Therapist Gender Does it Matter?

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on June 5, 2011

Finding a therapist that is a good fit for you or your loved one is very important in therapeutic care, fit does indeed matter. Does the gender of one’s therapist in and of itself infer a good or bad fit and thus does gender matter? That is the topic of this blog today that I have chosen to address and shall open the door for my readers to think about their opinion.

Although a therapist’s gender one may theorize should not matter, and research has shown it is not the gender of a therapist in and of itself that determines one’s therapeutic style nor does gender determine one’ ability to understand a client’s problem, the fact does remain that there are many clients that do have a gender preference prior to scheduling that first appointment. Certainly starting off with comfort is important, is it not?

It is the belief we have about what a therapist of a particular gender may or may not understand about what we share in session that does make a difference in a client’s initial comfort. Although intellectually one must realize that a female therapist genuinely is able to help a male client as well as a female client, and a male therapist is truly able to help a male client as well as a female client, the fact is that if a client comes in with a pre-conceived notion about the therapist based on gender, it has the potential to affect treatment if not addressed.

Many men that come for therapy specifically report they desire to speak with a female reporting they feel a female therapist will be more understanding and help them understand women better. Of course there may be men who feel a male therapist would understand them better, what is interesting is I experience more often the former in therapists requests. I have also observed in my years as a therapist that women typically request a female therapist feeling that a man just because he is a male in gender may not be able to understand what she is going through nor her perspective.

When bringing one’s child in for counseling there are scenarios where having a female therapist or a male therapist matters to a parent and can make quite a significant impact on the child. For an example, for a male child that does not have any healthy male role models in his life, to have a male therapist that is patient, supportive, and provides true helpful advice is a wonderful opportunity for this child to have a male to speak with and connect with to learn from and feel understood by. For a female child that has observed males acting in a non healthy way, to have a male therapist offers this female a view of men as compassionate, helpful, and wise, which is a great seed to plant. The same concepts are true in reverse. For an example, for a male child that has a poor connection with his mother due to her severe mental health issues that has shown in her lacking in empathy, to have a female therapist that is understanding and therapeutic is a gift for a boy to see women can be empathetic. For a female child to have been raised by a very judgmental mother to have a female in her life that is supportive of helping this girl work therapeutically at her own pace and work on self esteem issues with her would be a great experience with long term effects. The aforementioned are just but a few examples, of course there are many examples that can make the argument for a female or for a male therapist.

If gender matters to some, and although at times is not a significant factor in therapy, and other times it is, would it be concerning then if I shared with you that research is showing a significant decline for one of the genders as therapists? Specifically, in a recent article in the New York Times this month entitled: Need Therapy? A Good Man is Hard to Find, the decrease in male therapists was addressed.

Whether your therapist is a male or a female, it is what the client’s pre-conceived thoughts are that affects that very client’s comfort in determining whether one wishes to meet with a male or a female therapist. An important factor for any client in finding a clinician that is a good fit is to be honest with one’s self about one’s biases and concerns, whether it is gender or any other bias/factor, and discuss your concerns with your therapist if you feel any hesitancy or discomfort. The key is to have true mindful awareness of what the difference in having a male versus a female therapist would mean to you and share your needs. Male and female therapists wish for their clients to achieve their therapeutic goals and are invested in and interested in your thoughts and feelings. It is important to feel safe and comfortable in one’s counseling experience.

If you have a gender preference, you do have a right to make your request and have it fulfilled. At any point in the therapy relationship if you feel uncomfortable, whether it is about a gender issue, or anything else, know that a good therapist is one that wants to know your feelings and will be respectful of them. Share your concerns.

 

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