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  • Writer's pictureEmmett Martyniuk

An Anti-Oppressive Approach To Therapy

The field of mental health has historically been dominated by a medical model that has treated individuals as passive recipients of care and focused solely on addressing individual symptoms or problems. This narrow perspective fails to recognize the impact of larger societal factors, such as systemic oppression, on an individual’s well-being but rather places distress within the person. This view often creates difficulties for individuals to seek help, believing there is something wrong with them and reinforcing the stigma around mental health.

An anti-oppressive lens offers a more inclusive and holistic approach to mental health care by incorporating a social justice and human rights perspective. This type of therapy recognizes the ways in which oppressive systems, such as racism, sexism, ableism, and heterosexism, intersect and contribute to the development of mental health concerns.

This way of viewing therapy seeks to empower individuals and communities to challenge and resist these systems and to promote resilience and well-being. It is informed by critical theories, such as critical race theory, feminist theory, and postcolonial theory, and works to challenge the ways in which oppression affects individuals and communities.

One of the key elements of an anti-oppressive approach in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. Therapists work to create an environment that is safe, non-judgmental, and inclusive. They acknowledge the power dynamic inherent in the therapeutic relationship and work to challenge and reduce the impact of any oppressive forces that may exist.


During a session, the therapist works with the client to identify and challenge the ways in which oppression affects their lives. This may involve exploring the client’s experiences of marginalization and oppression, as well as the ways in which these experiences have contributed to their mental health concerns.

The focus is not solely on addressing individual symptoms, but on empowering clients to resist oppressive systems and to develop strategies for resilience and resistance. This may involve exploring the client’s values, beliefs, and goals, as well as their sense of agency and power. Therapist support and solidarity may also be involved.

An anti-oppressive approach can be especially beneficial for those who have experienced systemic oppression and marginalization, as it provides a safe and supportive space to address these experiences. It is also relevant for those who want to understand and address the ways in which oppression affects their own lives and the lives of others. This can include looking at the ways in which we uphold or support oppressive systems in our society.

In conclusion, an anti-oppressive approach offers a more inclusive and holistic approach to mental health care by recognizing the impact of larger societal factors on an individual’s well-being. By embracing an anti-oppressive approach, therapists can work to empower individuals and communities to challenge and resist oppressive systems and to promote resilience and well-being.


Your ally against oppression,

-Emmett


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