Women » Features

Philly’s Women’s Therapy Center Celebrates 40 Years

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Dec 9, 2013

On Friday, Dec. 13, the Women's Therapy Center will celebrate 40 years of serving Philadelphia's women with low-cost psychotherapy services. The keynote speaker for the luncheon, to be held at the Moore College of Art and Design, is esteemed author and Rutgers University professor Nancy McWilliams, Ph.D.

"This is an exciting time for Women's Therapy Center. We have built on our roots as a feminist collective of women who believed that therapy could be offered in a way that was empowering and affordable, and not focused on pathologizing women. Forty years later, we are still committed to this mission," said Executive Director Alison Gerig.

The event will celebrate the success of the last four decades and welcome the growth of the organization. More than 100 psychotherapists, donors, community members, WTC alumni and WTC founding mothers from the Delaware Valley will attend in celebration of the success of the last four decades.

Keynote speaker McWilliams specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy and supervision; the relationship between psychodiagnosis and treatment; alternatives to DSM diagnostic conventions; integration of feminist theory and psychoanalytic knowledge; the application of psychoanalytic understanding to the problems of diverse clinical populations; altruism; narcissism; and trauma and dissociative disorders.

"Nancy Williams is one of the lead voices in the feminist psychotherapy community today," said Gerig. "She has contributed widely to the psychotherapy community, synthesizing a century of cumulative clinical wisdom in a way that is accessible for clinicians of any background. WTC felt that she would be a perfect keynote speaker to lead WTC into this new chapter of our future."

Founded in 1972, WTC works to empower Philadelphia’s women by providing low-cost psychotherapy services. WTC’s team of clinicians specializes in the treatment of a wide array of mental health issues including addictions, anxiety, depression, trauma and PTSD, relationship concerns and identity issues. With 24 therapists who serve more than 350 women a year, WTC is still the only place for under-insured and uninsured women in Philadelphia who want affordable, high-quality therapy.

Women’s Therapy Center nurtures individual well-being and personal growth by providing high-quality, affordable psychotherapeutic services in a feminist environment. They create this feminist environment through supporting client empowerment, collaboration, a de-emphasis on diagnosis, and on the recognition that the way in which we experience oppression is influenced and shaped by our concurrent identities.

"Almost half of the clients we serve identify as lesbian, bisexual, queer, or trans," said Gerig. "In fact, based on community demand, the board and staff recently voted for WTC to become fully trans-inclusive to offer all services to anyone of trans or gender non-conforming experience."

Women’s Therapy Center has found (and research indicates) that women are twice as likely to suffer from a mood or anxiety disorder than men. Being poor makes your risk even greater for experiencing trauma or exposure to adversity and oppression -- both of which can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) .

The impact of these traumatic symptoms on society is enormous. The economic cost of work absences and lower work production in the United States was estimated at almost $53 billion in 2000 for depression alone. In addition to work productivity, women often struggle in their relationships and marriages, suffer more family discord, and can develop eating disorders or become addicted to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than men, and living below the poverty line is one of the most reliable contributing factors.

"WTC catches these women before they fall through the cracks," said Gerig. "We see women who are working but a paycheck away from poverty -- women you know and see every day -- hairdressers, house keepers, nannies, students, artists, waiters, sex workers and retail workers. They are your sisters, your mothers, your daughters. They can’t afford to go to see someone private yet make too much for subsidized care. WTC is the one place they can turn to for quality affordable care. Women come to WTC to heal and transform their lives -- for themselves, their families and their communities."

They take great care in how they match up clients with clinicians to ensure a successful fit. They offer all services on a sliding fee scale to remove financial barriers. WTC’s therapists are diverse across race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, language, and gender identity and can offer individual, couples, and group psychotherapy services.

They provide a wide range of treatment approaches including gestalt and psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral treatment, mindfulness work, yoga, and psychological testing.

WTC also has a special program that utilizes eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for women wanting to overcome struggles from trauma in their lives. EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that was designed to specifically eliminate the negative symptoms connected with traumatic experiences. Trauma often leads to an impairment in one’s ability to successfully integrate experiences, and can result in unresolved memories, emotions, perceptions and interpersonal disturbances.

The eight phase framework includes introduction, preparation, assessment, desensitization through bilateral stimulation (eye movements, taps, vibrating pulses and audio tones), installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. This information processing approach is woven into a larger treatment plan to resolve specific elements of trauma that have been lingering and impeding one from living a successful life.

Clients have reported fewer clinical symptoms after EMDR treatment and the outcomes were sustained at 18 months. Research also found that EMDR treatment yielded better results than SSRIs/psychotropic medication or other solo behavioral interventions such as using cognitive behavioral therapy. Effective outcomes were found in multi-trauma patients after only six sessions, demonstrating EMDR’s cost effectiveness and success among severely traumatized clients as well. Its specific methodology and rigorous protocol for evaluation allows EMDR to be easily incorporated into a community-based outpatient mental health setting, and monitored for effectiveness.

WTC is well-positioned to offer this approach due to their experience in providing effective mental health services and their ability to reach disenfranchised communities with a history of trauma and engage them in ongoing treatment.

"We have become a pillar in the mental health community as the only place a woman with a low income can receive affordable, quality, long-term services in Philadelphia," said Gerig. "We are excited to celebrate this success and look forward to our future at the 40th Anniversary Celebration."

WTC’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will be held from 12-2 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Moore College of Art and Design, 20th and the Parkway in Philadelphia. For more information, visit www.womenstherapycenter.org

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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