March 16, 2010

Rethinking the Therapeutic Milieu on World Social Work Day

Rethinking the Therapeutic Milieu: The Women’s Collaborative Circle

     Reading about the debate in Congress over health care reform, I was profoundly struck by the discussions regarding women’s health. That a United States senator would argue against the need for insurance companies to cover basic reproductive care, for example, left me in dismay.
     My astonishment did not come from a place of naiveté--I am more than aware of the controversies surrounding many aspects of the proposed bill—but as a reaction of absolute anger and sadness that after so many decades of battles fought by women and men alike in support of equality for women, there exist those who continue to try to take away what accomplishments we have already won and those who do not recognize or believe that there is still a fight to be fought. Some would argue that we live in a post-feminist era and need not be concerned with or pay attention to “women’s rights,” but women continue to be shaped by the decisions and laws that are made for us predominantly by men and influenced by a male-oriented culture, perpetuating women’s often silent feelings of inadequacy, shame, fear, ambivalence, and failure. Decisions made on Capitol Hill may not seem so significant to any one individual woman, but the message that these decisions send trickle down to a woman’s very core and whispers to her that she is still an other, affecting all aspects of her personal and public life.

     The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s recognized this paradigm and led Carol Hanisch to pen the popular adage “the personal is political” in her 1969 essay of the same name. Hanisch speaks about the act of consciousness-raising, not as “therapy,” but as a means to inform women that their personal problems are political and that there are no personal solutions at this time. I would argue that while this sentiment helps us understand how the larger community that we live in impacts our daily actions and inner-selves, without addressing the personal, there exists no good way to work through the effects of the political once the personal feelings are brought to the surface.
     As a social worker and a woman, it seemed glaringly obvious in my work and within my relationships that what is needed among the many opportunities and challenges posed in our society is an organization that allows for the exploration of a gendered self in relation to one’s world. That organization, the Women’s Collaborative Circle, was founded in the spirit of the feminist consciousness-raising movement along with psychodynamic theories and social work core values. From many conversations with friends and colleagues, it appeared apparent that women were in need of a space and a new model of self-care and preservation to allow for a full exploration of how a woman experiences herself in her gendered world, and allow for multiple opportunities and modalities for development and growth. It is my hope that through participation and collaboration with women from all walks of life, we address the need and find the space to speak our minds and have our voices heard.

Article written by Carly Goldberg MSW, LCSW and originally appeared in an edited verson in The Clinician: The University of Pennsylvania DSW Student Publication. Winter/Spring 2010, Vol 2(1). 

Photo of the most awesome tattoo, courtesy of Courtney Knight. 

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