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 survivors 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 focused on challenging and resisting sexism and gender inequality. When modern, North American feminism appeared around the 1970s, it was primarily a movement of white, straight, cis, able bodied, university-educated women. Over time it has struggled to include all those who experience intersecting oppressions in the movement. The evolution of feminist counselling is like feminism, in that it has also been challenged to reflect and incorporate all survivors' experiences into its practices.

As survivors started breaking the silence of the violence they had survived—rape, childhood sexual abuse, ritual abuse, rape in marriage and battering, sexual harassment, stalking, and more—they created spaces where they could share their stories and work toward social change. Feminist counsellors are guided by this foundational principle and so, the feminist approach to counseling moves away from the traditional view that put the blame on survivors and instead places survivors at the centre of the counseling experience- that is, the issues survivors 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 that survivors are the experts in their own lives;
  • an anti-racist/anti-oppression analysis;
  • acknowledgement of survivors' strengths and resiliency;
  • encouragement of more equitable relationships with their clients—counsellors will be guides, with good information, in survivors' healing journeys;
  • a diversity of counsellors—from different backgrounds, races, abilities, classes, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

Person holding sign that states

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 folks who experience gender-based violence, that violence itself 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, cissexism, colonialism, able-ism, and a range of other experiences will affect survivors' 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 survivors.

Access & Equity at the ORCC

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

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


  • Classism:
    A system of institutional and cultural practices and individual actions that disadvantages folks due to their income, occupation, education, and/or their economic condition.

  • Heterosexism:
    A system of attitudes, biases, and discrimination that favours opposite-gender sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual unless otherwise identified, and the belief that opposite-gender sexuality and relationships are the norm and therefore superior.

  • Racism:
    A system of attitudes, biases, and violence based on the assumption that one race is superior to another, which results in the discrimination against people based on their race and ethnicity. It also assumes that the abilities of an individual are determined by their race.
  • Sexism:
    Prejudice or discrimination based on gender that may include the perspective that one gender is inherently superior to others. It has been linked to gender roles, stereotypes, as well as sexual and domestic violence.
  • Cissexism:
    A system of attitudes, biases, and discrimination founded in the belief that a person's gender is determined based on their biological characteristics that results in the oppression of trans, two-spirit, non-binary, and other gender-diverse folks. Cissexism relies on the notion of a gender binary and on biological essentialism (the belief that our identities are decided by our biology).
  • Colonialism
    An oppressive relationship between an indigenous population and an invading (colonising) population, in which the colonial force sets and implements fundamental decisions that directly impact the indigenous populations of a given land based on the need and desires of the colonisers. It is a system that is rooted in the belief by the colonising forces that they are inherently superior, and historically is closely tied to racism.
  • Ableism:
    Institutionalized practices and individual actions and beliefs that posit the able-body as the norm. It works to promote negative images of disabled folks, such as the myth that it is not possible for someone with a disability to have a positive and equal relationship.