Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Heidi M. Levitt

Second Advisor

Takuya Minami

Third Advisor

Sharon G. Horne


Humanistic-Existential (HE) and Feminist-Multicultural (FM) psychology both developed alongside the civil rights movement and converge in their upholding of human dignity and basic human rights for all people. Considerations of power have been centered in these approaches, from HE theory, which has described the revolutionary potential of personal power and person-centered psychotherapy, to FM theory, which has analyzed the intersection of power, privilege, and oppression within and outside of the therapy room. This study explored the task of navigating power dynamics responsibly within psychotherapy to promote empowerment, wellness and liberation rather than collusion with oppression and an unjust status quo. Grounded theory analysis was utilized to examine the perspectives of 14 eminent therapists, who hold expertise in HE and FM approaches. Participants were interviewed about their experiences navigating expert and cultural power dynamics in psychotherapy. The core finding of this study articulated how therapists endeavored to use their expertise to skillfully ally with clients’ exploration of their lived experience and capacity for healing. Healing was conceptualized as a liberation process that moved beyond liberation of individuals and toward community liberation. Five clusters articulated how master therapists (1) conceptualized the goal of psychotherapy; (2) structured and navigated power dynamics in the therapy process; (3) conceptualized power in psychotherapy within an ecological model; (4) attended to social positionality and cultural power; and (5) resisted institutional and epistemological disenfranchisement within the field. Guided by a constructivist-social justice research epistemology, these results can inform reconciliation of theoretical tensions that have pervaded across HE and FM approaches. Additionally, eminent therapists’ perspectives provide insights about therapists’ intentionality that can guide responsible navigation of power dynamics in psychotherapy, therapists’ training, and liberatory aims in psychology.


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