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Bonnie Burstow

Birth:
1939

Training Location(s):

PhD (Educational Theory; psychology minor), University of Toronto, (1982)

MEd (Adult Education and Counselling), Ontario Institute for Studies in Education , (1979)

MA (English), University of Toronto, (1968)

BA (Philosophy/English), University of Manitoba, (1967)



Primary Affiliation(s):

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education , (1995-present)

Carleton University, (1988-1994)

University of Manitoba, (1987-1988)

University of Manitoba, (1987-1988)



Media Links:
Interview

Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Interview for The Future of Mental Health Series, Psychology Today

Professional Websites

Bonnie Burstow at University of Toronto, OISE

Bonnie Burstow's Twitter

Mad in America

Videos

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Feminism and Anti-Psychiatry

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Post-Feminism and Intersectionality

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: On Psychology and Psychiatry


Biography:

 

Career Focus: Feminist therapy; anti-psychiatry; anti-oppression; activism; empowering psychiatric survivors and the disenfranchised.


 

Growing up in Winnipeg during the 1950s, Bonnie Burstow was “in a war with what society expected of [her].” As she describes it, her anarchism preceded her feminism. The events that led to her politics started early in her childhood: “I quit school at twelve years old because I hate anti-Semitism.” She did not return to school for another year and a half, after her family moved from Ottawa back to Manitoba. Rather than admit to the authorities that she had missed this time in school, she and her family told the more convenient truth, “I couldn’t imagine going back to grade seven because I would have been older than everybody else so I went to grade nine and we just lied to them. I think that helped me to become an anarchist later on - the knowledge that the system is not in your interest.”

 

Burstow has a wide range of scholarly expertise and training, starting her post-secondary life with a BA in Philosophy and an MA in English. She began a doctorate in English in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, but chose to return to Canada before completing it. It wasn’t until her return home in the 1970s that she decided she identified as a feminist: “When I came back to Canada, a feminist person existed that had not existed before in our cities, so I came back to a different Canada than I left.” And, most appropriately for a politically active anarchist, it was “radical feminism that caught me.”

 

With a passion for learning, Burstow then returned to school and obtained a Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) and a Ph.D. in Educational Theory at the University of Toronto. Burstow began practicing psychotherapy immediately after earning her M.Ed. and found that feminism became “more important to me because sexism was deeply involved in the problems people brought.” However, her education did not support the idea of “patriarchal traumatization” and instead advocated for the pathologizing of women: “Women essentially are diagnosed - being ‘women’ is seen as being disordered. You can see that in all sorts of ways. Women are disordered if they acted like women; women are disordered if they didn’t act like women; and there was always this narrow little ground on which women could stand and [it was] not one that was good for them.” Thus, she took the matter into her own hands and after twelve years of practice wrote Radical Feminist Therapy, which focuses on women’s experiences of violence and their responses to it. It integrates feminist and psychological theory in a manner that is not only theoretical but, most importantly, practical. It attempts to free therapy from conventional pathologizing models and pushes feminist ideology beyond a critique of psychiatry into an outright rejection of it.     

 

As a radical feminist, Burstow is also an activist involved with anarchist, prison abolitionist, and anti-psychiatry movements. After the publication of her book, part of her activism involved giving feminist therapy workshops “all over the place” including crisis and counselling centres as well as women’s shelters. In describing this work, Burstow noted, “I was asked how we work with women with altered realities because I was saying you can do this…. these [were] places that desperately wanted this - they wanted their staff to work in more feminist ways, and in anti-psychiatry ways.” 

 

While Burstow’s training has been primarily in psychology, one label that she does not identify with is “psychologist.”  First, because the stringent criteria created through the professionalization of psychology prevent her from registering as one, and second, because she is critical of that professionalization itself and has “mixed feelings” about psychology as a discipline, especially as it progressively aligns itself with psychiatry.  

 

Besides engaging in advocacy work, Burstow attempts to reconcile these mixed feelings through her teaching in the Adult Education and Counselling program at the University of Toronto. In developing her courses, she is able to combine the interests and needs of scholars, activists and practitioners, “all of [which] I am.” Among her many identities, Burstow is also a novelist. She has written an acclaimed novel, The House on Lippincott, about the experiences of a Jewish immigrant family, Holocaust trauma, and the vulnerability of the human soul. Like her first book, it isn’t just for academics. Rather, it is meant to “get to the average human being” by a scholar who first and foremost identifies as “a woman living in the world.”

 

By Prapti Giri (2014)

To cite this article, see Credits

 


Selected Works:
By Bonnie Burstow

Burstow, B. (1992). Radical feminist therapy: Working in the context of violence. Thousand Oaks, CASage Publications, Inc,

 

Burstow, B. (2003). Toward a radical understanding of trauma and trauma work. Violence Against Women, 9(11), 1293-1317.

 

Burstow, B. (2004). Progressive psychotherapist and the psychiatric survivor movement. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44(2), 141-154.

 

Burstow, B. (2005). A critique of posttraumatic stress disorder and the DSM. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 45(4), 429-445.

 

Burstow, B. (2006). Electroshock as a form of violence against women. Violence Against Women, 12(4), 372-392.

 

Burstow, B. (2006). The House on Lippincott. Toronto: Inanna Press.

 

Burstow, B. (2014). Impassioned praxis: An introduction to theorizing Resistance to Psychiatry. In B. Burstow, B.A. LeFrancois, S. Diamond (Eds.), Psychiatry Disrupted. (pp. 3-15). Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

 

Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness: An ethical and epistemological accounting. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Video(s):

Interview with Bonnie Burstow: Feminism and Anti-Psychiatry

Interview conducted on February 2, 2009 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Interview with Bonnie Burstow: Post-Feminism and Intersectionality

Interview conducted on February 2, 2009 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Interview with Bonnie Burstow: On Psychology and Psychiatry

Interview conducted on February 2, 2009 by Alexandra Rutherford in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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