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Overview

Counselors practice multiple forms of feminist counseling today, basing their work on the unique combination of their feminist orientation and their counseling approach (Dutton- Douglas & Walker, 1988). Therefore, feminist counseling is highly personal for the counselor because it originates in the counselor's personal beliefs concerning the empowerment of women and changing social norms that inhibit women from self-direction. The goals of feminist counseling are basically twofold: to help clients understand that sociopolitical forces influence their lives and to understand how women's problems can be interpreted as methods of surviving rather than as signs of dysfunction. The overall purpose of feminist counseling, however, is to help clients change by making choices based on their own personal experiences and strengths (Enns, 2004). The process of change includes the development of self-help skills and tools that allow clients to problem-solve in the absence of the counselor. The feminist counselor helps the client explore how problems exist in both personal and social contexts (Enns, 2004), thus demonstrating that change must occur at both a personal level and a social level.

Feminist counseling can be particularly effective with certain "mental disorders" that are commonly diagnosed among women in society. Feminist counselors use a feminist analysis with alternative diagnostic systems (Kincade, Seem, & Evans, 1998). They consider the social meanings of diagnosis, broadening the focus to a more complex understanding of the client's experience and distress within a cultural context. The client is the expert member of the therapeutic dyad who is knowledgeable about her or his own distress and its social meaning (Brown, 1994).

The basic tenets of feminist counseling are widely accepted. Feminist counselors practice from self-chosen models developed from their philosophical views about social justice and equality coupled with their theoretical orientation to counseling. Feminist counselors operate from a complex knowledge base that includes the psychology of women; counseling and psychotherapy theory; perspectives on gender, race, and class; sociopolitical change strategies; and multicultural issues (Enns, 2004). This knowledge base is reflected in the goals, intervention strategies, and research agendas of feminist practitioners.

 
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