AU’s Women’s and Gender Studies 425 ? Feminist Family Therapy, was co-authored by Dr. Deborah Foster and Dr. Karen Nielsen, and the two continue to tutor the course to this day. The introduction of feminism to counselling and family therapy was pioneered in Canada by Judy Myers Avis, and in the 1980’s, both Foster and Nielsen were able to study under Avis (Foster while in Ontario, and Nielsen while in New Brunswick).
When asked about the major concepts WGST 425 covers, Nielsen explains that “all family therapy is based on the belief that the family is a unique social system with its own structure and patterns of communication. It addresses the problems people present within the context of their relationships with significant persons in their lives and their social networks. Feminist family therapy does this too but it also recognizes the importance of consequences of traditional socialization practices that primarily disadvantage women.”
Deborah Foster offers students a more detailed look at the course, its structure, and uniqueness.
Bethany: Why do you feel that this course is valuable for students?
Deborah: We believe that this course is extremely valuable to students who want to work in the counseling field. It provides a close look at how gender impacts the counseling field and impacts the family. Even if a student is going to work in an allied profession, like nursing, psychology, disabilities services, or front line social work, this course can give very valuable information to both women and men about working with families either as a whole or with individuals who are a part of a family.
Bethany: What can students expect, in terms of course structure and materials?
Deborah: The course is structured like many of the other women and gender studies courses with a few assignments and a take home exam/final assignment. There are parts of a textbook used but many of the readings are from an on line journal called Feminist Family Therapy.
The course is divided into seven units and four take home assignments, [and has] no invigilated final, so no need to memorize things; rather take them in, sort through them, and use what works for you. We believe the four very different assignments allow a student to explore different aspects of counseling information when working with a family from a feminist standpoint.
The first assignment is a rather traditional sort of assignment which involves critiquing course information in short essays. The second assignment is a case study of a family. This assignment has the student list how they would work with the family. The third assignment has students picking a topic and finding a feminist counseling article and a non-feminist counseling article and comparing and contrasting how each counseling method handles the chosen issue. The last assignment involves picking a movie about a family and discussing how you could work with the family to deal with their issues.
The units of the course look at a variety of topics including working with families across the life cycle, working with marginalized families, working with families who have special issues, the influence of the media on families, and of course this course starts with a few units laying the foundation and theory of feminist family therapy.
Bethany: Is there anything about this course that students tend to find particularly challenging?
Deborah: This is a fourth year course so there is an expectation that students can write a solid essay with correct formatting and referencing (preferably APA style). I would say that this and writing an essay which involves critically analysing the content (not just regurgitating back the material) is really the most challenging parts to the course for many. Students should have taken a least one course with a women or gender focus so they understand gender dynamics and how it impacts us all. They should have also taken at least one counselling course (whether that be practice or theory) so they have an understanding of basic counselling strategies and theories, although this course is not heavy on theory, it is heavy on practice and application, which we think makes is both fun and unique among university courses.
Bethany: Is there anything students should know if they’re thinking of taking this course?
Deborah: This is a fun filled course because students get to critique a movie of their choice that has families in it like Meet the Fockers, I am Sam, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I think that doing an exercise like this changes how we watch TV and movies for the rest of our lives, so be ready for a paradigm shift of thinking.
Bethany: Is there anything else you could tell me about it?
Deborah: This is a very unique course. When we, as authors of the course, looked across Canada for similar courses we found that really there were no other undergraduate feminist family therapy courses. Consider taking this course. I think you will really enjoy it as you have a lot of freedom to do it your way!
Bethany Tynes completed her MA in Integrated Studies through AU, and is a Canadian politics junkie.