Feminist Development Theory

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  • 0:03 Women & Therapy
  • 1:44 Feminist Theory of Development
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

There are several theories of human development in psychology. But did you know there is one specifically for women? In this lesson, we will look into the stages that make up this theory.

Women & Therapy

For many decades, psychology had a predominantly male influence. Therapists who led the way in creating the field were male, and psychological theories about human development were generalized to men and women.

When the women's movement arose in the 1960s, however, there was much more attention paid to women as independent individuals. More women began working outside the home and seeking a greater sense of equality with male counterparts. While these changes were taking place in society, they impacted a change in the counseling field. Some therapists were joining in the advocacy of women's empowerment by helping their clients understand and develop their uniqueness. Three of the most influential female therapists were Carol Gilligan, Linda Silverman, and Sharon Conarton.

Silverman and Conarton believed that the current psychological theories on development came from a male understanding of the world. They noticed a leaning toward logic, independence, and linear growth in these theories as well as a discouragement of the feminine traits of prizing relationships, sensitivity, and circular development. Gilligan agreed that rather than seeing feminine tendencies, like dependency, as a problem, therapists should appreciate them and encourage them to grow in healthy ways.

Silverman and Conarton drew from some of Gilligan's ideas and decided to create their own developmental theory specifically for women. It is often referred to as a feminist development theory. Right now, we are going to meet Mary, who is going to illustrate the typical stages of female development as she goes to counseling.

Feminist Theory of Development

Mary is going to counseling for support and guidance. She is a 35-year-old, divorced woman with a son who is 8 years old. Mary is a kind-hearted, encouraging woman. She works hard at an advertising firm, and she feels that she has to compete with her male peers. She is the type of person others praise for 'always being there' and helping them with whatever they need. Her brother is an alcoholic, and she finds herself driving him places or giving him money because of his addiction. She feels taken advantage of but doesn't know how to stop helping others.

The goal of counseling for Mary is to explain the various stages of her development, see how they are playing out in her life, and guide her into appreciating and prioritizing herself. As the session begins, Mary's counselor tells her about the eight phases of women's development:

  1. Bonding
  2. Orientation to others
  3. Cultural adaptation
  4. Awakening and individuation
  5. The development of the conscious feminine
  6. Empowerment
  7. Spiritual development
  8. Integration

1. Bonding

Bonding is the emotional uniting between a mother and a child, especially during the first few years of a child's life. From 0-3 months, Mary was so bonded with her mother that she did not yet know she existed as a separate being. Not until 18-36 months did a sense of her individuation occur. Even at this time, however, girls will take on a lot of the feelings of the mother because of the level of bonding with them.

2. Orientation to others

Orientation to others is a preoccupation with others at the expense of oneself. Sometimes during bonding, the child does not establish a strong enough sense of her own ego, or individual consciousness. She may see herself as such an extension of her mother that she does not lose this dependence and transfers it to later relationships, like with her husband or friends. This shows some of the reason that Mary has been taking care of her brother at her own expense.

3. Cultural adaptation

Now Mary talks about her job, where she is exhibiting the stage of cultural adaptation, or her effort to change herself to fit environmental expectations. Mary's lack of individuality and self-esteem leads her to try to change herself to fit in with those around her. Specifically, she has been trying to act more aggressively at work and trying to emulate her male coworkers. This phase includes an awareness of this tendency in preparation to move out of it.

4. Awakening and individuation

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