Womb envy and Western society: On the devaluation of nurturing in psychotherapy and society


  • Diana Semmelhack
  • Larry Ende
  • Karen Farrell
  • Julieanne Pojas


Our purposes in part I of the essay are: 1) to suggest that womb envy has been a significant element in the formation of our culture (in the context of the traditions of Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Islam), and 2) to make more evident the presence and the significance of the devaluation of nurturing in our society, in part by linking this devaluation of nurturing to its history in the phenomenon of womb envy. In part II, we look at how the devaluation of nurturing is manifested in the practice of psychodynamic therapy. The devaluation of nurturance is thus viewed in a context where the writers have intimate knowledge and experience. We find that a downplaying of the significance of nurturing in our society results in a general lack of empathy and sensitivity, and a deemphasis on relational competence, as well as an overall devaluing of women. An emphasis on profit and production moves relational concerns into the background. In the context of psychotherapy, we suggest, our society’s emphasis on hierarchy and authority interferes with nurturing as a therapeutic factor. We also discuss various attempts that writers have made to support the role of nurturing in psychotherapy.