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David Baxter

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Men, Women, and Therapy
August 15, 2004

Over the years, research studies have rather consistently shown that when women and girls want to talk about feelings or distress, they seek out other females. Interestingly, when men or boys want to talk about feelings or distress, they don't usually seek out male peers -- they also seek out women or girls to talk to.

This recent article from Medicine.net extends these observations into the realm of therapy.

Group Therapy Not For Men?
Is group therapy equally beneficial for men and women? Fewer men participate in group therapy and, given a choice, many say they prefer individual therapy... Women were found to have better outcomes in group therapy than men. Women experienced more improvement in their symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Why this difference? The men were less committed to their therapy group. At the same time, the other members of the therapy group perceived the men as being less compatible -- in other words, the women did not like the men being there. The interpersonal dynamics appeared to be working in both directions.
In other words, it would appear that men and women find the presence of other men in group therapy inhibiting. As William Pollock so eloquently demonstrated in his book, Real Boys, boys learn at an early age to hide their "weaker" feelings from other people, especially other boys. By adolescence, according to Dr. Pollock, most boys have become so adept at hiding their feelings from others that they are also quite adept at hiding them from themselves and have a very difficult time even finding a vocabulary to describe their feelings. As adults, this process continues. In the face of an emotional crisis, men can be induced to talk, but not to other men (sometimes but not necessarily including male therapists). In the context of group therapy, I believe the social dynamics of the group elicit these strong tendencies of men to try to conceal rather than express or explore their feelings -- this is why group therapy is so difficult for them and why even women in group therapy seem to find the presence of men disruptive.
 

just mary

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Hi,

Why do I seek out a male therapist then? I have tried talking to other women but it doesn't work. I would much rather talk to a man about my feelings than a woman. Is this normal or am I just weird?

Thanks,

Mary
 

David Baxter

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That article, and my comments, were talking about group therapy, Mary. What I was suggesting is that in groups men inhibit self-disclosure while women encourage it.

The dynamics would not apply to individual therapy, where that is one person talking to and self-disclosing to another. In that situation, some individuals, both men and women, prefer a male therapist, while others prefer a female therapist. But the reaction of the client to a therapist is not the same as it would be to another client...
 

just mary

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Hi,

Thanks for the clarification. Do you find that a person's choice of therapist, specifically the sex, can tell you something about that person? Do women seek out men therapists and vice-versa? I have a female friend who will only talk to women counsellors, while I feel much more comfortable talking to a man. Does that say anything about us?

Thanks,
 

David Baxter

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Mary said:
Do you find that a person's choice of therapist, specifically the sex, can tell you something about that person? Do women seek out men therapists and vice-versa? I have a female friend who will only talk to women counsellors, while I feel much more comfortable talking to a man. Does that say anything about us?
Well, nothing negative. It may depend on who you have been most comfortable with or most trusting of in your life. It may also depend on what the issue is.

All of my life, my closest friends have been female, and for most things I am will much more likely to talk about personal issues with a woman. However, when I needed some help with grief a few years back, the first person I tried to talk to was a female doctor -- she was so empathic and sympathetic that I found all I could do was cry. I then went to a male therapist who was certainly sympathetic and empathic but perhaps less overtly nurturing or something -- I found I could talk about it with him instead of just falling apart.
 

just mary

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I'm not sure if you got my last post. As a recap, I don't feel comfortable with women therapists, I feel like they can see through me, that they know I'm lying, even though 'm not, that any problem I have is melodrama. And basically, it is, right now I feel like I'm falling apart, I feel so lost and confused, I'm so tired and I just want to rest but I can't because if I do, I'll feel lazy and ineffectual. I'm 36 years old, I should be better able to handle life. Honestly, most days, I hate myself and what I've become. I can't even talk to my psychologist, I think he hates me, finds me revolting, a waste of his time and just disgusting. I'm just not happy with myself.

I hope this post goes through, God knows why, it's so pathetic.
 

just mary

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Hi,

Thanks for the exercise, I'll definitely give it a try. As for my psychologist, he's male, and your right, he probably does not feel that strongly about me, in fact, he's probably pretty ambivalent. I basically pay his rent. I'm like a house plant on loan. He'll trim away the dead stuff, maybe re-pot, add a bit of fertilizer, some fresh soil and then give it back and really never think about it again. And I understand that, it's good, but occasionally I feel like he's revolted by me and I have no idea why I would feel that way. Now that my husband (Ken) is seeing him, I feel like he likes him better than he likes me, that he feels sorry for Ken for being with me. Just some background on Ken, in addition to losing the baby, Ken was demoted at work due to budget cuts and his Grandmother died (someone he was very close to). In a nutshell, Ken had a very bad summer, he was very unhappy (weepy, losing weight, quick to anger) and I suggested that he talk to the psychologist I had seen in the past. Surprisingly he agreed, surprising since he was never very supportive of me when I went. So, he must have been feeling pretty awful. Anyway, Ken has had six sessions with him and I have to say, he's doing much, much better. I'm very pleased and I think Ken is too.

But I wanted to keep this short, so I will try the exercise and hopefully it will shed some light. Thanks again.
 

lammers1980

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Kind of interesting topic! Especially the conditioning to hide your emotions. In my relationship, I am the emotional one, prone to wear my heart on my sleeve. My wife is much less so. In fact, the first time I ever saw her cry was when she was pregnant (during which she cried a lot, but since then, rarely ever).

I had a male therapist with whom I had a good rapport. He was empathetic and helped me out very much. Interestingly, I also at one time had a female therapist that I could not connect at all with. She appeared very hostile and even misdiagnosed my problems, after getting other opinions!

I wonder if males tend to be more open in the presence of females because females tend to be much nurturing and may even assume a sort of "mothering" type of role in such a circumstance? I know my two boys seem much more comfortable running to mommy when they are scared. I know I was like this also. Could it be that such patterns, reinforced during childhood, carry on into adulthood?
 

David Baxter

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stevel said:
I wonder if males tend to be more open in the presence of females because females tend to be much nurturing and may even assume a sort of "mothering" type of role in such a circumstance? I know my two boys seem much more comfortable running to mommy when they are scared. I know I was like this also. Could it be that such patterns, reinforced during childhood, carry on into adulthood?
Absolutely.

The best source of information I know about this subject is an excellent book by William Pollack: Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. Random House, 1998

See also my articles:

Raising Sons

Growing Up Male - Raising Sons

Faces of Teenage Depression
 

dmcgill

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Men are a strange lot!!
I have worked with groups and although I hadn't read that article yet I did realize that many of the men did not react very positive at the group sessions. I think they feel challenged by the other men there and the macho man image may be changed if they shed a tear.

Since a large part of my practice is dealing with addictions though there is a bit of a difference. (I feel)
It seems to me that when I have worked at treatment centers where we have separated the men and women, the men get some real good work done and quite often really let go of the inside feelings that they wouldn't normally do in a mixed man women session. Any comments on this?
 

David Baxter

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I don't do group therapy any more, Dennis, but I would agree with that. I think, given the right atmosphere (which can be created by a skilled group leader), men can open up in groups. I also think, like you, that they may find it harder to do so in mixed gender groups.
 

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