It Takes Courage to Enter Psychotherapy

It takes courage to enter into psychotherapy. After all, you’re about to expose very personal details about yourself to a stranger. You take this risk in the hope of getting relief from your problem, but there’s no guarantee your gamble will pay off.

People often wonder whether they should choose a therapist of their own gender. For many women a female therapist feels like the safest, most comfortable choice.  Other women select a man. For them there seems to be less risk in this choice of therapist. Often thieir preference boils down to what mental health professionals call “transference.” If your early experience with your mother was a loving one and your father was distant or scary, you’ll probably gravitate toward a woman therapist. On the other hand if you had a particularly good relationship with your father, a male therapist may feel like a better bet as a helping person.

This brings us to some logical considerations to make in choosing a therapist. If your inclination is to choose a woman look at your reasons for being less comfortable with a man. Is your discomfort based on difficult early relationships?

If so, working with a male therapist will throw up barriers you wouldn’t meet with a woman. Any therapeutic relationship inevitably stirs up issues concerning early relationships. Choosing the gender that feels the least comfortable has pros and cons. It might slow your progress in working on a particular issue you’ve brought to therapy: however in the long run it is your opportunity to address and work through past difficulties with the opposite sex. Many wounded women have been healed in a positive therapeutic relationship with a non-exploitative, empathic male.

On the other hand, if you end up with an equally skilled and empathic woman, your therapy stands a better chance of moving along more quickly. You won’t get bogged down by transference (perceiving the therapist as the man who caused you to be hurt.)  On the other hand, you may never address some important issues having to do with the male half of society.

The choice is yours, but whichever gender you choose, remember the checklist for what to look for in a therapist:

– someone who has the skills, training and experience to deal with your issues.

– someone who makes you feel understood: someone who “gets you.”

– someone with whom you feel safe making yourself vulnerable and disclosing your weaknesses.

3 comments

  1. Ann says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I’ve seen many articles that talk about picking the “right” therapist– but I haven’t seen any that focus closely on gender and transference. This is a succinct, accessible treatment of the topic– I will certainly be sharing it on my twitter feed and Facebook page. Thanks again for writing!

    • Thanks, Ann. I appreciate your comment. I’m particularly aware of gender differences in therapists because my husband is a psychiatrist who has many women in his practice. Over the years I have noticed how many women heal from past abuse by males in the therapeutic relationship with a non-exploitative, safe male.

      • Julie says:

        As a (46y/o)female that was sexually abused as a child and emotionally neglected my entire youth, I have found that I prefer males. I’m sure it is my perception only, but I feel judged by females for choices I’ve made. Or at least that there is room for judgement from other females, whereas a male cannot judge my decisions simply because he cannot look at them from the female perspective. I have a 66 y/o male therapist and I absolutely love him. It has made progress slower because it takes me longer to muster up the courage to speak of very intimate things with this “man”. He knows that, which helps. And honestly once I break through the gender barrier with a particular subject I actually feel very accomplished, like I’ve just grown in an area of my life that was holding me back.

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