Sometimes people ask why I specify that I provide counselling for women, and if I work globally why do I need to mention that I am in Australia [most of the time]?
These are great questions!
There could actually be lots of reasons, and so in the interest of transparency and you knowing if you’ll fit with me, I’m sharing some further thoughts as though ‘in conversation’ with you, the question-asker.
Ok, so why provide counselling for women?
Firstly, I am a feminist.
What does that mean in a counselling context?
It means that I situate myself as an advocate for women’s rights in the interest of equality. Lengthy arguments on this subject are generally a waste of time. Time that could be better spend supporting women to unpack the implications of these wider issues on themselves personally, listen to and elevate our stories, promote safety and freedom, and help women in need.
I believe this is also a position that benefits most men: the ability to be all things we want to and live as freely as we can is wonderful thing. I’d even go so far as to say it is a belief system that is most loving of men: believing that men are capable of not using violence, of great emotional depth and untold kindness to fellow humans and to support the movement for women’s equality without the need for unnecessary hierarchies and patriarchal dominance.
We are all impacted by male privilege on a societal level. Privilege in this sense is not ‘what do you have that I don’t’. Privilege is ‘whose way of being is considered most valuable in our society’. We judge and are judged by ideas of ‘the best way of doing things’ that are actually decided by very few.
Ok… I mean I get it, but how does that affect mental health. Mental health is just in our heads isn’t it?
Unfortunately many models and concepts of therapy fall prey to this thinking.
One example is around ‘Flight or Fight’. Most people have heard these terms and understand them to be a universal way that human beings react to perceived danger: it’s our instinct to react with these responses when we are afraid.
However Taylor and Klein published an important paper in 2002 discovering that less than 17% of the test subjects for these stress responses were female (because female hormones were considered too much in flux), and that largely their responses were not so much of the ‘fight and flight’ kind but were instead something different.
They embarked on more research, and came to the conclusion that while women do experience the rush of hormones that men do when they feel fear: cortisol and adrenalin (to account for Flight or Fight), they also have another rush of the hormone oxytocin, which tells the body to do something altogether different: get closer. It’s the ‘love hormone’, and if you think about ancient woman needing to protect babies and gather with other women when in danger, then it makes a lot of sense. They called this ‘Tend and Befriend’ to go alongside ‘Fight or Flight or Freeze’.
This has huge implications for how we understand the biobehavioural aspects of stress and panic, and even perhaps how we react when in a fight with a partner. Yet almost no one knows about it. It seems to have disappeared along with lots of other female-centred knowledge.
Oh! When you put it like that, it makes a difference to how I understand myself in relationship with other people. I imagine lots of us could feel we are a problem when in fact that might be based on just one way of being in the world. I wonder what it would be like if lots of people’s ways of being were considered equally?
Interestingly, the experts on the impact of hormones on behaviour: transgender folks, are rarely asked publicly about the changes they may experience from hormone therapy. While taking hormones in no way influences one’s identity, the way you ‘experience, catch and share’ feelings and therefore the way you act is influenced by hormonal changes.
Anecdotally I have been told a drawback of taking testosterone is that you can feel like you are in ‘a fog’ and that it can be harder to empathise than it once was. The payoffs for transgender men who choose hormone therapy are of course are so significant that it is worth it, but this seems to me to be knowledge we can all as a society benefit from if we would listen.
This is what I mean by privilege: the knowledge of many many many different types of people are not shared on a large scale and treated with equal significance.
My profession is historically guilty of labelling transgender people, queer people and numerous others as ‘dysfunctional’ in some way. Descriptions that are abhorrent and disgraceful. It pays to examine the ways we’ve made changes over the years, and therefore to think critically about the things we just accept as ‘right’ in our current time.
There are intersections of privilege. As a white able-bodied cisgendered person, there are layers of privilege that I have which make the every day struggles of a person of colour, a disabled person, or a transgender or non-binary person invisible to me.
Which is why I need to operate from a position of belief-first when, for example, a person of colour is telling me that they have experienced racism. Just because I can’t see it or can’t imagine it absolutely does not mean it didn’t happen. I must be curious about your experience to understand, not pretend I know all about it.
Interesting… but counselling for women?
Oh yeah, which brings me back around to counselling for women.
Does anything I’ve written above surprise you or inform you of something you didn’t know or reinforce your own beliefs? Well, alongside getting qualified as a professional listener (counsellor) via an extensive Post-Graduate University Degree and then gaining a Masters in Narrative therapy and continually updating my training, I spend a lot of time learning about stuff like this- such as gender studies and issues that impact in relation to gender- because I think it matters. So do other Narrative therapists, we try to learn from everyone and elevate the knowledge of those who are often silenced.
Privilege plays directly into how we feel about ourselves, how we behave, and how others perceive us. And don’t even get me started on Hollywood and pop culture!
And of course I am a woman, so I know what it’s like to be functioning as a woman even if I don’t know what it is like to be YOU. I know that we are constantly invited, cajoled and even threatened into positions that influence how we feel about ourselves and decide all the ‘shoulds’ that invade our lives. I also know it’s a challenge to spend time reflecting on my own behaviour: parts that I genuinely would like to change, and parts where I am made to feel bad about who I am because of social norms around how women (and men) should behave.
Finding ways to love myself is an ongoing project. Finding ways to help you love yourself (even if now that feels a stretch) is my mission.
“Do I have a sign on my head?” many women have said to me, pondering what they are seeing or have been told is ‘their relationship pattern’. I fundamentally do not believe you have a sign on your head. I do believe there are much greater issues at play than who ‘you’ are and that also influence what you do and why you do it. I have the experience and academic research to back up these claims and gently fold them into a warm and empowering therapeutic relationship.
If you wish to make changes in your life and within yourself this is the best starting place, not from a place where you are plagued by all the things that are wrong with you.
That place is usually utterly paralysing.
Problems can give us temporary amnesia as my supervisor says. They can make us forget what we are capable of, what’s buried inside, and even who we are.
This combination of personal lived experience, education and learning, and professional experience of working with women leads to me to feel confident in offering a service to women, naming that service, and saying what it’s all about.
Women’s empowerment leads to a better world for everyone.
So can you work with me even if I’m not in a ‘category’ on your website? Even if I don’t identify as a woman?
Yes of course I can, and regularly do work with a huge variety of people. Whoever you are, if my website content speaks to you, I would love to hear from you and talk about how we can work together. As a qualified and registered Australian counsellor, I am covered to offer therapeutic services to anyone located in Australia AND around the world!!!!
Except sadly if you are located in the USA or Canada, which is where the ‘Australian’ bit comes into action.
This is because of State licensing laws in those countries. While I can provide some level of coaching or unofficial supervision and conversation, I unfortunately cannot provide therapy as such.
But if you are an Australian expat and are looking for someone to get real with who speaks your language and understands the culture- for better or worse- then being able to find someone like me can be a huge relief. Or you may not be Australian and just like these ideas I’m sharing, find some hope within them- at the very least knowing my timezone is pretty useful.
So why specify who you work with at all if you can work with anyone?
There are a few reasons for this. One may be answered by asking yourself how you found me. Generally you Googled something and found a blog post or a page from my website, or you read a guest post I published somewhere else. If I just say ‘I’m a counsellor, door is open’ it doesn’t tell you much about me, and my guess is you’d like to know something about me, what my values are, and have some idea of how I practice.
You also want to know that the person you’re going to see will be understanding and knows lots about your problem: So you’re going to Google ‘counsellor for…’ or something to that effect. For Google to find me, I need to write about that problem.
However I’ve chosen not to focus on the ‘problem’ because I don’t really work that way. Instead I focus on your ‘role’ or who you are and we can then work on The Problems interrupting your life starting from there rather than defining you as a problem right from the beginning.
And why blog?
I blog to give out free and unique (sometimes quirky, sometimes personal) ideas on how to handle life’s problems. It’s also a way to invite people to connect without any obligation to take any further steps. You just sign up to be part of the Unveiled Stories community, you’ll get your free journal prompts, an invite to join a closed Facebook group for journaling dedicated imperfectionists and a weekly or fortnightly email blog update from yours truly. However if you generally feel spoken to through what I write and talk about and how I talk about it then it is likely we will be a pretty good match for a positive counselling outcome.
So counselling for women is about a worldview and education on gender issues combined with lived and professional experience rather than counselling focused entirely on a problem-saturated individual personal approach. I think I get it now!
I hope so 🙂 I also hope that there’s something stand-alone in here for everyone who is simply interested in anything to do with gender. It’s about being curious about YOU in the context of being female and all that comes with it, then finding solutions to problems, healing and empowerment from there rather than ‘fixing a problem’.
If you want to know more about the ‘women’ thing then please see this tab on my website Counselling for Women. If you have any further questions of any sort, then please do get in touch with me directly. I’d love to hear from you.