Dealing With Sex and Power in Feminist Counselling

Like all counsellors, feminist counsellors address the problems and confusions that are at the heart of the client’s current difficulties. However, feminist counsellors seek to help clients grow in awareness as to how their lives have been affected and curtailed by living in a male-dominated society. Hence, many issues that are raised by a client are explored, not only in terms of the woman’s personal experiences and relationships, but also in terms of gender stereotypes and power-relations.

From how women feel about their bodies, to how women’s sexuality is exploited, abused and trivialised, feminist counsellors explore these issues with clients to give them a greater picture of how their own problems, fears, and sense of inferiority are closely entwined with patriarchal values and social constructions.

Sex and Power

Unlike mainstream counsellors, feminist counsellors explore the ways in which sex and relationships are connected to politics. In terms of sex-roles and stereotypes, both socialised sex and politics are both inextricably bound up with power. For millennia, women have been exploited in patriarchal cultures (Vesel-Mander and Kent-Rush: 1974, 22). Worell and Remer (1992, 92) view feminist therapy as focusing on helping clients identify the influence of social rules, sex-role socialisation, institutionalised sexism and other kinds of oppression on personal experience. Feminists of all backgrounds converge on the fact that every area of a woman’s life is affected by gender inequalities. Women’s bodies and their sexuality is the arena where patriarchal control and violence is most commonly displayed.

Women are faced with many opposing images and views of female sexuality. For centuries women were categorised as virgin, mother or whore. Within all major religions female sexuality is viewed as a temptation, leading innocent males towards sin. Patriarchal laws devised ways of controlling female sexuality, making it permissible only within the sanctity of marriage. In Victorian England a woman who enjoyed or pursued sexual pleasure was labelled mentally sick, was often committed to an asylum or was deemed to be in need of a gruesome operation to make her sexually passive, so that she could no longer enjoy sex. Since the 1960s a woman is often deemed to be liberated only if she is having sex with many partners (Worell and Remer (1992).

Feminist counsellors explore these deeply powerful and contradictory stereotypes with clients, teasing out how they have affected women’s choices, and the expression of their needs and feelings. According to Vesel-Mander and Kent-Rush (1974, 51), feminism seeks to bring out the validity of the woman’s own experience, and to challenge society’s artificial norms about what women should and should not want sexually.

Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence

Many feminist counsellors specialise in working with women who have suffered sexual abuse or violence. Sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence and pornography are crimes that are viewed by feminists as ways in which the patriarchy keeps women frightened and controlled. Feminist counsellors will not only explore the woman’s personal experience of abuse but will also look at society’s values and stereotypes that create male abusers and female victims.
Women who have been raped may agonise over what it was in their dress or behaviour that precipitated the attack, a question that would be considered ludicrous in any other violent crime. Feminist counsellors work with their clients to help them realise that the crime was in no way instigated by them. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence and sexual abuse against women. This violence is not about isolated incidents, but occurs in many contexts, from private and familial, to public (Walsh and Liddy: 1989).

MacLeod (1990, 1) is highly critical of the counselling which women who have suffered domestic violence receive from mainstream counsellors. She states that “mainstream treatment approaches used in social service or health agencies and by private medical, psychological and social work practitioners have been attacked for blaming the woman.” She goes on to add that mainstream counsellors often look for weaknesses or pathologies within the woman to explain the violence, minimising or ignoring the responsibility of the violent partner for his actions, and overlooking the social values and institutions that condone violence against women and children. Criticism of mainstream counselling is also made by MacLeod (1990) for its failure to understand the seriousness of the violence and the continued danger many abused women experience, even after separating or divorcing from a violent partner. Also, mainstream counselling often emphasises treatment based on keeping the family together, while failing to recognise the power imbalance that exists between men and women which reinforces abuse (MacLeod, 1990, 2).

Body Image

The way in which women are portrayed in advertising and pornography is also addressed by feminist counsellors. Women are groomed by culture to view themselves as objects, which must match a particular shape and style to fit in with perceived notions of beauty and desire. Despite all the political advances which feminists have achieved over many decades, women still learn to judge their worth by their physical appearance, bodies, faces, hair and clothes (Wolfe: 1991).

Feminist counsellors view such issues as low self-esteem due to poor body image, the use of cosmetic surgery for non-medical treatment, and such problems as bulimia and anorexia nervosa as being largely the result of patriarchal conditioning and exploitation. Psychotherapist, Susie Orbach (1993) explores the reasons why many women become anorexic. In the United States alone, one hundred and fifty thousand women die from the effects of anorexia. For Orbach (1993) the psychological roots of this form of self-inflicted violence are embedded when the woman initially tries to transform her body into that which will be acceptable to society. She surpasses society’s demands that a woman be thin and desirable and instead goes on a form of hunger strike, trying to control even her most basic need for food as she has been brought-up to deny her emotional needs.

Feminist counsellors seek to help a woman begin to nurture herself, to learn to love and respect her own body. This helps the woman to grow in self-esteem, and to regain her sense of internal power. Vesel-Mander and Kent-Rush (1974, 56) recommend that feminist counsellors use body therapies because a great deal of women’s oppression is biological. As a result of centuries of negative programming, women need to do a great deal of healing on their bodies and body images.

What To Expect From Gay Counseling

If you’re considering counseling, you might be a little unclear about what you can expect. Your uncertainty is probably higher if you identify yourself as gay or lesbian. Read on if you’ve had trouble finding the right counselor or just have questions about getting started in therapy.

Trust And Acceptance From A Well-Chosen Counselor

If you choose a counselor carefully, you’ll find one with a high level of acceptance of the gay and lesbian population. Instead of seeming uncomfortable or avoiding challenging sexual topics, your counselor will be able to truly work with you. They’ll be aligned with you through any problem you face. Any questions or uncertainties will be addressed with respect and honesty.

This is the way it should be for all counseling experiences, but people seeking gay counseling often have greater challenges finding good support. When you feel respected and accepted from the start, you’ll have an easier time building trust with your counselor. With more trust, you’ll be more likely to open up with difficult issues and follow their recommendations. Take care in the first few sessions to be sure your counselor is a good fit for you.

Specific Understanding Of Gay and Lesbian Challenges

Whether you are coming to counseling as an individual or as a couple, you’ll want to find a therapist with training and experience working with the gay and lesbian population. They’ll simply have a better understanding about the stressors and mental health risks you may be facing. You may have faced bullying, depression, or even suicidal thoughts in your past.

Many people who identify as gay or lesbian have had struggles with their personal identity or have felt confused about their sexuality. Even if you need gay counseling for something like anxiety or bipolar disorder, your sexuality has likely played a part in your struggle. A counselor who really understands this can help you face your concerns with warmth and support. This expertise can be invaluable if you’ve often felt left out, confused, or stressed because of how you identify your sexuality.

Good Couples Counseling

No matter how sexuality plays a part, intimate relationships require a lot of effort from each partner. A couple is likely to face a lot of ups and downs both together and as individuals. These challenges can toss any relationship upside down from time to time. While gay couples do have some special concerns, they also just need good couples counseling at times.

Each partner in a relationship has their own personal history and their history as a couple. They may have job problems, family issues, questions about the future of the relationship, and many other stressors. A counselor can help each partner sort out the issues, understand how these have affected the relationship negatively, and help the partners open up to each other. If you feel like this is something that could help your relationship, know that there are very good counseling options for you.

Breaking the Vicious Spell of Sexual Addiction

One might have fantasized about the gorgeous women they ever laid their eyes on but if someone went ahead to conquer each and every such woman in an endless but a methodical quest then such an individual might be considered to be prone to sexual addiction. Though, it may not sound like a life threatening situation but the social and the psychological implications of this condition will make you think otherwise.

Sex addiction has a major difference than other types of addictions like alcohol or drug addiction as it involves the act of sex which is a normal activity that is performed regularly unlike consuming alcohol or drugs. However, sexual addiction is basically all about engaging in a relentless pursuit of sexual pleasure despite the knowledge of its consequence to oneself and others. It is an addiction that can permanently damage a person but just like all other addictions it too can be cured with the right treatment.

An essential key to the right treatment of sex addiction lies in understanding the key reasons behind the addiction. There can be various causes like early exposure to inappropriate sexual activity or materials or physical, sexual and emotional abuse especially during childhood or the adolescence period. Growing up in rigid and disengaged families also can contribute to the development of sexual addiction in an individual as such families tend to ignore, restrict or make the child feel inadequate and as a failure. Thus in such circumstances the child tries to escape from his family issues and resorts to sexual fantasies like masturbation or engaging in covert sex early in life to escape from the tensions.

Addiction recovery in such cases starts with helping one to stop that behavior first. All this can be done by attending these recovery oriented support meetings or to maintain a support system via a therapist or a support group with the back up of a sponsor. Also some professional doctors can offer counseling and therapy in cases of sex addiction but the role of family and friends in encouraging and supporting the individual is instrumental in faster treatment. Also, the infamous 12 step sex program for treating addictions states sexual addiction as the most difficult to master is it would involve an extremely dedicated approach to treat the addiction. However, one of the most effective ways to conquer sexual addiction is by counseling strategies like individual counseling, group counseling, counseling of the addict’s partner and couple counseling. The motive of these counseling sessions is to help not only the addict but also the partner or the spouse who faces trauma due to the addiction.

Prior to treatment a person caught in sexual addiction might perform sexual acts to feel safe, comfortable and accepted but it is one condition that separates an individual from everything in life that a person holds dear. And the only way one can break out from a situation that will destroy one’s social structure is by going through addiction recovery. While alcohol and drugs have to be bought, sex is a normal experience and this recovering from an addiction based on a routine act is difficult without help.