Q. What are “women’s issues” and how can therapy help?
A. In my professional experience, I’ve observed that because of the way many women are raised and because of common childhood experiences, women grapple with similar issues. Therapy can help women talk through their struggles and the challenges that are holding them back.
The most common issues women face are:
- Their identity in the world, meaning, figuring out their role. This shows up in their work relationships, personal relationships and all the different facets of their lives. The role of women is changing, and role models are antiquated. What worked for an earlier generation doesn’t apply to the younger generation. Yet, at the same time, women tend to accommodate others. Therapy can help women talk through conflicted feelings.
- Parenting guidance
- Surviving childhood abuse
Identity in World
Women, as a group, feel oppressed by society. It can be subtle, but it’s ever-present and chips away at women’s belief in themselves. Women may know who they are and feel the strength of their convictions, but can still be cut down by a relative, coworker or partner. And while society sends the message that women are supportive and part of a sisterhood, women can be competitive and vicious with each other. Men are socialized in an “every man for himself,” belief system, so they expect the world to be competitive. Women who grow up expecting a sisterhood who encounter a backbiter may feel shaken. Therapy can help women navigate these experiences and learn to stand up for themselves while holding true to their values.
I’m influenced by the groundbreaking book “In a Different Voice” by renowned psychologist and retired Harvard Professor Carol Gilligan. Gilligan’s research shows how women are socialized differently and think differently from men. While men are generally raised to be competitive, women prefer social engagement and support. Another influential book that helps explain the difference between the way men and women think and communicate is “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen.
Therapy can help women own their own reality, be comfortable with who they are and accept that it’s okay to be different from men. As a group, women have a lack of belief in themselves and they don’t listen to themselves very well. Women have a self-esteem deficit and feel diminished and dismissed. Yes, there is sexism, but therapy helps patients explore these questions: Are you being a victim? Are you using sexism to rationalize not asserting your individuality? Are you falling into the victim role?
One other facet of seeking therapy to help women accept themselves and come to peace with their goals involves single women deciding to have children by themselves. Women who are feeling pressure from their biological clock who want to be mothers seek therapy to gain the confidence of their convictions. This is another area where society is changing and families are challenged to support their adult children. Some families feel ill-equipped to both understand and support their adult daughters in this new avenue for becoming a parent.
Women find therapy can give them the confidence and support they need to raise their children according to their values and not someone else’s values.
The roles of women managing work and parenting are changing for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that fathers want to be more involved. Mothers sometimes have guilt about going to work. We talk this through and help women let go of guilt and learn how to share responsibilities with their partner.
For women, whether they decide to go back to work after maternity leave or after their children go off to college, they can find it challenging to manage these life stages. Therapy can address these trials and help women determine what they want. Therapy can guide them to negotiate these issues with a partner without guilt and with the confidence of their convictions.
In the U.S., one in three women experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime and at least one in four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Eight percent of rapes occur while the victim is at work. Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, the NSVRC reports.
There’s a reason the #Me Too movement took off and spread worldwide. Therapy helps women who have been abused as children navigate dating, set boundaries and overcome the shame they carry with them.
Therapy helps women hear their own voice and know themselves in a deep way so they can choose and understand what’s important to them. Women learn to assert what they need and set their boundaries. For more information, see the section on Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse.