The feminist therapist is in


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 or 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.)

Hillary McBride
Hillary McBride

Hillary McBride is a registered clinical counsellor working in the Vancouver area. She specializes in women's experiences and feminist therapy. Hillary is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, where she researches women's experiences using feminist methodologies. She is the author of "Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image: Learning to Love Ourselves as We Are" and recently won the International Young Investigator Award in Human Sexuality from Taylor & Francis for her research and clinical work on sexuality in mothers.

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  • Cassandra

    This is very, very interesting to me. I have had bad experiences with the last two female therapists I went to, therapists who did not want to hear about patriarchy. They never said so, but I know it made them uncomfortable. I literally did a search in my town for a “feminist” therapist, and while I found plenty of therapists who specialized in eating disorders, issues of sexual abuse, etc., from my experiences (not just the last two), it seems like they wanted to talk about anything BUT the fact that we live in a sick culture while still trying address the results of that culture, like avoiding acknowledging the elephant in the room. I got/get a bad feeling sometimes that it’s all about the Individual in psychology these days (like everything else), as if we live in a vacuum.

    In any case, I’m looking forward to this feature.

  • will

    I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work!!

  • rosearan

    I’ve mostly had good experiences with therapy, but I’ve always felt frustrated that they always throw my current feelings back onto my experiences of childhood as the main influence on what is happening in my life. When my ex-husband became bankrupt, the therapist was very sympathetic, but kept pushing me to understand why my childhood experiences made me so phobic about poverty. This is true; my mother was left a widow with four children under nine, and totally dependent on welfare to survive. While this did help me to cope with my current impoverished circumstances, it didn’t address the fact that, due to becoming a mother, I had become completely dependent on my husband to financially to provide for us.

    • L. Wins

      ” the therapist … kept pushing me to understand why my childhood experiences [of poverty] made me so phobic about poverty.”

      I suppose you (like me) are also “phobic” about starvation, homelessness, lack of access to healthcare and so on. I’m also phobic about rape and violence. Perhaps I should try to see someone about that. :/

      • Sally Hansen

        exactly. these are things people SHOULD be phobic about.

  • polina

    Excellent! I am just about to lose my patience after my last (female) psychologist explained to me that maybe my feminist ideas are “wrong” and told me about “research” supporting patriarchal gender roles in parenting. Ugh!

    • HillaryLMcBride

      wow! I have no words…

  • will

    Wow. That’s horrible that you’d go to a place for help and receive instead messages that directly undermine you and potentially cause more damage. It’s outrageous, but sadly consistent with countless experiences I have heard from friends and colleagues as well as my own destructive experience with counselling. I suppose it’s just another illustration of how sick our culture is that the majority of psychological “healing” is some twisted methodology for denying what’s actually
    going on.

    Her comment about “one bad experience with men” is almost laughable if it were not so tellingly tragic. ONE bad experience?? Do you know a single female human who has had only ONE bad experience with a man? I don’t think such a person exists, despite the many who will claim otherwise.

    “I have chalked it up to personal issues *she* has with men; it can be a sign of trauma to feel one must stand up for the oppressor class.”

    That is very insightful. It’s impressive that you could emerge from these experiences with the strength, clarity and empathy to recognize this woman’s own trauma and denial, infuriating as they are in this case.

  • Sally Hansen

    Wow… totally appalling to have these therapists be so dismissive of your situation/interests. Yes, sadly many women have internalized patriarchal values, to the point of devaluing other women and their experiences. Ugh…

  • Sally Hansen

    This is actually one of the many reasons I’ve avoided therapy for years. Even before I was a socially conscious Marxist Feminist I was always under the distinct impression that if I went into therapy for issues caused by other people and society, that I would simply be told to buck up and deal and that it was all in my mind, and that it was an issue with ME exclusively, no one else had a part in it. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I never went into therapy, and after having studied quite a bit of feminist now I can see how so many women would receive this kind of treatment in therapy and why mental illness is so stigmatized.

  • corvid

    This is so great! I look forward to reading your work.

    When I contacted my local rape crisis centre, and asked whether they could refer me to a feminist therapist, the woman who got back to me was very apologetic and said they had had to stop doing referrals due to being defunded. How sad is that.

  • HillaryLMcBride

    This is so true, and often not talked about. As a field, we need to learn better ways to support people, without further pathologizing them. If enough people are interested, I’ll write an article about the politics of diagnosis.