Does your therapist’s gender matter?
There’s no doubt that gender affects the way we experience the world. Gender is a factor in the opportunities and privileges you are granted, the setbacks you face, the way others perceive and treat you, and so much more. It can even play a role in mental health, directly or indirectly. So is it something you should take into account when looking for a therapist? Does a potential therapist’s gender make a difference in the care they provide? And if so, should you be looking for a therapist of the same or different gender? Consumer Opinion Guide is out to answer these and other questions in order to help you get the best possible mental health help online because while both men and women can be good therapists, being good isn’t always enough – they need to be the right match too. And sometimes, gender plays a role in that.
The difference between a good therapist and the right therapist
It seems pretty obvious that for good online therapy, you need a good therapist. A good therapist is someone who has all the necessary knowledge and experience as well as the desire to help people. For online therapy specifically, they should also be somewhat technologically capable and have knowledge of the platform they’re operating on. But that describes the majority of online therapy providers. And yet, not every therapist you find online will be a good fit for you. In fact, experts advise quite the opposite of committing to the first therapist you find: you should try out a couple of sessions and then look for a different therapist if the current one isn’t working out. This is because everyone has unique needs when it comes to mental health. And even the best therapist won’t be a good match for everyone.
What you need to be looking for is the right therapist for you. Whether a therapist is right for you won’t just depend on their credentials but also their personality and your preferences. So, in addition to being a good therapist, the right therapist also:
- specializes in the issues you need help with
- specializes in the type of therapy you respond to (CBT, DBT, art therapy, etc)
- has the kind of personal approach you respond well to (friendly and caring or more hands-off)
- “speaks the same language” – understands you well without needing you to adjust your communication style or explain yourself too much
- makes you feel comfortable and safe enough to discuss your innermost thoughts
What does a therapist’s gender affect?
As it turns out, men are not from Mars, and women are not from Venus – we have more in common than dividing us. Besides, there’s more to an individual’s personality than their gender. But even so, certain trends can be observed along gender lines. Whether you believe these are nature or nurture, they are a fact of life, and they affect us all, even those of us who study the human psyche.
Your therapist’s gender will have affected their own personal life in the same way that it affects everyone else’s. For example, women are more likely to experience domestic and sexual violence – 1 in 6 American women are victims of attempted or completed rape, and 1 in 3 are victims of sexual abuse or violence in their lifetime (compared to 1 in 33 American men). So if your therapist is a woman, she is more likely to have had such an experience than a male therapist would be. While this doesn’t necessarily concern you, it can affect your therapist’s personality, the way they relate to you, the way they communicate, how they perceive certain issues, etc. All of this can, in turn, have an impact on the therapeutic care you receive.
Sometimes, your therapist’s experiences help them help you better. Other times, they can be a hindrance to your therapy. Of course, therapists are trained to focus on you and your issues. They’re supposed to set aside their personal opinions when working. But very few, if any, can completely separate the personal from the professional. A female therapist who has a history of domestic abuse may, for example, focus on the women as victims and men as perpetrators while providing family therapy online and find it hard to work toward reconciliation if she notices signs of controlling or manipulative behavior on the part of the husband – even when his goal is to prevent further escalation of the situation and improve his treatment of his partner. This is not necessarily a conscious decision; often, these biases are rooted deep in the subconscious, which only makes them harder to notice and compensate for.
Point of view
Men and women often have very different social experiences, especially when they’re equal in other characteristics like race and class. It only makes sense, then, that women are better able to relate to each other’s experiences, just as men are better able to relate to one another in many aspects. If you are, for example, in need of online therapy for anxiety and specifically anxiety surrounding your inability to meet the societal expectations set on you, a therapist of the same gender may be better able to understand where that anxiety is coming from because they will have had similar expectations placed on them; a therapist of a different gender, however, will have lived with very different expectations and may not understand you as well.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should seek a therapist of the same gender. Yes, it can be helpful to talk to someone who looks at things in a similar way to you. But sometimes, a different point of view is exactly what you need. So be conscious of how gender will affect a therapist’s view of the world but don’t discount them based on that alone.
Specialty and professional interests
It’s very much a cliché to assume that boys play with trucks and girls play with dolls; things are a lot more complicated than that. But there is truth to women and men developing different interests, personally and professionally. Although whether this is down to nature or nurture is very much up for debate still, women are statistically more likely to develop a professional interest in caring professions and work with children. This is also why women make up three-quarters of all therapists in the US. And although the difference is not quite so stark, there is also a division of specialties within the profession.
Male therapists are more likely than female therapists to specialize in anger management, PTSD and work with veterans, potentially violent disorders like schizophrenia, and, of course, men’s issues. Female therapists, being overrepresented in the field, are far more likely than male therapists to be providing therapy for the average person dealing with anxiety, depression, insecurities, and stress. So if you are looking for the best online therapy for depression, you will most likely end up working with a woman.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the majority of therapists who provide care to a specific demographic are themselves a part of that demographic. A therapist who provides care to, for example, queer men is likely to be a queer man himself; a therapist who specializes in trans issues is likely trans or non-binary as well. In cases like these, the interest in the specialization typically comes from personal experience.
What doesn’t a therapist’s gender affect?
While gender may affect certain things about your therapist and their work, there are plenty of things that gender has no bearing on. The differences in these areas will come down to individual persons, not gender.
The level of education or experience
In the United States, men and women have equal opportunities to be educated and work as therapists. That they don’t take equal advantage of that opportunity is a different issue; there is nothing stopping a person of any gender from reaching even the highest of credentials in psychology, social work, counseling, or therapy. From a simple certification in therapy to a PhD in psychology – you can get any title regardless of gender.
By and large, you can also fill any open position for a therapist regardless of gender; it’s your credentials and experience that will be the deciding factor. Certain exceptions may exist for specific positions, such as a counselor in a women’s safe house. But as a general rule, your ability to get a job and gain experience is not affected by gender. This means that it’s equally possible for men and women to have high levels of education and experience as therapists.
The quality of care provided
There is no reason why gender should affect the overall quality of care a therapist provides. Both men and women can be excellent therapists; both women and men can have questionable therapeutic practices. Due to sheer numbers, you are more likely to have a good therapist who is a woman and also more likely to have a bad therapist who is a woman. But this means nothing when it comes to individual practitioners. An educated, experienced, and caring therapist will provide good care regardless of gender.
When does a therapist’s gender matter?
Sometimes, a therapist’s gender could not be less important. Sometimes, it’s vital to your experience with therapy. It all depends on you: if your therapist’s gender matters to you, then it matters. There are a number of reasons why you may have a preference with regard to the gender of your therapist; your preference is valid and important regardless of the reason behind it.
Do you feel safe with your therapist?
If you have bad experiences with a certain gender, you may experience fear and anxiety around people of that gender. This is especially true in cases of abuse. It may seem irrelevant now with the rise of online and tech-based healthcare, but it’s not. The fear you experience is not rational and not always about your physical safety. There’s nothing more vulnerable than admitting to your deepest thoughts as you do in therapy. And as a victim of abuse, you may simply not feel comfortable doing that with a certain gender. Often, women who are victims of rape or abuse by men will be afraid of men in general. Similarly, men who are abused by a woman may have a distrust of women in general. While not necessarily fair, this is perfectly understandable.
Do you feel comfortable discussing your issues with your therapist?
Even if your feelings do not rise to the level of fear, you may feel uncomfortable around a certain gender. Perhaps you are a woman who grew up with an overbearing father and went from one bad relationship to another. If you’re looking to break the cycle of problematic relationships with men, a male therapist may just seem like part of the issue. On the other hand, if you are a man who experiences a lot of anxiety around rejection from women, talking to a female therapist about this may feel like too much pressure. Or maybe it’s just about the issue itself! Both men and women are, for example, more comfortable talking about sex with people of their own gender.
Your feelings of comfort often come down to personal preference, and that’s okay. It is, after all, very important that you can discuss things with your therapist openly. If you’re not comfortable doing that for any reason at all, then they are not the therapist for you.
Do you feel understood by your therapist?
Being heard and understood is a big part of therapy. Simply feeling like someone is really listening is in and of itself helpful. And the truth is that sometimes, gender presents a barrier to this. That barrier may lie with your therapist, who can’t relate to what you’re saying. Or it may lie with you feeling like your therapist fundamentally disagrees with something personal to you. It may even just be about different communication styles. But if you feel like a therapist of your own gender will understand you better, then it’s worth seeking one out.
Are you discussing gender-specific care with your therapist?
The gender of your therapist often matters when gender is itself the topic of discussion. If you are, for example, realizing you may be trans, then you’ll want a therapist who knows about trans healthcare. While they don’t necessarily have to be trans themselves, that would make you more comfortable, wouldn’t it? You’d feel safer and better understood when talking to someone you relate to. Victims of gender-based violence experience something similar when discussing their experiences.
But it doesn’t have to be about trauma. When gender-specific experiences of any kind are the reason behind seeking therapy, the gender of the therapist is often a deciding factor. You don’t have to explain or justify your experiences with someone who already understands and maybe even shares them.
Finding the right therapist while taking gender into consideration
If your therapist’s gender matters to you, then you should take it into account when looking for an online therapy provider. But first, ask yourself – how important is gender to you? Is it something that is fundamental to the issues you want to discuss? Or something that will come up in therapy at all? Remember that if you want a male therapist, you may be looking for a long time. So think about whether your preference is strong enough to warrant postponing care. Then look for gender-specific care providers (men’s clinics or women’s clinics, for example). Sort the therapists by specialty and rating if you can. Then try a few sessions with the ones who sound promising. and remember to give the therapists who are not of your preferred gender a chance, too – you might be pleasantly surprised!