Magazine article Herizons

Changing Our Minds: Lesbian Feminism and Psychology

Magazine article Herizons

Changing Our Minds: Lesbian Feminism and Psychology

Article excerpt


Is therapy feminist? The short answer, according to British psychologist Celia Kitzinger and Rachel Perkins, is "no". A longer answer is provided in their challenging book Changing Our Minds.

As lesbians, Kitzingr and Perkins aim much of their criticism at feminist therapy because it's "the form of psychology that is now most influential for many lesbians in the English-speaking world". According to studies cited in the book, therapists have counselled three out of every four lesbians in the United States, and popular psychology books for lesbians are bestsellers. I expect the situation is similar in Canada.

The authors explore the way psychology has depoliticized our language. Here are a few examples:

"Homo-" and "lexbo-phobia" are psychological words now commonly used to explain lesbian hating. Kitzinger and Perkins believe that "society's hostility to us is not an irrational phobia but a political response to the real threat we pose to patriarchy".

"Should", they say, "is one example of a word that therapists recommend we dispense with. One shouldn't have to do anything except what feels right." As the authors point out, "psychology refuses to take a moral stand and urges us to toss out our sense of right and wrong and focus on our own needs."

Feminist psychology has redefined existing political words like "freedom", "revolution" and "liberation". Kitzinger and Perkins argue that these words used to mean something we had to fight for in our society. Now they happen within us - especially if we're in therapy.

But aren't therapists experts? Don't they help women? Kitzinger and Perkins argue that "therapists are only expert at translating the language of politics into the language of psychological health and sickness." Those of us, for instance, who are opposed to S/M and pornography, are "Erotophobic".

The authors agree that a lot of women are in a lot of pain; however, they argue that what helps women is being heard and understood. They believe that "this is something non-therapist lesbians are perfectly capable of doing for each other in the context of friendship or consciousness-raising groups...To the extent that we are not," say the authors, "that is an indictment of our movement. …

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