistic and racist slurs, while admitting to sexual assault – and still he was elected as president.
I’ll spare you the play-by-play recap, but for me it was heartbreaking and enraging. In the weeks that followed it became clear to me that I wanted my practice to support the so-called nasty women and girls in the world. To provide a space for them to express, heal and cultivate resiliency, and to unapologetically become the fullest versions of themselves.
The opening of my private practice happened to coincide with the inauguration of Donald Trump and the Women’s March in late January 2017. I knew definitively that I wanted to work from an intersectional feminist therapy framework, which is psychotherapy speak for an approach that takes into account not only the personal experiences of clients, but also their unique social and political experiences.
While the field of psychotherapy has historically pathologized women (think: Hysteria), intersectional feminist therapy shifts the power balance by placing the client as the expert of her own experience, views the therapeutic relationship as collaborative and embraces a commitment to equality. This way of working feels natural to me, and revolutionary.
To be sure, the issues women and girls face existed long before the election of Donald Trump (as did the issues facing all marginalized people), and still in our lives we may have pivotal moments, whether they be casual conversations or historical events, that make our paths clear. For me, this was one of them.
Now a year and a half later, I can’t say that politically things are looking any better. This was a rough week for those of us that are worried about reproductive rights … or human rights for that matter, but I continue to hold the hope as I bare witness to stories of wounding, healing and resiliency.
I hope you will tell your own stories, listen to others and seek support when you need it. I am here. Others are here. These are not easy times, but we are strong and I believe we will persist.
Till Next Time,
In January’s e-newsletter I highlighted the work of Bay Area artist Courtney Privett . You may not know her by name, but if you were at all present on social media the months leading up to and following the first Women’s March, you’ve probably seen at least some of her art. Privett uses imagery combined with text to draw attention to the harmful messages women receive filtered through different levels of privilege (i.e. race, ability, body type, sexual orientation and so on). The talented Brazilian artist Carol Rosetti, shown above, does the same, while focusing on everyday acts of women’s resistance to those messages.
I remember seeing their art for the first time, along with many artists who are doing similar types of work, and thinking: Yes! That’s exactly it. This is why I have dedicated my psychotherapy practice to the support of girls and women*.
I witness (and, admittedly, experience) the emotional toll toxic messages take on even the most resilient women and girls, such as lowered self-esteem, pervasive worry, emotional depletion, difficulty speaking up … just to name a few.
For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just a few incremental daily practices that women and girls can incorporate to help cultivate a feeling of personal power in a world that often negates our attempts. Some of these practices may seem foreign and even uncomfortable at first, so I encourage you to be patient with yourself if you choose to give them a try and seek additional support if needed.
And lastly, if you are interested in exploring the theme of personal power more deeply, you are invited to attend Your Powerful Self: An Expressive Arts Workshop for Self-Identified Women in June 2018. No arts experience is necessary to participate. Please feel free to message me with questions or to register. I hope to meet you there!
As always please feel free to leave comments and suggestions below. You never know whom you may help.
Till next time,
Three Strategies for Cultivating Personal Power
Reclaiming Mental Space
I’m too ___. I haven’t achieved enough ____. If only I was ______. What do you spend your days thinking about? If you are already aware of the messaging you’ve internalized and want to reclaim and/or shift that energy, replacement thoughts (aka affirmations) are a great way to start. For a creative spin on affirmations (and one of my favorite art therapy directives), you can take a deck of blank art cards (available at most art supply stores) and create your own deck of affirmation cards with images and matching affirmations of your choosing to review regularly. Check out an example below.
Reclaiming Physical Space
To varying degrees, women and girls are taught their bodies and personal space are not their own. As a woman, you may notice this when someone you barely know puts a hand on your shoulder to get a point across, or someone simply stands too close for comfort. In childhood, girls often experience boundary violations through forced hugging, rather than adults asking for their consent first.
I often encourage my clients to practice stating feelings, needs and requests associated with physical space. This intervention is rooted in Non Violent Communication (NVC) and may sound something like: “I feel uncomfortable when you stand so close. I need space. Can you give me some space?”
I want to acknowledge NVC may not feel right for everyone, and in some cases may not even feel safe to practice. I encourage my clients to trust themselves. Often, simply noticing your relationship to space or physically moving yourself when you notice feelings of discomfort, are solid first steps in reclaiming what’s yours.
Tracking Emotional Labor
How often do you find yourself pulled into a support role without full consent or reciprocity? The concept of emotional labor is becoming increasingly common as more attention is paid to the unacknowledged roles women take up in their homes, offices and community spaces. The women and girls I work with are not always ready to make sweeping changes, and in some cases, are ready, but for many reasons aren’t yet able.
That said, begin where you are; small steps add up over time.
Notice when you’re extending yourself due to conditioning or unspoken expectation. Is someone at work asking to “pick your brain” when you have already have an endless to do list? Do casual acquaintances seek emotional support when you haven’t consented to do so? These are times to reclaim the moment and know your limits. If setting boundaries feels too overwhelming, offsetting the impact of emotional labor with increased self-care, whatever you perceive self-care to be, is another good starting point. For some ideas on simple self-care practice check out my previous blog post!