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Disrupting identity through visible therapy: a feminist post-structuralist approach to working with women who have experienced child sexual abuse

Warner, Samantha J. (2001) Disrupting identity through visible therapy: a feminist post-structuralist approach to working with women who have experienced child sexual abuse. Feminist review, 68 (1). pp. 115-139. ISSN 0141-7789

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Abstract

This article draws on feminism and post-structuralism to theorize a narrative framework for developing and critiquing therapeutic practices with women who have experienced child sexual abuse. I argue that both objectivism and relativism provide poor guides for conducting therapy and that it is only through situating our knowledges precisely that more liberatory therapy practices may be developed. This approach, termed 'visible therapy', is used to directly and explicitly challenge normative constructions of women, child sexual abuse and therapy. I argue that it is necessary to explicate the embedded assumptions produced through practices of abuse, and which serve to construct children's experiences of that abuse, in order to ward against their reproduction within therapy relationships. I demonstrate that it is through situating and explicating the operations of power that the authenticity of experience and identity may be questioned and women's ongoing positioning as guilty victims may be challenged. Thus, I am concerned not with who women 'really are' but with how they come to know and be known through practices of both abuse and therapy. This, then, is about making the tactics of abuse and therapy visible. Problems are not located within individuals, but rather within the narratives which situate both past and current relationships but which, through reiteration, obscure their own social production. I conclude that it is only when categorical identity is no longer assumed that progressive therapy practices with women who have been sexually abused can be developed and maintained.

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