Women’s Mental Health: Why is it a Specialty?

March 09, 2018

In the context of non-romantic relationships, the theme–“It takes one to know one”–can allow for a heightened level of intimacy between sets of girlfriends, or a uniquely strong bond between mother and daughter. In some ways, women are well-equipped to unequivocally condemn one another’s bullshit. We’ve all heard of the commonly-used terms “women’s intuition”and “it’s a girl thing,” but we don’t always think about how this relates to choosing a right-fit therapist. Depending on the presenting problems or reasons for seeking therapy, it is sometimes easier to talk to someone who identifies as the same gender as yourself. It is okay to have a preference as to whether you work with a female or male therapist.

On the same token, it is sometimes easier to look at our downfalls and inconsistencies when the person pointing them out is of the same-gender. I hate to say it, but gender roles can play a part in either neutralizing or antagonizing the playing field. For instance, if a female supervisor explains something to her female supervisee, it might not be construed as mansplaining the way it would be if a male supervisor did the exact same thing. Whether we like to admit it or not, society still has implicit and explicit ideas about gender roles, abilities, and equality. Likewise, stereotypes about women as bad drivers and men as better parallel parkers continue to reverberate the mainstream. (For the record, I can parallel park like the best of them). Sexism is a reality that we are here to overcome, and we do it on a daily basis when we destroy gender-based stereotypes. Often times, women come to therapy because they think they need to work through their anxiety or depression, only to find during latter sessions that they are really there to form their own identity, to feel less empty and to resolve relationship patterns wrought from that very lack of identity-formation.

Within this sphere, the “-isms” in our social world are not only acknowledged and accounted for, but they are burned to the ground. When working within my passion, women’s mental health, I help client’s confidently denounce what society has labeled them as, in order to fully recast themselves in a light that befits their truest desires and values. It wakes up the soul, while it sets stereotypes and setbacks ablaze. A perfect example of this would be a woman who was called beautiful her whole life who then pursues a career in modeling and is later reeling and unsatisfied, even though she has made it to the proverbial top. After reflecting session after session, she speaks confidently and honestly about her passion for sports and design. She feels like she is everywhere, and nowhere, at the same time. Stuck in a career she was pigeonholed into from messages she received and internalized, early in her development. She begins to take steps towards starting her own sporty fashion line and to be more secure with herself.

Some Women-Specific Issues are Easier to Talk About with Another Woman: Here are some examples to this effect: psychiatric symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum, adjustment to motherhood and role-reversals, reactions to infertility or pregnancy loss, premenstrual mood symptoms, psychiatric symptoms/emotional changes during the transition to menopause (perimenopause), hormonal imbalances during the life-span, non-hormonal treatment of hot flashes associated with mood symptoms, reactions to breast cancer, uterine cancer, endometriosis, hysterectomy or other gynecologic problems. It is pretty self-explanatory why some women might choose a female therapist to discuss these issues with. Of course, there is no reason why a male therapist is not also equipped to help a women through these stages and psychiatric symptoms. It is all about personal preference.

Who Better to Empathize & Inspire, Simultaneously: Here we find ourselves in a women’s revolution, and suddenly our experience as a woman has radically changed. Women are standing up for themselves and saying what’s on their mind more than ever, which also requires a level of honesty with themselves. For better or for worse, women can empathize with one another and are wanting to stand together in an era that conjured up “#me too” and “Time’s Up.” In therapy with a women-empowerment focus, we can work together to create an identity that you can stand with, while releasing yourself from the labels and subcategories that others chose for you. Getting inspired to manifest a future for yourself that you can be proud of, whether that means giving your two-weeks notice to fully focus on your soul’s purpose, or to break out of the mold that kept you confined and controlled because you were doing what you thought you “should” be doing.

Knowledge is Power, but Experience is Knowledge on Fire: As we know, it is much easier to talk about things with someone who has been through it, than to explain it to someone and then convince them of its significance. It’s hard enough to commit oneself to therapy, but it is harder to go to therapy with issues directly related to womanhood, and to feel the therapist is out of touch with these problems. A significant degree of therapeutic growth is dependent on the therapeutic relationship. If you don’t feel heard, validated, or understood by your therapist, then therapy is always going to feel like you’re just barely scratching the surface. This is where self-disclosure on the part of a therapist can be a powerful therapeutic intervention, as a therapist might confess that she, too, had a similar experience (and, maybe even made sense of it, somehow).

The Intersection of Trauma, Gaslighting, and Privilege: I could write a whole blog on this topic alone, and probably will someday soon, but here is the short version. I work with a host of phenomenal women who have been sexually assaulted or manipulated into consenting to sexual advances by men in positions of power: whether that means it was a boss, a financial provider, a man twice their senior, a person thought to have been trust-worthy, or all of the above. What makes this topic all the more important is how such an upper-hand in society–or, privelege–can subsequently render a vulnerable population all that much more vulnerable to sexual abuse. It is not a coincidence that 1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work and that 71% of those women did not report it. I have personally worked with women subjected to sexual, emotional, and physical abuse who have lost sleep, confidence, promotions once promised to them, in the aftermath of such transgressions and traumas. The battered-woman who believed the abuse was her fault is not that dissimilar to the female-subordinate who does not report sexual harassment in the workplace out of fear of subterfuge. Cue: the cycle of violence, the listless nature of shame, and the unwarranted grumbling of guilt. She stays silenced because she believes she “nagged” or “flirted” her way into submission. This is where feminist-centered therapy allows for an added level of safety and trust, to reflect on the manipulation and reframe cognitive distortions. It is here that refuge is found and one’s trauma-narrative is rewritten. This alone is a revelation. However, the complexities and intracicies of women’s mental health moves beyond this place. As a feminist-therapist, I will accompany my clients on their journey to free themselves from such thought-patterns that keep them imprisoned or silenced, without a time-table or agenda. This line of work is what makes me tick and has determined my area of expertise. It sustains me so that I can continue to show up, be present, and to meet my clients’ where they are at in the treatment process, without judgement or motive.

References:

Women’s Issues Need No Introduction, but they Require Credit where Credit is Due – If any of the above resonated with you, you might also like to read these articles that speak to the current climate of women’s mental health issues:

1. Monika Lewinsky: Emerging from the House of Gaslight in the Age of “#metoo” – https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/02/monica-lewinsky-in-the-age-of-metoo

2. “Head Stuck In A Cycle I Look Off And I Stare” A Personal Letter From Gaga” – https://bornthisway.foundation/personal-letter-gaga/

3. Time’s Up – https://www.timesupnow.com

Eva Moheban, LCSW​I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with extensive experience working with those who struggle with self-esteem, body image, eating disorders, addiction, self-injurious behaviors, suicidal ideation, peer group and family conflicts, and depression and anxiety. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and my Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Southern California.

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