Issues Treated in Therapy:
Women’s issues covers a wide-ranging number of topics in the field of psychotherapy. Historically, women’s psyches have been scrutinized from within a cultural framework, as women were once labeled as “hysterical” or inappropriate when perceived as too emotional or assertive. While times may have changed, women still struggle with the socio/cultural/political forces that have defined their gender. They also have some different health care needs than do men, approach relationships and developmental tasks differently, and often struggle with self-esteem, body image, and sexuality concerns.
Women seek autonomy, but not without the need for connection with others. The phrase “tend and befriend” typifies how many women respond during stress: caring for others and seeking relational support. Throughout their lifespan, women tend to gather strength from their connection with others, and bring this relational capacity to both family and work settings. Problems develop, however, when an individual has difficulty transitioning from one life phase to another or remains in an unhealthy, self-destructive relationship.
Women are sometimes highly critical of their abilities and appearance, likely influenced by the standards our culture and society place on women. An excessive focus on appearance can contribute to the development of eating disorders, a distorted body image, or withdrawal from social activities. Self-doubt, shame, and a reluctance to appear assertive often limit women from asserting themselves in academic, social, and work settings. Women sometimes struggle with guilt and shame over their sexual needs or sexual orientation, confusing what is portrayed in the media with what they know to be true about themselves. Women who have been sexually abused or raped often struggle with the aftermath of shame, anger, and distrust.
Women face health issues specific to their sex. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and aging sometimes bring emotional challenges with them. Challenges also arise when women encounter problems with infertility, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or a range of sexuality concerns. In addition to gynecological illnesses, some medical conditions also affect women with greater frequency than men, such as fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, and osteoporosis.
Women continue to advocate for equal rights, a lack of discrimination, and fair treatment in the work force. Discrimination can range from the more subtle but long-lasting effects of lowered academic expectations for girls in science and math, to the more striking emotional and physical scars of domestic violence. Women continue to earn less on average than men earn in comparable jobs. In the media, air-brushed, photo-shopped images assault women with unattainable standards of beauty. Expectations of achieving successful careers often conflict with the demands of being a “caretaker.” Working mothers may struggle with feelings of guilt, while stay-at-home moms may question whether they gave up too much. Raising confident daughters in a culture of conflicting expectations and social pressure is a daunting task.
Susan, 47, entered therapy feeling depressed and mildly anxious. The mother of two adolescents, she worked as a guidance counselor, and also looked after her aging mother, who was showing signs of dementia. Susan and her husband rarely spent much time together, since he was quite busy with his law practice, and she did not see her friends very often. Although financially secure, Susan felt anxious and worried about the future, questioning what would happen once the children both left for college. She was exhausted and secretly resented her “caretaker” role, but felt identified with it. She had excelled in sciences at school and had wanted to become a physician, but her family told her that she needed a more practical job, so she went into education, and ultimately became certified as a counselor. In therapy, Susan became aware of how she had historically denied many of her needs to comply with what others wanted. She discovered that her family and friends would still love her if she asserted herself and cut back on being such a caretaker. She recognized that her children would not resent her if she spent more time with friends, insisted that her husband make more time for their marriage, and reluctantly found an assisted living program for her elderly mother. And although she is not changing careers just yet, she may explore her interest in science again and take classes to become certified to teach biology in the high school.
Lauren, 21, sought therapy because of failing grades and binge drinking. Her parents were concerned that she would end up dropping out of college. Lauren had been an above average student at college until last year, when she started missing classes and “forgetting” to hand in assignments on time. She rarely drank prior to last year, but then started drinking 3-4 nights a week. After several weeks of therapy, Lauren tearfully admitted that her ex-boyfriend had raped her last year after their relationship ended. They had been at a party, he was angry because she was flirting with someone else, and after the party, he started hitting her and raped her. Although she broke up with him, she never filed charges against him. She lost her sense of trust in others, became disinterested in school and started drinking to numb her feelings. During the course of therapy, Lauren was able to address the anger, pain, and the after effects of the rape and assault. She took a semester off from school, but eventually returned, and was able to focus on her academic progress. She was able to stop the binge drinking, since she realized it made her even more vulnerable, and felt strong enough to face the feelings that the alcohol was masking.
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Last updated: 05-14-2013
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