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‘Implicit biases’

New guidelines for therapists treating women and girls just got more inclusive

By WITW Staff on May 17, 2019

New guidelines from the American Psychological Association have called on therapists to learn about intersectional feminism and work to confront their own personal biases when working with women patients.

In guidelines issued on Monday, the APA said that therapists needed to “build their knowledge about racial, sexual orientation, elitist, ablest, ageist, and other types of microaggressions and how these intersect with their beliefs and attitudes about girls and women.” Therapists, the guidelines continued, also need to be better prepared to help women dealing with trauma from sexual violence. According to data from the U.N. cited by the APA, as many as 90 percent of women in the U.S. may experience some form of violence in their lifetime.

Speaking to USA today, two of the co-chairs of the committee behind the new APA guidelines, Lillian Comas-Diaz and Debra Mollen, explained that therapists needed to be able to put their own biases aside when confronting difficult topics such as discrimination, identity, and assault.

“There have been changes in how racism and sexism are exhibited. Now it can show up more in terms of microaggressions and sometimes the person who is engaging in the behavior — whether a hetero-sexist, an ageist, a racist — may not be aware they’re doing that because of their implicit biases,” said Comas-Diaz. “The sexism a white woman experiences is going to show up differently than the sexism an African American woman experiences because of her race.”

The guidelines also recommend that therapists pay particular attention to the complex emotions experienced by mothers, as many struggle with feelings of overwork and isolation while caring for children — a stark contrast to the societal expectation that being a mother is supposed to automatically make one happy.

“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 Mollen. “It’s a profoundly toxic perspective.”

Earlier this year, the APA issued similar guidelines for dealing with male patients — noting in particular that rooted notions of “traditional” or “toxic masculinity” were causing severe harm to men’s mental health.

Read the full story at USA Today.

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