Often, people’s fears about therapy revolve around the therapist or the development of a healthy, lasting relationship with a new therapist. It’s common to have some worry or confusion about choosing a male or female therapist, especially if the nature of the topics covered in therapy have anything to do with gender identity, sexuality, or sexual orientation.
Beginning therapy and developing a relationship with your therapist is all about your comfort. Take the time to think about what you might prefer to look for in a therapist, and let these therapists shed some light on the decision-making process:
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT: People have different comfort levels and may have preferences about working with certain kinds of therapists, such as male or female, straight or gay, older or not. Those preferences should be respected, if possible because they help ease the social part of beginning therapy, which promotes a calmer relationship that can help you overcome the scariness of beginning a therapeutic relationship. What matters most of all when choosing a therapist is your gut feeling that the two of you click.
When I began seeing a therapist, I knew that I had to see a woman because I felt I would feel safer and better understood by a woman than a man. At least, that is what I thought at the time. I never regretted making this decision but did feel that I needed to work with a male therapist too. Later in my training, I studied with a supervisor—a male therapist—who became my mentor.
People who have experienced sexual abuse often prefer to work with someone who is not the same gender as the predator; this is a wise choice to defuse the terror and mistrust that will probably come up in treatment. When therapy progresses and lasts, however, it can become clear that the sex, gender, sexual orientation, or age have less to do with successful therapy than we might think. A good therapist will reach out to the person in treatment and develop a mutual understanding and ability to be helpful. The skillfulness, training, and experience of the therapist are important. So, I would say that ultimately sex or gender are not so important, but it can take a while to reach that understanding, and if you have a preference for a certain kind of person, go with that inclination. And always listen to your gut feelings. Is this therapist the right person for you? How do you feel talking together?