Gone are the days when psychotherapy was limited to the confines of a dank office, wherein someone, often in a position of social and economic privilege, (i.e. almost always an older white male), listened as we droned on about our mothers twice a week, passively taking clandestine notes.
Therapy has changed a lot since the days of Freud, and so have therapists and the clients they see. While the oppression of women is still very much alive, psychology has progressed enough that we can now laugh collectively at archaic theories like “penis envy,” and “hysteria.” The transformation of therapy is evidenced in any good clinical training program: counsellors and psychologists are expected to be proficient at understanding and how gender, race, social context, and economic status contribute to a person’s experience, expression of self, and/or mental health.
Although many therapists would like people, especially their clients, to believe they are unbiased — a perfectly clear reflective mirror — that is not the case. It’s not even possible. We all have an agenda — how aware we are of that bias contributes to our ability to be effective and ethical as therapists.
As such, I want you to know me — and all of my biases and agendas — up front.
My name is Hillary and I will be answering your questions each month, starting in February, as part of a column we’re calling, “Feminist Therapy.”
I’m a licensed psychotherapist working the Vancouver area, and am currently completing a PhD in Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. I have training as a generalist, which means I am trained to treat anyone and most issues, but have specialized training and experience in feminist therapies, women’s experiences, and trauma therapy. I also do research in these areas, and work hard to make sure that everything I learn in my research informs what I do in my practice, and vice versa.
Although those are important pieces of working as a licensed mental health professional, what is often most important for people to know is that I am, and have been for many years now, in therapy. That means I know what it’s like to be both on and off “the couch” — everything I ask my clients to do, I have also done. This helps me be aware, in particular, of the power dynamics, vulnerability, and trust, inherent in a therapist-client relationship.
For me, being a therapist has never been about finding a way to act out a savior complex on someone else who I believe needs me in order to be whole. Rather, I see it as a place to travel together — to not be alone — in the midst of whatever it is we are struggling with.
I also believe therapy is a political act. Most of us have been silenced repeatedly over the course of our lives, ranging from literally being told to shut up, to being made to feel like our opinions or even our presence wasn’t valued. So finding our voice, taking up space, and asking to be listened to, are fierce acts of defiance and liberation.
That is what happens in the process of therapy, and that is what we will be bringing to Feminist Current in this new column.
On the last Friday of every month, I will be answering a selection of questions you have emailed or tweeted over the course of the month. If any particular themes have emerged in the questions, I will try to address those too. I won’t be able to answer every question, but will do my best to honour your experiences and voices.
This will not be your average advice column — by asking questions, sharing your stories, and asking for help, this can be an act of resistance.
You can send your questions for Hillary, our Feminist Therapist, to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with the subject: “Feminist Therapy,” or tweet her @hillarylmcbride using the hashtag, #feministtherapy. (We will anonymize your questions, unless you specifically ask us to include your name.)