See the link at the bottom to hear Dr. Post discussing Women's Issues
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. As the broader world changes, women work to understand how they want to interact with the world around them in ways that suit them. What worked for an earlier generation often doesn’t apply to the younger generation. Even though times have changed, many women fall into old habits and find themselves trying to accommodate others. This can be an uncomfortable fit. There is good and bad in the old and in the new and, through therapy, women can talk though their conflicted feelings and find where they fit.
- Therapy can help women talk through conflicted feelings.
- Parenting guidance
- Surviving childhood abuse
Identity in World
In my practice, it’s not uncommon for women to say they feel oppressed by society. They describe a condition that can be subtle, but for some it’s ever-present and can chip away at women’s belief in themselves. Women may know who they are and feel the strength of their convictions, but report feeling 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 hurtful with each other. Men are socialized in an “every man for himself,” belief system, so they expect the world to be competitive. Some 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 New York University Professor Carol Gilligan, Ph.D. Dr. Gilligan’s research shows how women are socialized differently and think differently from men. While men are generally raised to be competitive, her research shows, 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 Georgetown University Professor Deborah Tannen, Ph.D.
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. I’ve observed that many women have a lack of belief in themselves and they don’t listen to themselves very well. These women may have a self-esteem deficit and feel diminished and dismissed. Yes, there is sexism, but therapy helps patients explore these questions: Are you unwittingly allowing yourself to be oppressed and/or defined by another? Is embedded sexism preventing you from asserting your individuality?
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.
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, if they have a partner, learn how to share responsibilities.
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. If they have a partner, therapy can guide them to negotiate these issues with their partner without guilt and with the confidence of their convictions. Some women find themselves raising a child alone; some do it by choice and others are single because of death or divorce. These women are challenged by how to do it without the support of a partner, or, perhaps with limited support. A therapist can serve multiple roles for mothers, with partners and without, by providing support and serving as a sounding board, a brainstorming partner and a reality check.
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 #MeToo 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.