Feminist Approach

What does it mean to use a "feminist approcach to counselling"? 

You do not need to identify as a feminist to receive support from ORCC. The style of counselling we do is referred to as feminist, anti-oppressive, client-centred, and strength-based. 

A feminist counselling approach has been identified by survivors as the most helpful in addressing issues related to trauma from sexualized violence or abuse. This empowering and strength-based approach works in partnership with women to navigate the impacts of trauma and find their way forward integrating these experiences into their lives. You do not have to be a feminist to receive feminist counselling.

Feminist counselling uses techniques and approaches (e.g. grounding and empowerment strategies) to help clients identify the issues related to their crises and to help them deal with their issues and get through their crises. Feminist counselling is essentially client-centred in its approach. The goal is to provide clients with information, resources and support; to listen empathetically; and to help them develop more resources and support systems.

This style of counselling has evolved from a political movement of women resisting sexism and inequality. When modern, North American feminism appeared around the 1970s, it was primarily a movement of white, straight, able bodied, university-educated women. Over time it has struggled to include all women in the movement. The evolution of feminist counselling is like feminism, in that it has also been challenged to reflect and incorporate all women’s experiences into its practices.

As women started breaking the silence of the abuses they had survived—rape, childhood sexual abuse, ritual abuse, rape in marriage and battering—women's groups created spaces where they could share their stories and work toward social change. Feminist counsellors are guided by this herstory and so, the he feminist approach to counseling moves away from the traditional view that put the blame on women and places women at the centre of the counseling experience- that is, the issues women bring to their counselors are likely the result of, or their response to, violent acts and their experiences in an oppressive society.

Some features of feminist counselling might include:acknowledgement of power relations in society;

  • acknowledgement of the power imbalances between counsellors and clients— counsellors should not use their power inappropriately to oppress clients;
  • ​recognizing women are the experts in their own lives;
  • an anti-racist/anti-oppression analysis;
  • acknowledgement of women’s strengths and resiliency;
  • encouragement of more equitable relationships with their clients—counsellors will be guides, with good information, in women’s healing journeys;
  • a diversity of women counsellors—from different backgrounds, races, abilities, classes, sexual orientations.

Sexism, Racism, Ableism, Heterosexism, Classism: Making the Links with Sexual Violence

Sexual assault experiences are embedded within the personal, as well as the social and historical context within which we all live. To acknowledge the diversity and complexity of female experience, violence against women has to be considered in relation to an entire structure of domination of which patriarchy is but one part. Sexism, as it intersects with racism, classism, homophobia and able-ism, and a range of other experiences will affect women's responses to the trauma of sexual violence. As our communities grow and become even more diverse, we at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre are committed to not only recognize that diversity within our community but to continue to create policies, programs and projects that reflect our commitment to serving all women.

Access & Equity at the ORCC

The Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre is committed to providing inclusive and accessible services to all women. In meeting the challenges of making our services accessible to all women, we have achieved important successes in recent years. These include:

  • The Violence Awareness Program for Women at Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) (1995-Present)
    Two workers from the ORCC go to the prison once a week and deliver workshops to incarcerated women. Besides workshops on sexual violence they give women information on other areas of their lives. The workshops also provide women with the chance to come together to share their experiences and discuss issues relevant to them. 


  • Classism:
    A system of institutional practices and individual actions that allow a few people to control most of the wealth and power in society to the disadvantage of the majority of people.

  • Heterosexism:
    Institutionalized policies and individual actions that promote a heterosexual lifestyle above all others. It assumes that a heterosexual pattern of loving is superior over all other patterns of loving and that a woman's life will be defined in relation to a man's.

  • Racism:
    Is to people of colour what sexism is to women. It is the assumption that one race is superior to another. It also assumes that the abilities of an individual are determined by their race.
  • Sexism:
    An integral part of the social structure under which we live that exploits women and confers privileges to men over women.
  • Ableism:
    Institutionalized practices and individual actions and beliefs that posit the able-body as the norm. It works to promote negative images of disabled women, such as the myth that it is not possible for someone with a disability to have a positive and equal relationship.