In this episode, Naomi summarises the four domains of personal power captured in feminist therapy and how understanding these domains can inform transformation in our lives and work outside of the therapy context (including in the coaching context).
For more information on domains of personal power, you might like to also read Laura S. Brown’s book Feminist Therapy.
Also, stay tuned as we will be interviewing Laura on the podcast soon!
Listen to this episode
What you will learn:
- The four domains of personal power captured in feminist therapy.
- How understanding these four domains can inform transformation in our lives and work outside of the therapy context (including in the coaching context).
Featured / Referenced:
- Episode 4: Power & Empowerment
- Laura S Brown
- Feminist Therapy by Laura S Brown
- Developing Coach Collective
Prefer to read? Download the full episode transcript:
Read the full episode transcript:
You are listening to the Dream For Others® podcast with Naomi Arnold, Episode 15.
Dream For Me, Dream For You, Dream For Others®. And now your host, award-winning life and business coach, Naomi Arnold…
Hellllllllooooo!!! Thank you for joining me.
In a previous episode we talked about four different perspectives on power and how it relates to empowerment in human rights and community engagement contexts. We also spoke about how knowing these different perspectives can inform our decisions in other social change contexts too. If you didn’t listen to that episode, you might like to go back and find it. It was episode #4 and it was called Power & Empowerment.
In this new episode, we’re going to look at power from a different angle and from the perspective of a different theory. We’ll be exploring what Laura S Brown who has an excellent book on Feminist Therapy calls the four domains of personal power.
I’ll pop a link to this book in the show notes. I think it’s a must read for anyone who is in a helping profession, whether you are a therapist or not.
I’m also excited to share with you that my Developing Coach Collective partner Cameron Airen and I have booked an interview with Laura to talk further about feminist therapy and how feminist theory can be applied to coaching.
So if all goes to plan, we’ll have an episode coming out soon that focuses on this – on how feminist theory can be applied to coaching skills and practice. Stay tuned for that one.
Now stay focused Naomi… Domains of Personal Power
As the name of the framework implies, feminist therapy conceptualises personal power in four domains:
- Somatic power;
- Intrapersonal and intrapsychic power;
- Interpersonal and social-contextual power; and
- Spiritual and existential power.
If you get Laura’s book, you will find a great table that breaks down these different domains and what they mean.
Now these domains do not operate in isolation – they interact with one another and are in a constant relationship with one another.
So in feminist therapy, power isn’t conceptualised as simply having control over people and resources.
It instead focuses on identifying the areas where systemic oppression and patriarchies and social forces show up and lead to people experiencing power or powerlessness. We’ll go into the four domains in more detail shortly, but you will see that these social forces can show up in each domain, and how this can offer individuals and helping professionals a lens through which we can become aware of these and perhaps begin to work through them.
In feminist therapy, the therapist works in co-creation with their client to identify and practice strategies that might invite, encourage or support liberation or empowerment.
So for a feminist therapist, in order for liberation or empowerment to occur one needs to be aware of and analyse the social structures and systems that are contributing to or upholding powerlessness or disempowerment.
As you might know I am a life and business coach with a background in psychology, and this is something that I try to bring to my coaching as well. So even though the theory I am sharing with you stems from feminist therapy, I think if we use our critical thinking skills and contextual analyses that it can also be applied to the work of coaches and helping professionals and individual self-work too.
So having an understanding of these domains and how social factors can influence self and our lives can be really useful.
Somatic Power / Biological Realm
Now let’s focus on each of the domains of personal power, starting with somatic power or what Laura S Brown also calls the biological realm. In this realm, we examine personal power in the context of one’s connection with their body.
Now in feminist therapy, it is argued that despite what we’ve often been socialised to believe, power in the body does not require the ability to see, hear, walk, or talk. A powerful body isn’t necessarily strong or physically fit. It’s not necessarily free of pain or illness in accordance to this theory.
Instead, somatic power or empowerment in the biological realm is related to moving toward a sense of compassion for the body. It’s about our spiritual relationship with embodiment.
It can also involve examining whether we feel a sense of acceptance about our body shape and size, or whether our body feels like a safe enough space to be in.
This will be different for different people. For some it might be a journey to accepting their body as it is.
Whereas, if the shape, size or sex you were assigned at birth makes you feel unsafe, for them changing the body might act in service to feeling that sense of safety.
In this real we might also look at whether we feel connected to bodily desires like food, rest, comfort and sex? Do we have access to the means needed to feed these desires? Do these means align with our values? Do they not require harm to ourselves or others?
So what it means to feel empowered in the biological realm will feel different from person to person, as I mentioned before – but it is ultimately about moving toward a feeling of compassion and advocacy for your embodied experience.
Intrapersonal Power / Intrapsychic Realm
The next domain is intrapersonal power. This realm focuses within – so knowing and being aware of what one thinks and feels.
Holding intrapersonal power means being able to use thoughts and feelings as a useful source of information about what is happening.
It can mean an ability to focus on current feelings, and recognise how they’re different to past feelings or potential future feelings or experiences.
It also means being able to feel intense or powerful emotions – and channel or regulate these in effective ways, self soothing as needed and in ways that don’t harm yourself and others.
It might also mean being able to critically examine your thoughts and the thoughts of others. Feeling comfortable in changing your mind as you learn more or as new data becomes available.
And it can mean finding ways to access information coming from one’s inner knowing or intuition. And being able to search for and find sources of information that can assist or expand your knowing or capacity.
So this domain primarily focuses on relationship with self – with inner thoughts, feelings and knowings.
Interpersonal and Social / Contextual Power
The next domain is interpersonal and social / contextual power. So this realm focuses on your relationship with others.
Experiencing power in this realm means recognising you don’t control others or the world at large and that there are limits to what you can control and to power too.
People who feel empowered in this realm are capable of forming relationships that work more often than not. They can create and sustain intimacy with others, while also being able to differentiate themselves and not lose themselves here either.
They are also discerning in who they relate with and are what some would say are wise or accurate in their assessments of people in this sense.
They can forgive people and themselves for their humanity – but they don’t forget and they work to protect themselves from those who make them feel emotionally or physically unsafe. When in relationships that are problematic, toxic or dangerous – they are able to decide to end those relationships. They can also work through conflict when needed and safe to do so.
They also tend to consciously enter relationship, more often by choice than accident – but of course welcome opportunities for new encounters or experiences too.
So this domain primarily focuses on relationships and dynamics with others.
Spiritual and Existential Power
The final domain is spiritual and existential power.
In this realm, powerful people have systems or beliefs or capacities for meaning making that enable them to feel a sense of wellbeing and comfort and often draw upon these during challenging times.
They are socially aware and can integrate social contexts and their impact. They have a sense of culture and heritage and can integrate this with their identities and understanding of self in ways that feel aligned.
Even though they have a sense of reality, they can also access their capacities for fantasy and creativity too.
So they are the four domains of personal power according to Laura S Brown and feminist therapy.
Now they might be interesting in themselves and you might have resonated with parts and felt tension with other parts. I know that when I was learning about these four domains, I felt a whole mixture of emotions and range of questions emerging.
But I think the part that gets really interesting about feminist therapy, which obviously I cannot teach in one short podcast episode, is it then interrogates these domains through the lens of what causes disempowerment. How does patriarchy and oppression and the ‘isms’ and socialisation impact each of these domains and individual experiences within them?
So in feminist therapy, it is assumed that oppressive systems and structures intentionally and unintentionally disempower almost all people in one or more of these domains.
In this sense, the domains of personal power are aspirational, they’re something that many of us aspire for, but due to reality may not fully realise.
However, feminist therapists would likely be quick to point out as well that part of patriarchal system is to make us feel a sense of powerlessness, to remain in this trance or this state of believing that things can’t be transformed.
So even thought it is acknowledged that personal power is aspirational when it comes to being achieved across all of the domains, feminist therapy also aims to acknowledge that self awareness combined with social awareness can transform our experiences.
And this is where the domains of personal power can assist us in analysing those different areas where we experience powerlessness, what we have been taught to believe about those areas through socialisation and systemic oppression, and what we might be able to do to begin to transform some of those areas.
I will direct quote Laura S Brown here now, as they summarise this really well:
“Feminist therapy subverts and interrupts the trance of powerlessness by inviting its participants to notice where and how greater power and a more liberatory way of relating to their social realities and their struggles is actually available to them.”
This is where we can then examine through a new lens what small powerful action or reframing or tweak or healthy thought we can make to move toward feeling more empowered.
There is so much more that we could talk about here. I feel we’ve only just scratched the surface. I really recommend that you get Laura S Brown’s book Feminist Therapy if you’re interested in learning more and unpacking “now what?” Also, as I mentioned, stay tuned, as Cam and I hope to have an episode featuring Laura shortly where we’ll be asking all sorts of questions around how we can apply feminist theory to our lives and work.
And finally, if you are a coach and you’re interested in learning feminist coaching theory – so how you can apply feminist theory and social awareness to your coaching skills and practice with clients, as well as to your business, we will be running classes with expert guest teachers on this very topic as part of Developing Coach Collective.
Cam and I believe that this is one of the areas that is missing from many coach training programs. We often don’t get taught how becoming more socially aware and more cognisant of feminist theory can be applied to our coaching methods and more fully assist our clients. So we’re really excited about this training and are really passionate about it because we feel it can make us much better and more masterful coaches and that it can also help us better serve our clients as well.
Developing Coach Collective will also be covering other areas that we know coaches would love assistance with too. So it won’t just be covering feminist coach theory, as we’ll also be spending time every month on actually implementing client attraction activities together, on working on our business not just in our business, and on other support mechanisms like mentorship, supervision and group coaching from Cameron and I.
So if you’re coach, we highly recommend you head on over to www.developingcoachcollective.com to learn more about this program. You’ll also find some free resources over there that you might find helpful too. And we cannot wait to be talking about feminist coaching theory with coaches through that time.
Thank you again so much for tuning in. I hope you found this episode useful, and I look forward to diving further into this topic over the following months and years.
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