Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Psychotherapists' Empathy for Childfree Women of Intersecting Age and Socioeconomic Status

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Psychotherapists' Empathy for Childfree Women of Intersecting Age and Socioeconomic Status

Article excerpt

The purpose of the study was to discern the empathy ability of psychotherapists for childfree female clients with intersectional identities. Each participating psychotherapist was randomly assigned to view one of four mock video sessions with a childfree woman of varying age and socioeconomic status (SES). Psychotherapists rated their ability to empathize for the woman in their assigned mocked video. An analysis of variance revealed that psychotherapists experienced higher empathy ability for a childfree woman of younger age and lower SES than for an older and upper-SES childfree woman. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

The term childfree first emerged in the United Kingdom as an empowering outlook for the commonly stigmatizing connotation of childlessness (Bartlett, 1996). With the development and diversification of women's roles in society, the designation "childfree" now applies to many women worldwide who voluntarily choose not to become parents (Doyle, Pooley, & Breen, 2012; Engler, Frohlich, Descarries, & Fernet, 2011; Giles, Shaw, & Morgan, 2009; Tanturri & Mencarini, 2008; Yang, 2012; Zhiang & Liu, 2007). In the United States, 41.3% of women between the ages of 15 and 50 reported that they never held a parenting role, and 28.2% of women in their early 30s indicated that they never had children (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). It is estimated that 8.2% of U.S. women opt to remain childfree, a percentage that has doubled in the last two decades (Agrillo & Nelini, 2008; Giles et at, 2009; Gold, 2013; U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). The elevated numbers of voluntarily childfree women in the United States call for attention to this specific identity and the impact of common sociopolitical practices and views, which notoriously remain pronatalist (Mollen, 2006; Moore, 2014).

Voluntarily childfree women often suffer from societal marginalization and stigma as a result of their choice and disclosure of their childfree status (Koropeckyj-Cox & Pendell, 2007; Letherby, 2002; Park, 2005). Specifically, childfree women have been viewed as materialistic, selfish, individualistic, career-oriented, less nurturing, autonomous, maladjusted, and less socially desirable (Koropeckyj-Cox & Pendell, 2007; Letherby, 2002; Whitcomb, 2012). Moreover, Koropeckyj-Cox, Romano, and Moras's (2007) interviews of college-aged students on their perceptions of temporary versus permanent childfree couples revealed that college-aged students perceived couples' temporary delay in childbearing as normal but viewed the permanent decision of couples to remain childfree as negative.

The perception of childfree women as well as the understanding of their experiences may vary based on others' ability to consider or empathize with their decisions. Empathy, or the ability to put oneself in someone's shoes, has been noted as a critical evaluator of psychotherapists' multicultural competency (Constantine, 2001). Empathy is also considered a significant factor in counseling process and outcome (Kirschenbaum & Jourdan, 2005). Concerns about the problem of psychotherapists' inability to empathize with clients' issues based on their personal values and beliefs have recently gained momentum in the mental health field (Kaplan, 2012). The American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics was revised in 2014 to insist on psychotherapists' professional responsibility of ensuring the same amount of care to each client regardless of the therapists' own personal values, beliefs, and attitudes (ACA, 2014).

Considering the salient influence of multicultural and diversity competency in therapeutic process and outcome (Kaplan, 2012; Mohr, Weiner, Chopp, & Wong, 2009; Tredinnick & Fowers, 1997), it becomes imperative to examine psychotherapists' capacity for empathy, particularly in relation to women's choices around childbearing and childrearing. The literature, however, is scarce in this area. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.