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Feminism and Family Therapy



Feminism has had a profound effect on contemporary culture and on thinking in most academic fields, including psychoanalysis. Interestingly, until very recently it had made virtually no impact on the theory and practice of family therapy. This paper proposes an explanation for this peculiar phenomenon and argues that family therapy has been considerably handicapped by its insularity from the feminist critique.

Utilizing feminist scholarship in psychoanalysis, history, and sociology, the paper analyzes the structural contradictions in family life that family therapists have essentially ignored and then outlines their clinical implications. Key points in the discussion include the argument that systems theory is an inadequate explanatory matrix from which to build a theory of the family, that the archetypal “family case” of the overinvolved mother and peripheral father is best understood, not as a clinical problem, but as the product of a historical process two hundred years in the making, and that power relations between men and women in families function in terms of paradoxical, incongruous hierarchies that reflect the complex interpenetration between the structure of family relations and the world of work. This conceptual model then provides the basis for an analysis and critique of sexual politics as they emerge in the prototypical clinical situation.