Therapists Need to Understand Women’s Intersecting Identities, Say New APA Guidelines

Back in January, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued its first-ever guide for psychologists working with men. Now, it has issued revamped, modernized guidelines for working with women and girls that are more inclusive and intersectional than previous versions.

The new guidelines encourage psychologists to use diagnoses only when necessary and instead focus on resilience and strength and recognize the role that intersecting identities can have on a person’s experience.

“Women suffering from psychological problems need treatment, but that has to be in a more affirmative, more empowering way, and it has to be effective,” says Lillian Comas-Diaz, co-chair of the group that revised the guidelines and clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Comas-Diaz explains that there’s historically been the attitude among medical professionals that women are helpless victims or less than. Women have also historically been viewed as “crazy” or “hysterical.” The new guidelines encourage psychologists to think about the impact of “outside powers” on women’s lives, including structural injustice, and how their clients’ responses to those powers and the pain and suffering those powers cause are normal responses to the experience, not a failure.

Up to 90 percent of U.S. women may experience some form of violence in her lifetime, so understanding how to treat women dealing with these issues is central to successfully treating women.

Contrary to the belief that motherhood automatically makes women feel fulfilled and full of joy, the guidelines remind therapists that many women struggle with feelings of isolation and overwork.

“Mothering puts tremendous pressure on women. If things aren’t working well in your life, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the message you get is you need to be trying harder,” said Debra Mollen, another of the committee’s co-chairs. “It’s a profoundly toxic perspective.”

The guidelines also remind psychologists that most studies contain a homogenous population of participants, often “white, young, able-bodied, verbal, intelligent, and successful clients” and that the recommendations or treatments based on those studies may not benefit women who don’t fall into one or more of those categories.

Focusing strongly on intersectionality, the guidelines also recommend that therapists “build their knowledge about racial, sexual orientation, elitist, ableist, ageist, and other types of microaggressions and how these intersect with their beliefs and attitudes about girls and women.”

These updates seemed focused on stepping back from a one-size-fits-all approach to therapy and instead look at women and girls as individuals, taking the context of their identity into deep consideration.

All in all, psychologists need to check their own biases and take a deeper look at how their patients’ intersecting identities impact their mental health needs.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

48 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson5 hours ago

Thank you.

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Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin6 days ago

in a perfect world we would all have intersectionally competent care

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Frances G
Past Member 6 days ago

thanks very much

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Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris13 days ago

I'd like to see the percentage of men who have experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes. Violence is not only a female experience and it's impact on men should not be down played. Before anyone gets up in arms I am a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O13 days ago

Women are excellent mentors to younger colleagues

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O13 days ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O13 days ago

Women need to have more confidence in their strengths, especially homemakers returning to work or study

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O13 days ago

th

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Lesa D
Lesa D14 days ago

thank you Lauren...

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Ruth S
Ruth S14 days ago

Thanks.

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