Counseling For Liberation by Charlotte Ellen
Charlotte Ellen, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice. She has lectured and been a frequent consultant and leader at Marriage and Family Conferences, Institutes, Woman’s Studies, and Human Liberation Programs. She also writes for use of her material by ministers and pastoral counselors. She also co-authored, with Howard J. Clinebell, The Intimate Marriage, Harper & Row. This book used by permission of the author. It was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Epilogue: The Cup Of The New Relationship
One can only speculate on what celebration could be were mutuality (love) possible in the community of faith: were the oppressed of the earth trusted to become a valid part of that community.
In the earthquake of changing relationships between the sexes it often seems as though the destruction is so great and the landscape so drastically changed that we will never be able to rebuild. When one sex is pushing and the other is resisting, conflict is inevitable. But good counseling theory affirms the fact that conflict can also be creative and growth producing.
The growing edge of relationships individually and collectively is the place where there is dissatisfaction and a struggle for change. Anger doesn't mean that we don't want a relationship; it means we want a better one.
Beyond the anger -- if we can keep on talking to each other long enough -- awaits a relationship between the sexes which can provide the basis for a benevolent society and fullness (wholeness) of life for everyone. Social activists and counselors in many disciplines have long concerned themselves with the relation -- or lack of it -- between personal growth and social change. How can the focus of the counseling professions on personal fulfillment be justified in view of the great and urgent human concerns about poverty, famine, racism, ) war, and disease? In the revolution of rising consciousness in 'women -- and therefore in men -- personal growth and social change are inseparable. Social change as a result of personal growth toward wholeness is inevitable and
The relationship between the two shows in a number of obvious ways as well as in subtle ones. For one thing, as women begin to feel strong and to see that they have far more potential than they have ever imagined, they are less apt to land in mental hospitals. For another, the best way to double human brain power without increasing the population is to free women to develop and use their minds. An even more obvious connection between personal growth and social change is that involving the population explosion and the status of women. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization points out that the most effective contraceptive is the education of women. UNESCO statistics show that as the status of women rises in a given country the birth rate declines.
More subtle but nonetheless powerful social change also occurs as women and men begin to define themselves differently. As women learn to value their "strong" side, and men their "gentle" side, a change in the collective consciousness and sense of values takes place which leads to a new balancing of the traits previously labeled "feminine" and "masculine." The valuing of women and the valuing of the attributes now so sorely needed to save humankind are inevitably inter- twined. Anne McGrew Bennett remarks that our society gives a superior place to men and to the "so-called masculine attributes -- physical force, military power, pride of place, exploitation of the earth, dominance over others. So long as our understanding of the nature of God and the nature of personhood lack wholeness we will continue to destroy ourselves and others."(2)
As we begin to value women and the "feminine" attributes (love, compassion, caring, service, nurturance) equally with men and the "masculine" attributes (strength, courage, power, assertiveness) we may begin to achieve the wholeness which is our only salvation. A balance of these human traits in women and men, in individuals and in society collectively, is an inevitable result of the rising consciousness of women -- and therefore of men. The importance of such wholeness is illustrated by our ecological concerns; what we require is a "masculine" instrumentality and a "feminine" nurturing which together will make it possible for us both to use and to preserve our natural resources.
Such a philosophy is inevitably idealistic. It challenges the hierarchical nature not only of our social system but also of our religion. We need a God in whom the polarities of feminine-masculine, good-evil, infinite-finite are united; a God who calls us to continuing discovery of all our potentialities as individuals and as humankind; a God who does not box us in or limit us with arbitrary definitions of what is human; a God we do not "bump into" when we spread our wings or stretch our muscles toward wholeness and toward an open future.(3) To admit that such a view is idealistic is not to say it is impossible. The question is not Can we? but Will we?
For ministers and counselors, all of this means both a concern for the individual parishioner or counselee and a looking beyond to the social change that can result when individuals are freed to use their fullest potential. Many people are still hoping that the church can meet the new challenges dramatized by the rising consciousness of women in search of spiritual rebirth for themselves and for all of human society. A major task of ministers and counselors, then, is to become more alive, more free, more able to use all their powers to enjoy life, and to encourage that kind of growth in others. Do whatever you can to get out of your own boxes -- as persons, as minister, as counselor. Do whatever you can to help other people get out of theirs.
1. Fischer, Brenneman, and Bennett, p. 127.
2. Anne McGrew Bennett (lecture, Claremont Methodist Church Claremont, Calif., April 13, 1974).
3. Daly, p. 193.