2013. Vol.4, No.11, 902-911
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access
A Feminist Group Counseling Model to Address Asian Female
Pastors’ Self-Esteem Related Issues
Yu-Fen Lin1, Chi-Sing Li2, Beverly J. Irby3, Genevieve Brown4
1Counseling and Human Services, University of North Texas at Dallas, Dallas, USA
2Educational Leadership and Counseling, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, USA
3Educational Administration, Texas A&M University, College Station, USA
4Dean Emeritus, College of Education, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, USA
Received August 17th, 2013; revised September 22nd, 2013; accepted October 19th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Yu-Fen Lin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
A feminist group counseling model for Asian female pastors was developed and introduced in this manu-
script. A major issue that this feminist group counseling model presented was based on Asian female
pastors’ lives and work in a patriarchal church structure guided by traditional patriarchal theology and
culture. This model is applicable to the improvement of Asian female pastors’ self-esteems and gen-
der-related issues such as Asian female pastors’ leaderships, intimate relationships, family of origins, and
finance independence. This model is based on the positive feedback from 25 group sessions of five groups
that were applied to 27 Asian female pastors. The application and recommendations for using this model
are included in this article.
Keywords: Group Counseling Model; Gender Issues; Female Pastors; Self-Esteem
Meyers (2004) introduced feminist perspectives on the Self:
“In law, in customary practice, and in cultural stereotypes, wo-
men’s selfhood has been systematically subordinated, dimin-
ished, and belittled, when it has not been outright denied” (para.
1). Meyers also argued that “[t]he claim that women are sys-
tematically subordinated and that this subordination has a grie-
vous impact on women’s lives is central to feminism” (Recla-
mation, para. 5). A feminist group counseling model for Asian
female pastors (AFPs) has been developed to address Asian fe-
male pastors’ self-esteem related issues. This model, originated
by Author (2009), is based on the feedback from 25 group ses-
sions of five groups involving 27 AFPs.
The application and recommendations for using this model
are included in this article. This group counseling model is not
a value-free counseling model in that the theoretical framework
is grounded on feminist theology and feminist counseling in
order to effectively address AFPs’ self-esteem issues. Although
the development of characteristics and behavior common to
women are different from, but not less than those of males (Gil-
ligan, 1982), feminists offer critiques by pointing out that wo-
men and men are limited through stereotypical sex roles as-
signed by society (Dutton-Douglas & Walker, 1988). The em-
phasis that society places on the disparity in characteristics and
skills between men and women is a false stereotype developed
artificially and perpetuated by the socialization process (Dut-
ton-Douglas & Walker). Unfortunately, according to Worell
and Remer (1992) sex-roles stereotype women on their whole
lifespan development: “Sex-role conceptions affect the way we
think about and evaluate ourselves” (p. 42). Major issues that this
feminist group counseling model presented were based on Asian
female pastors’ (AFPs’) lives and work in a patriarchal church
structure guided by traditional patriarchal theology and culture.
Many times their congregations and male colleagues felt it inap-
propriate for AFPs to take a leadership role in the church. They
struggled against such an ideology every day. For example, in
our group sessions with AFPs, we found AFPs were often de-
fined as assistants to male pastors. They were many times view-
ed as either too weak or too tough in comparison to a male pas-
tor’s leadership. In other words, this was a lose-lose situation
for female pastors, because they were placed in a position to be
compared with men. Since they are not men, it becomes an un-
fair and distorted game for AFPs. They often tried too hard to
fit standards that may not have been suitable for them. They
started to limit themselves in assistant roles solely because they
had consistently heard such an ideology. They and the church
did not believe it to be natural and fair to have a senior female
pastor in the church or a female moderator in the presbytery or
in General Assembly. Meyers (2004) introduced feminist per-
spectives on the Self: “In law, in customary practice, and in
cultural stereotypes, women’s selfhood has been systematically
subordinated, diminished, and belittled, when it has not been
outright denied” (para. 1). Meyers also argued that “[t]he claim
that women are systematically subordinated and that this sub-
ordination has a grievous impact on women’s lives is central to
feminism” (Reclamation, para. 5).
Purpose of the Model and Overview of the
The purpose of this feminist group counseling model for
Asian female pastors (AFPs) is to improve AFPs’ self-esteems.
An approach is used that integrates feminist theology and femi-
nist counseling to deal with Asian female pastors’ self-esteem
related issues. Regarding feminist theology, this feminist group
counseling model for Asian female pastors uses biblical female
stories and feminist commentaries to help AFPs narrate their
own stories in focus groups. Focus groups are used in this mo-
del to provide AFPs an opportunity and a trustworthy environ-
ment to feel safe and to trust enough to share their personal ex-
periences and to voice their deep feelings and their true
thoughts with other female pastors in the groups. The feminist
group counseling model for Asian female pastors includes dis-
cussion topics that are focused on gender-related issues. This
approach was applied to five groups which consist of 27 female
pastors participants who voluntarily took part in this study and
had worked in a local church or church organization from three
to over 25 years. The 27 AFPs were recruited through invitation
e-mails sent out to all the female pastors that are on the list
serve of the Female Pastor Association in Taiwan, and all mem-
bers shared common backgrounds that assisted greatly in com-
municating and exchanging their experiences with one other on
an intellectual, emotional and visceral level. A whole-day group
took place with these 27 pastors who were recruited nationwide
and were divided into five groups which took place in five cit-
ies in Taiwan. Feminist perspectives are provided as feedback
along with the discussion process. All varieties of voices and
values, traditional or liberal, are respected in the groups, even
when the group members challenge one another’s values.
Three evaluative questions were asked at the beginning of
the closure session to qualitatively evaluate their changes in
their self-esteem, self perspectives, and new awareness toward
four important areas of their lives. Question one was: “After a
full day session, what new perspectives about the subject of
self-esteem have you gained?” Question two was: “How do you
think and feel differently about yourself now?” Question three
was: “Through reading and discussing the four stories in the
Bible, what are some new thoughts and awareness that you re-
ceived about each sub-subject, AFPs (Asian Female Pastors)
and their leadership, AFPs and their intimate relationships,
AFPs and their family of origin, AFPs and their ability to be
economically independent?” These three questions were pur-
posefully asked to gather data for research question two. Lastly,
the participants were asked to write a short prayer to God as an
offering and gift to the group. Also, if they chose to do so, the
participants could share their prayer with other group members.
While evaluating how the focus group helped the participants
with their self-esteem, the following four themes were found: a)
validation from within, b) AFPs’ goals: finding my own lead-
ership styles, c) more self-awareness, and d) my gender is great
and my existence is valuable.
Theme 1: Validation from Within
The participants oftentimes felt encouraged by other group
members’ sharing and their old belief systems were also chal-
lenged by other participants. They felt safe and comfortable to
share their experiences and inner voices in the group. Through
the process, they felt empowered and validated by simply being
themselves and sharing with each other. They started to believe
that even the Church system does not validate and support them,
they needed to look for validation from within in order to gain
higher self-esteem. For example, here are a few statements
from my participants’ evaluation of their day’s experiences.
One said,
I used to look for validation from others. Today, I have
learned that I need to value myself. I do not need others’
applause and praise to feel good about myself.
Another one stated,
To gain higher self-esteem, first of all, we need to learn to
accept ourselves and to be persistent in striving to do
those things that we want to do. I believe God had His/
Her own purpose when He/She chose us to become fe-
male pastors.
A participant stated,
I want to learn to appreciate myself more.
Another continued to say,
The lesson I have learned today is to love myself a bit
more, to accept myself a bit more. I used to love others
more than I love myself. I care too much how people look
at me and how they judge me. I need to care less and
march forward bravely.
And one made a little prayer saying,
Dear God, thank You for loving me; because of Your love,
I know that I am special and worthwhile. Thank You for
creating me as a woman.
Through the prayer, she expressed the value of being a
woman and feeling validated again. The following statement
made by one of the participants clearly and strongly represents
the themevalidation from within:
For me, the most important lesson learned today is that I
need to value myself before people around me can start
valuing me. I need to learn not to devaluate myself, but
rather, to know my own strengths and characters. I do not
need to compete with others, nor do I need to become
someone else. What I need to ask myself is whether I can
fully live out the potentials that God gives me.
Very similar messages were conveyed many times by differ-
ent participants. It is fair to draw the conclusion that female
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pastors look for validation more from within, and this includes
being certain about their precious value as women in God’s
eyes. Here is a quote from another participant who felt her val-
ues and high self-esteem should not be coming from outside but
from inside and should be an affirmation from God’s perspective:
Through today’s discussions, I am further affirmed that
the value of self is not determined by others or by the en-
vironment; it is determined by God. God values you; you
should value yourself. Of course, we will all still be in-
fluenced by our environment on a day-to-day base; how-
ever, we should remind ourselves that God would never
change His views for us.
One participant said,
Today’s group discussions help me accept my roles more
and help me adjust and assert myself when facing con-
Another participant said,
Through today’s group process, I found out what I am
looking for. I will be more assertive about my purpose
and goal. I am more certain that God is leading my way
and God placed me here in my ministry. I am single now;
therefore I can enjoy my solitude, freedom, and happiness.
I don’t need to rush into marriage just because of society’s
point of view.
A participant learned,
Talking about self-esteem, today I learned that I need to
love others as well as love myself so that I can achieve
true high self-esteem.
Another participant said to the group,
From today, I want to keep reminding myself of not being
limited by all the “shoulds” and “oughts” of my belief.
Theme 2: AFPs’ Goals: Finding My Own Leadership
Through the group process, female pastors in Taiwan were
encouraged to establish their own styles of leadership by find-
ing their own strengths and potentials. They said,
在領導權的討論時間裡, 我得到一個新的啟發,好的領
In the leadership discussion session, I discovered that
good leadership means to find our potentials and to use
them fully in the right environment;
I do not agree that women are less competent than men
are; however, I do think that we women need to live out
the strengths and characters that God has created in us and
to fulfill the mission that God assigns us;
I think that to validate my feminine characteristics and to
build a solid and intimate relationship with God is the key
to assuming great leadership.
Further, they said things such as:
Women need to form our own leadership styles. We must
find our strengths and abilities and carry them out; and
Women need to find our own territory which will allow us
to live out our potentials. If we are in an unfit working
environment, we will constantly feel frustrated. For ex-
ample, the church I am serving now is a small church.
They greatly appreciate me as their minister because it is
hard for them as a small church to have a pastor willing to
serve them for a long time.
The participants described leadership styles using terms such
as humble, non-directive, communicative, diplomatic, more ini-
tiative, and not second to man’s leadership.
They described the leadership styles they want to establish as
I want to learn to be a more well-adjusted, diplomatic, and
polished leader;
I think one example of feminine leadership is demon-
strated when there is communication even though there
are conflicts between the colleagues.
One participant especially stated what she has learned
through the Bible story and the commentary that we use in the
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I now think women’s leadership can be unique and special.
For example, we learned about Deborah’s leadership. The
people of Israel would go to her for her decision. I want to
learn to be more like Deborah and earn people’s respect.
People came to her willingly, not because of a mandatory
requirement. My leadership would not be authoritative
and directive, it would be humble and non-directive.
One participant made the following remarks related to find-
ing her female style of leadership:
領導; 我也在思想傳統的領導風格與女性的領導風格
About leadership, I think that some lead through power,
some lead spiritually, and some simply follows God’s gui-
dance. Many times, I wonder what the differences are be-
tween the traditional style of leadership and uniquely fe-
minine way of leadership. I may need to take more time to
figure it out.
Participants also shared their struggles during the group pro-
cess and finally found their direction as female pastors. They
In reading about Deborah’s leadership, I noticed some re-
sistance in me. I always thought that the female’s leader-
ship should be behind (second to) the male’s leadership.
In our discussions, I see that Deborah was loyal to the role
that God assigned her, which was to lead men.
I used to identify myself as a helper and assistant in my
ministry. After reading Deborah’s story and the commen-
tary, and from going through the discussions, I want to
learn to be braver and take more initiative as Deborah did
when she sat under a palm tree and gave advice to people
who came for her decisions.
A female pastor spoke for many other female pastors with a
very strong statement,
Even Tainan City is the base (center) of chauvinism in
Taiwan. I believe that I still can participate in a solid fe-
male pastor’s journey.
Theme 3: More Self-Awareness
One participant spoke for many of her colleagues who at-
tended the session when she said that because of today’s group,
she realized that,
Because of today’s group, I notice that I am not very
confident in myself. I do not know why I am like this. I
think I need to explore why I am who I am.
Another participant stated,
As female pastors, many times we take too much energy
to maintain a good image and it usually exhausts us. I
think we can only see our true selves when we drop our
One participant felt like knowing herself from a newer and
deeper perspective.
She said,
Today’s discussions helped me understand myself in a
deeper way.
Another participant shared a new finding of her awareness of
the inner struggles.
She said,
From this morning till now, there have been many strug-
gles, conflicts, and contrasts, in my mind. Many times I
do not have confidence in my female pastor’s role; I con-
sider it to be a challenge that God wants me to overcome.
Many times I see myself as a little woman and I enjoy
being a little woman. I do not think that it is necessary for
women to have equal rights as men. I think that I haven’t
found a balance in myself and that is why I feel so many
contradictions inside myself.
One participant felt benefited by the group sessions by say-
This group provides me an opportunity to understand the
journey I began when I became a minister as well as a
leader in the church. I am going to learn to be a person
with high self-esteem yet not to become egotistic.
One participant stated that she learned how to understand and
analyze the phenomena of male pastors’ negative attitudes to
female pastors. She said,
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Through today’s group process, I’ve shared and heard
more about female pastors’ daily struggles in our working
environment and I’ve learned how to analyze and under-
stand why some male pastors are so defensive and reac-
tive to female pastors. I’ve learned about some male pas-
tors’ fears to share power and how they feel threatened by
their female colleagues. After today’s lesson, I think I can
react calmer in the future whenever I face offensives by
male pastors because I will better understand why they act
the way they do.
Another participant also shared how she came to a new re-
alization that female pastors are different to male pastors. She
realized, unlike male pastors, most female pastors do not desire
Different from many male pastors, most female pastors
have no desire to attain a powerful position. Therefore,
when I was elected to a presbytery position, I had no fear
to speak up because I have no worry about how my opin-
ion would affect my position. On the contrary, many men
Theme 4: My Gender Is Great and My Existence Is
The participants’ stories portrayed how many Taiwanese
women, beginning from their childhood, receive a message that
a girl is an inferior gender compared to a boy. It is not surprise-
ing to hear one participant share how she resented her gender;
however, she also shared how she was changed by joining my
focus group. She said,
Once I thought that being a girl was inferior. Now I don’t
think that way anymore. I feel good about being a girl.
Even though the whole society considers women to be an
inferior sex, it gave us an opportunity to challenge the in-
justice in this belief system and ways to make changes.
Another participant shared how she benefited from this study.
She said,
Today’s group affirms my belief that I have the dignity
that God gives to me and because of this belief; I claim
that my life is a valuable existence.
One participant also made a firm statement by the end of the
I now feel proud to be a woman and I like being a woman.
Another participant purported aptly,
我的教會已經 130 幾年,我是第一個女牧師,我相信
The church I am ministering to now has been established
for 130 years. I am the first female pastor in this church’s
history. God calls me to be a pastor, who can deny me?
Her statement strongly expressed the groups’ declaration that
their gender would not be denied.
Goals and the Expected Outcomes of the
Feminist Group Counseling Model for AFPs
(Asian Female Pastors)
Three goals for applying this model are listed as follows:
Goal 1: To bring new awareness of self-worth to the AFPs,
Goal 2: To empower the AFPs, and Goal 3: To increase AFPs’
ability to understand and analyze their problems in feminist
perspectives within a currently patriarchal context. With Goal 1,
to bring a new awareness to the AFPs, numerous AFPs, in our
findings stated that they understood themselves in a newer and
deeper way through the group discussion process used. Goal 2,
to empower the AFPs, is demonstrated in the example of the
many AFPs who felt empowered by their ancient foremothers
in the Bible and by other participants; they finished a whole-
day group session and went home feeling more valued and
validated as female pastors, more supported by other colleagues,
more empowered to continue their ministry, and more willing
to make extra efforts to change the current patriarchal situations
they faced daily. For Goal 3, to increase AFPs’ ability to under-
stand and analyze their problems in feminist perspectives with-
in a patriarchal context, AFPs who participated in our study
stated that they now understand why many male pastors kept
telling them in every way that they were not good enough to be
pastors. After learning to analyze gender issues through power
distribution perspectives via biblical stories, they no longer
took their problems too personally, considering the problems
were their own fault for being women and feeling they were not
doing their jobs good enough. As Butler and Wintram (1991)
stated, “It is group process which provides women with the
experience and the tools to comprehend the political and per-
sonal dimensions of existence” (p. 73).
Procedures for Using the Feminist Group
Counseling Model for Asian Female Pastors
Due to the outcome and feedback from the AFPs are positive,
the specific steps for applying this model are listed as follows.
Step On e: Decide on the Participants
The selected participants should be able to contribute to
group discussions through their ministry and personal experi-
ences. We suggest setting at least three years of work experi-
ence in a local church or church organization as criteria. This
would ensure that the participants have sufficient experiences to
share with the group and to understand other group members.
Open Access
Step Two: Decide Recruiting Methods and Recruit
E-mails, invitation cards, and telephone calls are excellent
ways to invite female pastors to participate in the group. An-
other good way to invite potential group members is through
female pastor associations if there are any available. The num-
ber should include four to seven group members, a size that
would provide each participant with ample time and opportu-
nity to share their own experiences. The format should be clos-
ed group because the group would involve intimate sharing.
After the participants are selected, the members should remain
the same from the beginning to the end of the group.
Step Three: Prepare the Setting of the Focus Group
Select a warm and inviting setting for the group. Consider a
familiar place that is in close proximity to the majority of group
members. Coffee, tea, and snacks can be provided to the group
Step Four: Make Selections from the Bible
The group facilitator may use the biblical selections I chose
or may select other women’s stories from the Bible in address-
ing the same four topics-leadership, family of origin, intimate
relationships, and economic independence.
Step Five: Make Selections of Commentaries to the
Stories or Write the Commentaries
The group facilitator may compose his/her own commentar-
ies or choose our commentaries.
Step Six: Cond uc t th e Group Sessions
Following are brief session guidelines utilizing our selections
and commentaries as examples:
1) Conduct an introduction. At the beginning, the group fa-
cilitator invites group members to introduce themselves; for
example, their names, educational backgrounds, marital status,
churches where they served as ministers, and so forth.
2) Explain group rules. Confidentiality as the group’s ground
rule should be explained and stressed at the beginning of the
session and repeated several times during the day.
3) If applicable, have the group members sign consent forms
that refer to confidentiality or to any agreement for video or
audio taping methods. These forms may be provided by the
group facilitator.
4) Implement the five sessions:
Session one. 90-minute session one-AFPs and their leader-
ship-Judges 4:4-21; 5:7 & 12 (Deborah). Further details are in-
cluded in the strategies section.
Session two. 90-minute session two-AFPs and their family
of origin-Judges 11:27-40 (Jephthah’s daughter). Further de-
tails are included in the strategies section.
Session three. 90-minute session three-AFPs and their inti-
mate relationships-Judges 19 (the Levite’s concubine). Fur-
ther details are included in the strategies section.
Session four. 90-minute session four-AFPs and their eco-
nomic independence-Ruth 3:1-18 (Ruth and Naomi). Further
details are included in the strategies section.
Session five. 90-minute session five-closure session. AFPs
make reflections about their whole-day experiences and give
feedback to other group members. Further details are included
in the strategies section.
Strategies of the Feminist Group Counseling
Model for Asian Female Pastors
The strategies of this model include: (a) using a focus group
as a form to gather AFPs together and (b) using biblical stories
and feminist commentaries of the stories to facilitate group
sessions. Four stories are used to address AFPs’ self-esteem
related issues: their leadership, family of origin, intimate rela-
tionships, and economic independence. Feminist commentaries
of the stories must emphasize women’s perspectives and their
experiences with the intention that the participants of the focus
group can relate to the story as well as to the commentaries
with their own life experiences. The commentaries should also
provide an analytical perspective that addresses the power dis-
tribution between the two genders in the story as well as in
today’s society. Ideally, the commentaries should reflect gender
issues from the participants’ context. Certain leading questions
can be raised to help participants begin their discussions. Fol-
lowing is a brief introduction to each session’s goal and focus.
Figure 1 is also included at the end of the paper to depict an
overview for each session’s goal and strategies.
Group Session I: Deborah’s Story
The feminist group counseling model for Asian female pas-
tors uses Deborah’s story (Judges 4 & 5) and its feminist com-
mentary to deal with AFPs’ leadership issues. The goals for
session one are a) to explore the phenomenological experi-
ences of AFPs’ leadership in a patriarchal church structure and
b) to encourage AFPs’ own styles of leadership. In the session,
a group leader can focus the discussion on the following sub-
jects: a) differences in style between participants’ leadership
styles from Deborah’s leadership style and male pastors’ lead-
ership styles, b) the impact of society’s stereotypes on AFPs’
self-image and self-esteem, c) how AFPs face and deal with
male pastors’ fear, d) how AFPs deal with the pressures of be-
ing single female pastors, and e) how AFPs deal with situations
when there are women suppressing women. In conclusion, this
session is designed to help participants share their struggles as
leaders in their context.
Group Session II: The Story of Jeph t ha h’s Daughter
The story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:27-40) and the
feminist commentary is used in the feminist group counseling
model for Asian female pastors to deal with the related issues of
AFPs’ family of origin. The goals for this group session are a)
to explore how AFPs’ families of origin and their unfinished
business from the family of origin affect their present lives and
b) to encourage more emotionally independent from their fami-
lies of origin. In this session, a group leader can focus the dis-
cussion on the following: a) How AFPs view and evaluate Je-
phthah as a father who sacrificed his daughter, b) what their
names and personal physical space in the family mean to them,
and c) whether they experience lower expectations from their
family due to their gender. In conclusion, the group discussion
strives to explore the issues with AFPs’ family of origin and
how AFPs are affected by their family of origin in both positive
nd negative ways. In addition to the three topics above that a
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Figure 1.
The feminist group counseling model for Asian female pastors.
were the themes I reported in Chapter IV, the discussion may
go further to discuss what AFPs can do to resolve their issues
regarding family of origin and become more emotionally inde-
pendent from their family of origin.
Group Session III: The Story of the Levite’s
The feminist group counseling model for Asian female pas-
tors uses the story of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19) and
the accompanying feminist commentary to deal with AFPs’
issues concerning intimate relationships. The goals for this
group session are to explore any phenomenological experiences
of AFPs’ unequal intimate relationships that may have occurred
and to encourage them to create equal intimate partnerships. In
this session, a group leader focuses the discussion on the fol-
lowing subjects: a) How the traditional social construction of
value systems regarding gender and intimate relationships in-
fluence AFPs, b) whether or not AFPs have difficulty in re-
ceiving emotional support from their spouses, c) the struggles
and challenges that AFPs face daily within their marriages or
being single, d) how AFPs fight against some traditional teach-
ings regarding marriage within the church, and e) issues related
to divorce. A further discussion topic can be what AFPs can do
to make changes if their intimate relationships are unequal.
Group Session IV: Ruth’s Story
Economic independence is the major topic of session four,
which uses the story of Ruth (Ruth 3:1-18) and the feminist
commentary to deal with AFPs’ issues of economic independ-
ence as it affects their self-esteem. The goals for this group
session are to explore AFPs’ struggles to be treated equally in
pay and welfare, and to encourage their economic independ-
ence. In this session, a group leader focuses the discussion on
the following topics: a) How economic independence or depen-
dence affects their self-esteem, b) depending on men as their
providers or financial rescuers, what are the advantages and dis-
advantages for AFPs, c) what their challenges and feelings are
when they receive only one income even though the wife and
husband are both working as ministers, and d) personal experi-
ences of single participants relating to their economic situations
resulting in feelings of freedom or bondage to be financially in-
dependent. In addition to these four subjects, the discussion
could include other available options that women may choose
in becoming economically independent.
Group Session V: Closure Session
The feminist group counseling model for Asian female pas-
tors includes a semi-structured reflective session. After the fo-
cus group sessions, a reflective discussion with the following
goals is held to bring closure: a) to help AFPs review and sum-
marize their new awareness and b) to facilitate feedback from
AFPs to the group leader and other participants. In this session,
the group facilitator can focus on the following topics: a) the
new things that are learned in an all-day group and b) how this
group process empowered them and increased their self-esteem.
Specific evaluative questions are given to the participants to fa-
cilitate feedback from them. Question one is: “After a full day
session that we have had with our focus/discussion group, and
after we have discussed four biblical stories, what new perspec-
tives about the subject of self-esteem have you gained?” Ques-
tion two is: “How do you think and feel differently about your-
self now?” Question three is: “Through reading and discussing
the four stories in the Bible, what are some new thoughts and
awareness that you developed about each of the following top-
ics: AFPs and their leadership, AFPs and their intimate rela-
tionships, AFPs and their family of origin, and AFPs and their
ability to be economically independent?” At the end of this re-
flective session, the group facilitator will encourage the parti-
cipants to compose a short prayer to reinforce their commit-
ment in helping themselves to increase their self-esteem and to
support other AFPs to face life in the patriarchal context.
Roles and Tasks for Group Leaders
Critical to the success of the feminist group counseling model
for Asian female pastors is how the group leaders play their
roles and how they facilitate the group and use their group
techniques. Ramsay (2000) stated, “In mutually empathic rela-
tionships, we expand one another’s ability to affect the world
and each other. Empowerment emerges from mutually em-
pathic relationships in which we are truly engaged or heard and
experience ourselves as also hearing others” (p. 276). The ra-
tionale for using focus groups is to provide participants such an
environment for giving and receiving mutual empathy in group
interactions. Therefore, helping participants to hear others and
to be heard by other group participants is one of the most im-
portant tasks for the group facilitator.
When group facilitators make efforts to provide opportunities
for empowerment, they should keep in mind constructs which,
according to Ramsay (2000), often disempower women:
1) We internalize a subordinate status (i.e., women clergy
and female physicians).
2) We pathologize experience (i.e., “hysterical” woman).
3) We discount experience (i.e., “just being emotional”).
4) We deny experience (i.e., no right to be angry, have an
idea, or express an idea worth sharing). (p. 278)
A group facilitator who uses the feminist group counseling
model for Asian female pastors must be aware when issues
pointed out by Ramsay arise and address them by listening and
validating AFPs’ experiences rather than internalizing, patholo-
gizing, discounting and/or denying them.
A group facilitator using the feminist group counseling
model for Asian female pastors should “keep a balance between
group structure, planning and spontaneity which avoids rigidly
prescribed patterns. These provide the necessary boundaries
within which safety, warmth and compassion can flourish”
(Butler & Wintram, 1991: p. 187). While using this model, a
group facilitator should not hold to a rigid agenda but should
afford the group certain flexibility to form its own pace, pat-
terns and even discussion topics.
Since this model was based on feminist values and philoso-
phy, the group facilitator should make certain not to “put the
blame for societal ills on women’s shoulders” but to “reshape
personal experience within a socio-political framework” (Bulter
& Wintram, 1991: p. 187). According to Bulter and Wintram,
“[e]nhanced self-awareness brings with it an increased self-
esteem and a sense of continuity in the world” (p. 187). When
AFPs are able to get in touch with their inner world as well as
the reality of the existing traditional context in which they work,
reflect on it and enhance their self-awareness through the group
process, they may feel that their experiences and thoughts are
validated, heard, encouraged, and sometimes even challenged.
They also may feel empowered in their thinking and in their
ability to face their daily challenges. In this process, their self-
esteem can be increased.
Discussions of the Study
The feminist group counseling model for Asian female pas-
tors provides church leaders and counselors a feminist group
counseling approach for helping Asian female pastors address
their self-esteem issues, and, incidentally, to challenge the tra-
ditional patriarchal church system and make changes. The fol-
lowing section addresses the potential opportunities for other
populations to use this model as well as possible directions for
future research.
For Other Populations
Meyers (2004) stated, “Worldwide, women confront invidi-
ous, hazard packed, social structures” (p. xi). The feminist
Open Access 909
group counseling model for Asian female pastors can be repli-
cated to assist other Christian female pastor populations in ad-
dition to Asian female pastors when these same types of prob-
lems arise. For example, Asian women and American women
face many of the same hardships of having to work harder and
perform better than men to win credibility and reputation (But-
ler & Wintram, 1991; Sou, 2005).
The decision to recommend this model for other female pas-
tor populations comes as a result of feedback from non-Asian
women who assessed this model. Along with the process of our
study, many non-Asians read our writings and provided us
feedback indicating that they have encountered similar situa-
tions and have similar experiences as those of Asian female
During the sessions it became evident that the feminist group
counseling model for Asian female pastors could be replicated
to assist other female populations. The following provides an
example to help other female pastor populations: In our AFPs’
economic independence session, one subject was discussed re-
peatedly—not being equally compensated as male pastors. Also,
if they are married, AFPs do not receive welfare benefits equal
to those of male pastors. McDuff (2001) stated that there is a
gender gap in payment, benefits and employment opportunities
between male and female clergy. Sandberg (2013) also stated
that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men made by year
2010. AFPs shared similar situations with American female
pastors. This enhances credibility for using this model to assist
other female pastor populations; for example, American female
For Further Research
Our study has provided examples of how the church’s tradi-
tional patriarchal values affect AFPs’ self-esteems in general
and, in specific, AFPs’ leadership, intimate relationships, fam-
ily of origins, and their ability to live financially independent.
The rich outcome that this study gained can serve as a ground
for future research. More AFPs’ stories need to be voiced,
heard, and recorded in the hope that this minority group will be
less marginalized.
Our study also upheld the importance of emphasizing wo-
men’s perspectives by using women’s stories in the Bible and
using feminist perspectives to interpret these stories to help this
population focus on their gender-related issues during their
discussion sessions. A connection to feminist theology perspec-
tives and feminist counseling is introduced through this study.
The combination of two disciplines integrated well and created
a new model that can be applied to Asian female pastors. Future
research should focus on using other stories of women in the
Bible to address female pastors’ or women’s gender related
issues. Even if the same stories are chosen, the feminist group
commentaries may be written from various viewpoints to em-
phasize different issues that women have in their own context.
Besides the choices of the stories, future research topics can
include finding ways to build female pastor’ solid support sys-
tems, forming networks for this population and challenging the
traditional patriarchal church system collectively.
We believe that based on the study and development of the
model that there is a clear and great need for Asian female pas-
tors to obtain as much possible support from their church, from
their family, from each other, and from within. Further research
should focus on finding more practical ways a) to build female
pastors’ solid support system, b) to form a network for this po-
pulation, c) to challenge the traditional patriarchal church sys-
tem, and d) to support female pastors by counseling them using
collaborative purposeful focus group discussions.
When Simone de Beauvoir (1949) argued that women are the
second sex to men, she said, “He is the Subject, he is the Abso-
lute—she is the other” (Introduction: Women as others, para. 5).
If one person views her God as only a male God and a God
against women, this person would also live her life with the
same attitude. On the other hand, if such an ideology and sys-
tem can be challenged and overturned, new beliefs can be form-
ed and lives can be changed; Christian female leaders should be
and can be respected, accepted, and appreciated. Reciprocally,
these female pastors not only will build higher self-esteem but
also will be able to contribute to their churches with their abili-
ties and talents.
It is noteworthy that our participants benefited by going
through the process of the feminist group counseling model for
Asian female pastors. They were able to support and empower
each other through five discussion sessions during a whole-day
focus group. The feminist group counseling model for Asian
female pastors advocates for AFPs’ unique needs in regard to
their mental health. As AFPs have continued to join the semi-
nary and to seek ordination and service in the ministry, there
was and remains a need to study this female population, along
with the roles that they play in the church system and the chal-
lenges that they face and their unique needs. The church leaders
and counselors for the AFPs need to have sensitivity, knowl-
edge, and skills when helping this group. An important goal of
the feminist group counseling model for Asian female pastors is
to help AFPs learn new ways to conceptualize their problems
and act in new ways to develop healthier self-esteem and live
more fulfilling lives. In order to accomplish such an important
goal, this manuscript described the problems that the feminist
group counseling model for Asian female pastors deals with,
the goals and the expected outcome of this model, the strategies,
and the group leader’s role in this model.
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