Sex issues, training and research visibility seen as challenges for women in psychology

August 06, 2000

Issues such as counselors having sex with former patients, multiculturalism, graduate training and more visibility for research on women's issues are among the challenges facing women as psychology enters a new century, a University of Illinois professor says.

"There are some important projects begun previously that deserve our attention in the 21st century, nay demand our attention," Helen S. Farmer said in a speech Aug. 7 at the 108th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C. "One of these is the ethical issue of whether or not sex with former clients should be revisited and a strong case made with the APA Ethics Committee."

Farmer was the 1999 Woman of the Year for the APA Division 17 Section for the Advancement of Women (SAW). In her speech, she reviewed the progress of women in psychology since the division formed a committee to study women's issues in 1970, and she provided challenges for the next 30 years.

The 1992 ethics code required psychologists "to not engage in sexual intimacies with a former patient or client for at least two years" after services end, she said. "It is important to observe and document how well this wording has served to protect women clients from sexual exploitation."

Farmer noted that sexual misconduct was involved in 18 of 31 cases that ended with loss of professional licensure in 1998. Annual reports of the APA Ethics Committee for other years in the 1990s, she said, suggest that "sexual misconduct in the counseling of women has not necessarily been reduced."

The issue, she said, also should be part of a review of current training practices for students studying counseling psychology. Farmer called on the SAW to identify "gaps in graduate training programs and in our competencies related to professional service for counseling women, especially as we confront the challenge of integrating multicultural competencies into feminist counseling."

The issue of multiculturalism in the field came into focus at the SAW'S Advancing Together Conference in 1998, when minority women "felt at various times alienated, marginalized and silenced, especially in work groups," she said, quoting from a 1999 article by SAW Chairwoman Lauren Weitzman. The problem, Farmer said, "may well dominate the 2000-2010 years for SAW."

Farmer called for more recognition of women's efforts in psychology, suggesting more representation on APA committees, that the SAW establish an annual award to recognize women's scientific contributions, and that the SAW form its own journal devoted to female counseling issues.

She also noted the United Nations Women's Conference held in May, when trafficking in women for sex and the impact of AIDS were named as two primary world health issues for women. "The challenge for SAW," she said, "is to keep in touch with emerging concerns of women in the 21st century and to continue to address these in research, graduate training and professional practice."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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