There is a huge gender gap in the field of psychotherapy. At least 80% of psychotherapists in the US are women. So when a man pursues therapy, unless he specifically seeks out a man, he will most likely get a woman therapist. The dynamic of a male client with a female therapist can be both beneficial and problematic to the therapy. It can spark discussion over issues the client did not realize were there until working with a woman. It can replicate his relationship with another woman in his life. It also can reveal sexist beliefs.
I was working in a residential treatment center for teens. It was a typical mid-week day, and I was supervising “school time,” a period where clients are able to work on their treatment assignments and homework from their schools back home. Often during this hour, the primary therapists would pull the clients for individual sessions. I happened to know that today was the day that Nicole* was going to be given her diagnosis of depression, and I was prepared to help her process her emotions should she need coaching after her return from session. Sure enough, Nicole returned from her therapist’s office with a solemn look on her face. When she sat down away from her peers, I walked over to her and asked, “How did it go?”
She let out a sigh, “Well, I found out my diagnosis.”
I nodded. “I see. What’s that like for you?”
“I guess it’s better to know what’s going on and have an explanation for everything. At least it’s not like I have cancer!”
That comment gave me pause. I thought: But I have cancer.
I’m a young therapist. I started my graduate program at 23 years old and finished at 25. When I first started seeing clients in a school setting, I was 24, and their parents were often in their 40s or 50s.
I also have a young face. When people guess my age, I get anywhere between 17 and 23. I’ve been told that this is a good attribute to have, yet I am not yet seeing the benefits in my career. Several of my clients were taken aback when they first met me. Addressing my age and experience has become a norm, and I’ve accumulated a handful of recited professional responses when this occurs.