“Gender, Therapy, & Therapeutic Success:
The Value of Working with a Therapist of a Different Gender”
Above all, the most important aspect of psychotherapy support is the connection between the patient and therapist. The therapeutic relationship cultivated is key to a patient’s success in managing and/or recovering from their symptoms. Just as is true in the everyday relationships we create with friends, colleagues, and significant others; sometimes people just “don’t jive.” For some, finding a therapist matching their gender identity is a crucial part of their bond; it can provide comfort in the anticipation that someone of the same gender identity can more easily relate to them and their experiences. It allows some to feel more comfortable in discussing more intimate topics. When considering therapy, many may look to avoid someone of a specific gender altogether out of fear or discomfort, which can be understood based on historical and potentially traumatizing encounters one may have had with that gender. However, there may be significant value in gaining the perspective of someone of a gender different than their own. For example, individuals who have been scarred by abuse, trauma, and authority figures of a different gender, may find it rewarding to work with someone of that gender in a therapeutic setting. This unique setting provides the opportunity to work through these past experiences in a safe environment. Similarly, someone of a different gender may help to unearth these challenges and recalibrate or balance the patient’s thought processes and responses. If one may be experiencing relationship or marital challenges with their partner of a gender different than their own, seeking the guidance and support of a therapist of their partner’s gender can provide the opportunity to connect with a therapist that has an intimate and deep understanding of that gender’s issues; issues which often play a role in the dynamics of relationship challenges. The clarity this provides can alter perspectives and create an increased sense of unity and understanding in their relationship.
The reality of confronting suppressed or avoided psychological stressors in therapy can be uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing, particularly in the beginning of therapy. With more vulnerability and embracing of these issues in a therapeutic setting, however, the discomfort begins to dissipate over time. With the presence of these psychological stressors and their connection with someone of a gender different than their own in therapy, exposure to this gender can begin to support one in disputing and counteracting maladaptive thoughts. Avoidance of the gender altogether can result in reinforced negative thoughts, which in turn, intensifies the fear and anxiety that one may have of that gender in their everyday life. One of the main advantages of therapy is the safety of a therapeutic environment and the setting it creates for a client to confront and embrace their everyday fears, discomforts, and challenges. If that may be with someone of a gender different than their own, confronting that fear head-on in therapy with a therapist of that gender may just be the thing to help an individual really heal and begin to live all aspects of their life to their fullest potential.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Consider when Looking for A Therapist:
- Why is a therapist’s gender identity important to you and your healing?
- What are your goals with therapy, and how can the gender identity of a therapist support these goals?
- How will building a therapeutic relationship with someone of a particular gender identity support you in your everyday life and interactions?