Professionals

ProTip: Being a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field

Photo by  Ember + Ivory  on  Unsplash

My February 2018 blog, “Should I Work with a Male Therapist?”, seemed to spawn a lot of conversation and provoke a great deal of interest from other therapists. The biggest question that I’ve been asked is - “How do you do it... How do you convince parents/females/other therapists that it is beneficial to work with a male therapist?” I could sure reach back to my grad school days and fill this blog with stats, quotes, and empirical evidence outlining the benefits of working with a male therapist, but I’ll save you all the doldrums of reading a research paper. Today, I’m just going to be me and share my story and experience as a male therapist working in a female-dominated field.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the concept of convincing others to work with you.  As therapists, we all ‘sell ourselves’ to a certain extent regardless of the age/identified gender/or presenting problem. How do I do this? Well, plain and simple, I remain myself – not someone that I think the client/parent wants to see, but just me.  I meet clients where they are and model authenticity and honesty. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of what we’re supporting our clients to do? Rather than trying to convince clients of working with me, I assist them in recognizing the potential benefits of working with a male therapist. In remaining objective with the client &/or parent, I’m able to remove my blinders and biases so to genuinely hear any possible concerns or trepidation. I’ve found that I’m able to have genuine and rich conversations surrounding the individual’s/parent’s initial thoughts on working with a guy. I refrain from attempting to convince of anything, rather I present the facts as well as my professional experiences and successes as a male therapist.

Much of my work with clients, regardless of their ages, focuses on authenticity – letting your real and true-self shine through.  I embrace this same mentality for myself. I’m just me and I’ve come to embrace that my authentic-self is my best-self. This is the individual that I bring into each and every session and I like to believe that it is through this display of authenticity that I’m able to connect with all individuals regardless of age or gender identity.  As therapists, we all navigate through our journey in becoming licensed professionals by launching into our own world of self-reflection. With this, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking back at my own reflection and learning to appreciate and love the person that was staring back at me. Sure, the journey wasn’t always glamorous and I had some pretty significant “yuck” that I had to work through on my own, but I made it through.  This, I believe above all else, is what has made me the professional that I am today and who individuals trust to support them as they work through their own life struggles.

Now, let’s get to the million-dollar question “how do you convince others that it’s okay to work with a male therapist?”  Before I launch into that, let’s take a step back and look at our own beliefs and biases. What are your own thoughts/beliefs in working with or referring a client to a male therapist?  Do your beliefs change at all depending on the identified gender of the client? How about the age of the client? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, there’s some internal belief exploration to do.  Yes, I possessed my own thoughts and biases regarding male therapists and internalized my own anxieties in working with adult and adolescent female identifying clients. The identification of these anxieties was paramount for me in finding success as a male therapist.  I began asking myself questions: “What is it about working with a 13-year old girl that provokes stress for me when I’m at complete ease in working with a 13-year old boy? Why am I feeling trepidation when speaking to a parent of a high school daughter but feel utter confidence in speaking about their son?”  I could dedicate an entire post just to these emotional disconnects, but for the sake of today’s post, I want to draw back to the concept of authenticity. As long as I’m remaining true to my authentic-self, my support and compassion does not waiver depending upon the identified gender or age of the individual that is sitting on my couch.

As I highlighted in my initial post, there are numerous benefits in working with a male therapist.  Here are a few of the take-aways from that post – male therapists can:

  • provide individuals with a safe man to speak with

  • model healthy boundaries and dynamics with a guy

  • display that males do have the capacity and ability to appropriately and effectively show emotion express feelings

  • dispel concepts of hegemonic/toxic masculinity

This all begins, though, with the therapist’s self-reflection and self-awareness.  Just as I’ve come to embrace my authenticity, I encourage each of you to embrace yours.  We ask our clients to bring their true-selves into each session therefore it’s only expected that we bring ours.

Today’s post is focused on my experience as a male therapist and how I’ve navigated through any hurdles or potential obstacles that I’ve encountered.  Branching out to a broader level, I’ve also had to be mindful of the systems surrounding me and how these structures impact my success. I’ve purposefully left this area out of today’s blog as I feel that it warrants its own post so be on the look out for a future edition of this topic and my adventures.  The new year just may bring about some new trainings/workshops/webinars on Succeeding as a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field.

First Session Feels

As a therapist, there’s something exciting about a first session! Have you ever felt that way? Ready and eager to meet someone new, learn about their story and see how you connect? Or maybe nervous and unsure, questioning your ability to meet the client where he or she is, wondering whether you will be able to help. The stakes can feel high when there’s the added pressure of building your practice and you want every client that walks in your door to stay forever! Perhaps you’ve felt this whirl in the pit of your stomach when you were early in your career, or after making a move to a new city and establishing fresh roots, or even if you’ve been in the game for quite a while and still wrestling with the uncertainty and unknowability that comes with being in private practice. There seems, at times, so much to “cover” in the first session. History. Policies. Confidentiality. Goals. Oh yeah, and rapport building. It’s sort of an art in and of itself, don’t you think?

As we’ve been developing our Improv for Therapists workshop, we’ve done quite a bit of research on the topic (we’re just as new to this as you are, we promise!) and found a lot of qualities in improv that we value as therapists. Improv asks us for openness, flexibility, attunement and self-compassion. This honest blog post about whether or not to pursue improv reflects on real-life doubt, worry and facing the risk of jumping in and meeting your feelings, all of them, with compassion and thoughtfulness.

So what does this have to do with the first session? Well, when you have that first face to face encounter with someone, it really is all improv. You are getting to know them. They are getting to know you. And you are finding the balance of how to introduce all the necessary “first session things” with the grace of connection and heart. Openness. Flexibility. During this first session you figure out the pace and rhythm of this new relationship. When do you lean in and ask more questions? When do you step back (but not out) and allow patience for more to be said on another day? Attunement. All the while you check in with yourself and back to the feelings that stir within you. Self-compassion. You are human, and each first session is an opportunity to connect with another human, while staying gently mindful of yourself and all of your first session feels, and to meet them all with openness, flexibility, attunement and compassion.