Theoretical Model

The Women’s Therapy Center bases its work on a relational model, grounded upon the notion that a person’s sense of self develops within the psychological context of interpersonal relationships. These relationships take place within each person’s socio-cultural environment.  At the Women’s Therapy Center, we are interested in the intrapsychic as well as the interpersonal, and the personal as well as the socio-political and cultural.  Our relational model maintains that psychological health is contingent upon both the capacity to develop and maintain meaningful connections throughout life and the capacity to reflect upon one’s own subjective experience.

Although the faculty at WTC identify with the basic precepts of a relational model, this does not mean that everyone thinks or practices exactly alike. Individual faculty members draw from a number of schools of thought, including attachment theory, interpersonal theory, humanistic theory, family systems theory, feminist theory, object relations theory, self psychology, infant research, self-in-relation theory (Stone Center), psychoanalytic theory, queer theory, and cultural theory.  Given the diverse roots of relational theory, there are also differences in emphasis and technique among relational clinicians.

Faculty at the Women’s Therapy Center, however, all view the client-therapist dyad as the central place that change occurs.  They view the client-therapist partnership as complex, based on each participant’s subjective experience of herself and the other.  Both client and therapist are co-creators of a process that can lead to increased well-being and to making meaning of the client’s life.  Therapists-in-training are encouraged to use their subjective experience to maintain a stance of empathy, mutuality, and flexibility within the therapeutic dyad.

At the Center, we are interested in the familial, interpersonal, social, and cultural contexts in which early development and later life experience occur.  We recognize that trauma and styles of attachment influence the neurochemistry of the body and the brain, and that neurochemistry affects the way that interactions are processed and understood.   We also know the importance of exploring issues of stigma and marginalization. As relational clinicians, we recognize the impact of issues such as economic class, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, expression of gender, age, and body size upon a person’s sense of self and relationships with others. 
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Why the Women's Therapy Center?

The Women’s Therapy Center was started over thirty years ago, in 1978, by Nina Ham and Jane Loebel.  At that time, the majority of leaders in the field were men.  Ego psychology, the primary model taught in graduate programs in psychology, stressed therapist neutrality and mandated that the therapist be a “blank screen.”  Transference was viewed as a distortion, and counter-transference was considered a problem.

WTC began as a place for women to train women to work with women.  This is where we came from – it is literally how we were born.  WTC was conceived to be an alternative to male-dominated training programs.  It provided a women’s space, a space to develop a theory and practice in which women were both subject and object, and where women’s development and experiences throughout the lifespan were the norm.  The very name of the Women’s Therapy Center offered women who were coming into therapy a promise that they would not be devalued for being female, or pathologized for not being feminine enough.  This is still true for the clients we serve, for our therapists-in-training, and for the seasoned clinicians who teach and supervise.  Our agency therapists have repeatedly expressed the importance of maintaining this women’s space as a place of learning where they can be vulnerable as well as powerful.

Initially, the Center provided service to adult women exclusively. Over the years, we have expanded our services so that we now see adolescent girls and couples of all genders.  We occasionally provide therapy for male clients who have seen our agency therapists in another practice setting, or who have been seen in our clinic for couples therapy.  We also see gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, wherever they fall on the gender spectrum.  Currently, our organization is in conversation about how the complexity of gender will co-exist with our being the Women’s Therapy Center. 

How the Women’s Therapy Center Integrates Social Justice and Psychotherapy

In our early years, we were most interested in the ways that sexism shaped women’s lives.  Our founders and the group of women therapists who became the faculty at WTC wanted to teach a model of psychotherapy that would include traditional psychodynamic principles, but would also deconstruct the authoritarian divide between client and therapist.  They wanted to expand the way the clinical relationship was understood, including the radical idea that there was an actual relationship between therapist and client that could and should be explored as part of the therapy.

Drawing from humanistic and feminist models, this approach would also include a stance of warmth and acceptance, and the recognition of the role that culture plays in shaping each woman’s life and psyche.  Over the years, we have gotten a much wider understanding of the ways that cultural forces shape our internal and external lives.  Where we originally were most interested in looking at the commonalities of women’s experience, we are now interested in the differences as well as the similarities.

Over the past thirty years, there has been a paradigm shift in the field of psychology.  Today, there is widespread agreement that there is no such thing as pure analytic neutrality or a “blank screen.”  Even contemporary analytic thinking now recognizes the impact of culture and the usefulness of counter-transference in understanding the complex ways that information is communicated in the clinical dyad.  Although the field of psychology has, in some ways, caught up with us, we continue to provide a unique training experience for women who want to combine issues of social justice with depth-oriented psychotherapy.

Our commitment to social justice means we recognize that power and privilege are not distributed equally among people, and that we are dedicated to rectifying these inequities.  The Women’s Therapy Center, through the lens of relational psychotherapy, offers a place to uncover how cultural biases may have become internalized, and how they impact our selves, our families and our communities.  Our early family experiences, and where we find ourselves on the spectrum of privilege and oppression, shape how we come to feel about ourselves and our capacity to have satisfying relationships.

What is Unique about the Training at the Women’s Therapy Center

Training at the Women’s Therapy Center offers a blend of intensive dyadic and group learning through individual supervision, group supervision, didactic classes, and an experiential learning group.  Our program is designed to support each therapist in developing her unique voice in the room with her clients.  Each agency therapist has two supervisors who meet with her individually on a weekly basis. These supervisors, along with the clinical director, meet with her for an annual team meeting to strengthen her progress. Many of the all-volunteer faculty of seasoned clinicians attend monthly faculty meetings and have periodic retreats to deepen their capacity as supervisors.

We strongly believe that understanding the therapeutic process depends on having one’s own personal depth psychotherapy.  In order to make full use of her experience in the clinical dyad and in the experiential and group learning situations, we encourage each agency therapist to be in psychotherapy during her training.

Finally, agency therapists have the opportunity to take their clients with them to another practice site upon graduation.