What is feminist counselling?


August 31, 2017

By Jordan Pickell

Counselling is an individual process. It doesn’t upend oppressive systems. You can’t heal your way in counselling out of patriarchy, white supremacy, or colonization. However, counselling can be profoundly liberating for you personally.

You can choose to centre yourself in a world that may not value who you are or your ways of being. In the world we live in, this can be a radical act of self-love and resistance.

In counselling, you can be seen and understood for who you are and where you have come from. You can name and acknowledge the trauma or violence that has been done to you. You can honour what you have done to hold onto yourself and to survive. You can deepen your understanding for yourself and affirm your needs, wants, and desires as valid and deserving of respect. You can (re)discover what grounds and nourishes you.

Counselling is feminist when it acknowledges and honours your experience in relationship– your relationship with yourself, the relationships with people in your life. In counselling, you can explore how power plays in these relationships.

You can learn more about what you need to feel safe enough in relationship. With a counsellor, you can negotiate and navigate relating across differences, exploring what it feels like to share parts of yourself and also, what it feels like when you choose not to share.

What does it feel like to say “no” to a powerful person in this context?

When counselling is feminist, there is deliberate action to share power. It is fundamentally collaborative. You get to decide what will be talked about and what will be useful. Your feelings are valuable on what conversations and activities and challenging questions we explore, on the rhythm and pace of the process.

You hold the expertise on who you are and your experiences

Counselling is feminist when it looks at what you are bringing– your struggles, your hurts in its social and cultural context. What are the cultural messages you received from friends, family, community, society about what ways of being are expected and acceptable? We can trace how your experiences have been shaped by cultural ideas that are sometimes harmful and limiting. How do you push back against these oppressive ideas?

When counselling is feminist, you have the opportunity to affirm who you are and your ways of being in your beautiful wholeness, even when that runs counter to the tiny box that society tries to put you in. You can take the veil off of the process of relating with another person, with an aim towards a sense of mutual empathy, of compassionate participation, especially when our ways of being, our access to power, our viewpoints are different. That is powerful.

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