Autonomy And Gender: Some Questions For Therapists

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 1986

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Discusses the nature of autonomy and explores how autonomy as a therapeutic goal relates to clinical practice and the conduct of psychotherapy. Autonomy has been defined as the power to determine one's own best interests, and it has been criticized for promoting selfishness and reflecting upper-class values and gender bias. It is suggested that issues of autonomy are involved in the process of psychotherapy as well as its aim. In therapy, there is a dynamic tension between the principle of autonomy, the right of clients to determine their own interests, and the principle of beneficence, the therapist's obligation to protect the client's welfare. Whether autonomy is an appropriate ideal in psychotherapy for women or for men is considered. Feminist theorists have criticized aspects of masculine autonomy, contrasting it with feminine relatedness; however, the idealization of relatedness is questioned. It is concluded that the present conceptualizations of autonomy do not fully encompass the complexity of human interaction. It is argued that (a) autonomy and relatedness are not essential aspects of male and female nature but depend on power and status and (b) without social change, autonomy may not be a realistic goal of therapy for women. (46 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)

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