Running head: THEORETICAL ORIENTATION 1

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1 Running head: THEORETICAL ORIENTATION 1 Why I am a Reality Feminist: A Reflection on My Theoretical Orientation Christa Steiner University of Southern California

2 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 2 Why I am a Reality Feminist: A Reflection on My Theoretical Orientation Anytime someone asks my father how his day is, he always replies with fantastic. Why would anyone choose to have a crappy day? I have a similar outlook, though I am less verbal about it to complete strangers. I was raised to believe that while you cannot control what happens to you in life, you always have power over how you react. We make decisions every day on how to behave in any given situation: to stand your ground or back down, to forgive and forget or to dwell on past wrongdoings, even to laugh or to cry. I feel that a blend of reality therapy and feminist therapy is the best orientation for me, because feminist therapy acknowledges the role of society on the individual, but at the end of the day reality therapy leaves the person responsible for how they handle their situation. Change can only happen from within. Human Nature When I think about assumptions on human nature, I definitely take the feminist stance of the person is political. This view recognizes the effects of social and political institutions on the individual (Sharf, 2008). Human beings are basically blank slates, but society eventually shapes them based on race, culture, gender, and a number of other traits deemed important by the public. People are shaped by the intersections of the multiple identities they are raised into, and the results are not always fair. That being said, society can only shape an individual; it cannot behave for an individual. Society can make a person want to drink herself into a coma, but it cannot put the bottle to her lips and tilt her head. That s where reality therapy steps in. Reality therapists assume that perceptions of reality, not reality itself, determine a person s behavior (Sharf, 2008, p. 419). They place a distinction between when clients can and cannot control events. I would agree that for the most part, people have more control over their

3 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 3 behaviors and attitudes than they think. However, I would also argue that some people subsist in much more difficult situations than others, which makes them more apt to use certain behaviors as coping mechanisms. I feel that it is important to acknowledge the client s personal background and story, but to leave them responsible for any changes that need to be made. Therapeutic Goals The goals of reality therapy and feminist therapy actually coincide quite nicely. The main goal of the counselor goal for reality therapists is to help clients meet their psychological needs for power, belonging, freedom, and fun (Sharf, 2008, p.422). I feel that helping a client meet their need for power coincides with the feminist notion of the importance of empowerment and building self-esteem, that helping a client meet their need for belonging corresponds with the feminist goal of aiding clients in developing meaningful relationships, that meeting the need for freedom directly relates to the feminist ideal that therapy should be for self-exploration. Feminists place a lot of importance on exploring the self and making sure the client is setting her own goals, and not yielding to the expectations of others, which meets the need of freedom. The only goal of reality therapy that does not correlate to a goal of feminist therapy is helping the client meet his need for fun. I definitely think that fun is an important part of life, but I think it may be a lot of pressure for the therapist to be expected to provide this for his clients. Other goals of feminist therapy are body image and sensuality (Sharf, 2008), which I feel could potentially be both empowering and freeing for the individual, because she wouldn t feel as much pressure to fit within the confines of others expectations of beauty, and affirming diversity, which I feel can be accomplished simply by being open to other cultures and truly interested in learning your clients stories (Sharf, 2008). Counselor Roles

4 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 4 It is very important for the therapist to be sensitive to others, and very aware of their own positionality when listening to clients in order to adhere to the ideologies of feminist therapy (Voss, 2000). Feminist therapists are expected to be culturally empathic, genuinely interested in their clients as people, and informative, and it is difficult to do all of these things without knowing yourself first. Dr. Nada Stotland has said, We all have experiences. It s not that you re going to expunge those. I think your duty is to know where you re coming from as a psychiatrist, but there are no exact answers (Voss, 2000, p. 2). In order for the therapist to be effective, he needs to be very aware of his own biases, because his worldview could potentially affect how he views the client, and how he goes about treating her. I feel that it is highly important to know myself well before I should be able to help others, because if you don t know your biases, you may perpetuate stereotypes and societal expectations when dealing with clients. A reality therapist has three basic roles: to not accept excuses, to never punish or criticize the client, and to never give up on the client (Sharf, 2008). The counselor never asks for excuses, because that gives the client the opportunity to deflect blame away from herself, the counselor never criticizes the client, because it could potentially damage the therapeutic relationship, and he never gives up on the client, because he recognizes that change takes a lot of hard work (Sharf, 2008). These things should be done with courtesy, enthusiasm and genuineness, which relates to the role of the feminist counselor listed above. Basically, the role of the counselor in both of these therapies is to be supportive of the client and to help them begin to make their own changes as they see fit. Techniques and Methods Like the therapeutic goals mentioned previously, the techniques involved in both reality therapy and feminist therapy seem to coincide harmoniously. There are four basic phases in

5 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 5 reality therapy: establishing a friendly environment, exploring clients' wants, needs and perceptions, exploring the clients total behavior, particularly the doing aspect of the behavior, and making plans on how to improve behavior (Sharf, 2008). Establishing a friendly environment is also important in feminist therapy, because there is a large focus on the creation of a strong, egalitarian relationship (Sharf, 2008). Neither of these types of therapists wants to be seen as an authority figure or above the client; they want the client to be comfortable, relaxed, and be able to come to their own self-realizations in order to change. Exploring the client s wants, needs and perceptions in reality therapy is similar to the cultural, gender and power analysis portions of feminist therapy. Feminist therapists want to explore how the client sees the world through culture, gender and power differentials to determine how their worldview has been shaped and how it may be currently impacting them. While one could argue that reality therapists focus a lot more on wants and needs, I would argue that a person s wants and needs have a lot to do with how society perceives them. For instance, a woman who wants to be thin may be reacting to society s expectations of beauty. While feminist theorists do not focus specifically on total behavior, I do feel that there is a lot of emphasis on how things could be changed, which lends itself to the exploration of the client s behavior, and to making future plans for improving the situation. This is done in a number of different ways. Both therapies say to ask many questions of the client, so that the therapist can gain a better idea of where the client is coming from and how they perceive the world, and both also call for genuineness in the therapeutic relationship (Sharf, 2008). This could include brief uses of self-disclosure when pertinent, respect for the client and their situation, and being interested in and focused on the client. Both therapies seek to empower the

6 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 6 client in different ways, feminist therapy through a more formalized assertiveness training, and reality therapy through encouraging the client to take responsibility for their choices and actions. Applicability to Higher Education It is my opinion that my combination of reality therapy and feminist therapy would be incredibly appropriate when counseling in an institution of higher education. In addition to learning, the goal of most higher educational settings is to create autonomous and capable young adults. Autonomy is defined as having an inner endorsement of one s actions the sense that one s actions emanate from oneself and are one s own (Reeve & Jang, 2006, p. 209). Students feel more free and also more powerful when they feel that they are responsible for making their own choices. Because reality therapy focuses on clients conscious choices, and feminist therapy works towards the empowerment of its clients, it is not a stretch to believe that these two therapies in tandem would work to develop autonomy in college students. This is important, because in a study conducted by Reeve and Jang (2006), it was found that students who were encouraged to be autonomous in the classroom, tended to be more motivated to succeed academically, and they were also felt less stressed than their peers who felt less autonomy. This indicates that developing and encouraging autonomy has a positive effect on students, and that the empowering effects of feminist therapy and the focus on choices in reality therapy would be beneficial in a college setting. Limitations I chose to utilize both reality therapy and feminist therapy because I felt that each therapy filled the void found in the other. Reality therapy is often criticized for not taking outside factors into consideration, and feminist therapy is often criticized for deflecting individuals poor

7 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 7 behaviors onto society (Sharf, 2008). One would think that by using both therapies that these issues would have dissolved, but there are still some limitations to consider. In one study on reality therapy, the subjective nature of behavior, including actions, thoughts and feelings was mentioned as a limitation of assessing its effectiveness (Passaro, et.al, 2004). In this study, by implementing a program for troubled youth that used reality therapy, there was a decrease in out-of-school suspensions by 12 percent (Passaro, et.al, 2004). However, it is difficult to say if this was a direct result of the reality therapy, or if there were outlying factors that also contributed to this decrease. Because a person s thoughts and feelings may fluctuate throughout the course of a day, it may be difficult to gauge when a person is actually making progress. This limitation can also be transferred to feminist therapy, because feminist therapy is not prescriptive in nature, and focuses more on the inner growth and development of the individual. The level of growth a person exhibits can vary depending on the client s mood, or any positive or negative interactions that they experience that day. It is very difficult to say whether or not these therapies are effective. More research should be conducted both on the therapies separately and together to better determine their effects. Multicultural Considerations Regardless of the limitation of these therapies, they do seem to be applicable in a multitude of situations. Reality therapy is seen both positively and negatively from a multicultural perspective. It respects individual differences and allows the clients to decide what to change in themselves, but it is often criticized for not taking environmental forces, like racism or discrimination into account (Sharf, 2008). Luckily, feminist therapy takes multicultural experience and social these factors into consideration, which I feel will help bridge the gaps created in reality therapy. I feel that combining the two therapies would create a type of therapy

8 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 8 that could be utilized with anyone, regardless of situation, because it is holistic in its approach. It takes the social and political influences into consideration, and informs its clients of the effects, and then helps the client to be able to react in positive, healthy ways to these factors through individual choices. Conclusions I believe that the perfect theoretical orientation for me would be a marriage between reality therapy and feminist therapy, because each orientation fills the majority of the void apparent in the other, and because it fits perfectly with my outlook on life. I see people as a product of their environment, but I still feel that people are responsible for their actions. When putting the two therapies together, I really don t see any main issues that negate my philosophy on life. It acknowledges the lack of control over a person s inherited situation, but doesn t deflect all blame outwardly. People cannot control the cards they are dealt, but they have the ultimate choice of how to play their hand.

9 BEHAVIORAL THERAPY 9 References Passaro, P.D., Moon, M., Wiest, D.J., and Wong, E.H. (2004). A model for school psychology practice: Addressing the needs of students with emotional and behavioral challenges through the use of an in-school support room and reality therapy. Adolescence. 39(155): p Reeve, J. and Jang, H. (2006). What teachers say and do to support students autonomy during a learning activity. Journal of Educational Psychology. 98(1): p Sharf, R.S. (2008). Theories of psychotherapy and counseling: Concepts and cases. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cenage Learning. Voss, L. (2000). Psychiatrist: Know thy biases. Women s Electronic News. found at

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