Many of the men that are largely considered the ‘fathers’ of psychotherapy are household names. Names like Freud, Jung, Rogers, for example, are known by most people. Less well known are the names of the ‘mothers’ of psychotherapy like Gilligan, Miller, Klein, Chodorow, Satir, to name a few. History has long elevated men’s voices and achievements over women’s voices and achievements, and the psychotherapy profession is no exception. The counseling and human development theories student counselors learn in college are largely developed by men, which means that student counselors learn how to understand their female clients through these male theorists’ eyes. Even though this has been an accepted and unquestioned norm for a long time, there is a growing awakening and resistance amongst female counselors against this patriarchal thinking.
Women have changed the counseling professions since they entered it in droves during the 1970’s. Ilene Philipson writes in On the Shoulders of Women that by the early 1980’s more women were graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology than men. As women created counseling offices in office buildings and their homes, therapy became more available and affordable. The psychology profession that was once built on male interpretation, which meant men interpreting female thoughts, feelings, desires, needs, and rights, had to change to incorporate these new female clinicians.
But change is slow! The age-old patriarchal thinking that views men as the thinkers, leaders, writers, speakers, and theorists and women as the listeners and caregivers is resistant to change. Philipson also notes in On the Shoulders of Women how female theorists have struggled to be invited to speak at conferences; and at one family therapy conference, Virginia Satir, the only female speaker, had to endure demeaning comments and a pat on her rear by Nathan Ackerman. Thankfully, through the efforts of #MeToo, this sexist behavior would not be tolerated today. Nathan Ackerman’s brilliant career might have ended very differently had he done this today.
Today, women still struggle to be heard in the counseling and marriage and family professions. Men still inhabit a high percentage of leadership and teaching positions, relative to their percentage in the profession. And male theorists still dominate the curriculum. We are living in a time of great social change as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #MakeWomenVisible, and #BelieveHer shine a much-needed spotlight on systemic racism and sexism. How we have been taught to see ourselves and each other is being questioned, and in my corner of the counseling world I am noticing that the age-old question “what do women want?” is finally being answered.
The Freudian thinking that makes a joke about why we should even concern ourselves with what women want, or tells women what they should want, is being challenged. Female clinicians no longer want to see themselves and their female clients being treated as an afterthought. They are demanding that female theorist and relational models of understanding human behavior and relationships be taught alongside the more traditional male theories, or, dare I suggest, given center stage where male thinking has presided for generations. And with this change, mothers and daughters are finally being given their own developmental narrative.
In Attachment Theory, for example, the narrative will no longer end with a diagnosis of the mother’s attachment pathology. Rather, the narrative will include the socio-cultural context in which a mother mothers, the harm the Culture of Female Service inflicts on women, mothers, and daughters (read The Mother-Daughter Puzzle); and that a mother’s mothering ability is limited by the financial, emotional, and practical support she receives.
I am hearing a groundswell of resentment amongst female colleagues about female theorists being relegated to the margins of the syllabus, to be covered as and optional extra if time allows. My students find me because they have woken up to the fact that mother-daughter attachment, a defining relationship in understanding women’s lives and emotional reality, was missing from their curriculum. They tell me how shocked they feel when they realize that women are missing from the curriculum, and how asleep they were to this knowing. Having woken up, these pioneering clinicians are seeing how they have been taught, as Linda Tarr-Whelan writes in Women Lead The Way”, to see their world, and their client’s world, “through men’s eyes” without realizing their own and their female client’s perspective is missing.
Rosjke Hasseldine is a mother-daughter relationship therapist, speaker, and author of The Silent Female Scream & The Mother-Daughter Puzzle. Rosjke teaches mental health professionals how to become a Certified Mother-Daughter Coach. www.rosjke.com