Choosing a Male or Female Therapist

Just yesterday I was again asked this question: Should I choose a male or female therapist?

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I have been asked this question over a thousand times, and each time I answer, my response varies. 

To put an end to this mystery, and to lift some of the anguish that I know potential clients seeking counseling experience, let me say, unequivocally, it doesn’t matter.

My most recent inquirer was from a close younger female friend who believes that she has “mother” issues and should find a male, so as to avoid “projecting her stuff” on a woman counselor. 
And, the added perk, she thinks, is that she'd come to trust men more if she built a comfortable therapeutic alliance with a safe male counselor. All good points!

The more typical line of questioning looks like this: “My husband really has negative feelings about therapy; do you think I’d be better off to find a man?”

Or, from men: “I feel more comfortable talking about my feelings with a woman.”

This reminds me of the adage, for every slogan there’s a counter: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be reversed with “Out of sight, out of mind.” Tsk, tsk.

If I were facing open heart surgery, I would not ask myself, "Let's see...should I choose a male or female physician?” But, that’s just me. 

What I know of masculine and feminine psychology informs my reasoning here. In fact, the most complete human being really hold both masculine and feminine energy quite nicely.

A lovely colleague of mine (male) is incredibly gifted at psychotherapy. He was born to be a counselor. He carries all of those qualities one hopes to find in their clinician: terrific listening skills, free of scorn in hearing ugly bits of truth, respectful of all in his presence, verbally skilled and able to articulate deep feelings. And well-trained (yes, training helps) in helping others navigate turbulent emotional waters. 

As I often send business his way, I will hear my referral fall to silence…”Hmmm, I’d really prefer a woman.” Then I justify my recommendation with, “Wouldn’t you just prefer someone really good?”

We can further split hairs with whether someone is better served with a like-minded worldview. A gay therapist for a gay couple, a recovering addict counselor for someone just getting clean, or a combat Veteran Psychologist for a young Vet with PTSD. I’m not sold on that idea….because, good is good!

The therapist’s task is to accompany the client through their suffering, confusion, joy, bewilderment, achievements – all part of the human struggle.


Will the Really Cool Millennial Please Stand Up

Millennials: The Next Generation

Millennials are between the ages of 18 and 33, and they are the leading edge of social phenomenon, as digital natives, “reinventing everything.” They comprise 24% of the US population.

29% are not affiliated with any religion – they are untethered from traditional institutions.

50% describe themselves as political independents. They are charitable (75% of them gave last year) and they are not locked into brand names, which makes for very little company loyalty.

Traditionally authoritative roles hold little deference for a millennial, e.g. physicians, law enforcement, professors: “respect is given when earned.” They prefer cash over formal dinnerware or fancy wedding gifts. They would rather visit the dentist than a brick and mortar bank.

They do not invest in the stock market, but they save.  They are more willing to try new foods than their elders. With higher student loan debt than prior generations and lower levels of wealth than their immediate predecessors, they remain economic optimists. They do not have disposable income but they are quite price-conscious. One third of older millennials have a four-year college degree, making them the best educated cohort of young adults in American History.  While non-digital natives fear the creep of internet privacy and personal information disclosure, millennials actually enjoy being advertised to and find nothing suspicious about being targeted for consumerism.
And, maybe because of the more digital-without-borders perspective, millenials are less nationalistic (unpatriotic?) and show a greater conviction to resist military interventions.
Research and cited stats below...



I attended a funeral yesterday at the beautiful San Luis Rey Mission.
The death of  this friend was not unexpected - he's been sick since April.
I had so many "closing" conversations with him and he was in such acceptance of his own passing that I really did not feel the "need" to attend the formal piece of that fluffed-up goodbye ceremony. But, I went in the spirit of supporting the family: a gift born of gratitude for Mike's friendship and the color he brought into this gray world.
On the drive there, I felt no sadness or fear, just the knowledge of where I was going and what was most likely in store.
As my foot stepped on the cemetery soil, prior to laying eyes on any recognizable face, the tears sprang to my eyes. Surprised, I reminded myself of what I tell people so often -  rituals matters. Milestones, man-made gatherings around such events, occur in every culture and religion, and have since the beginning of time.
As I listened to the family, I was moved to hear about the aspects of his life that I didn't know. I was reminded of various times I had shared with my friend. We really only people through our own personal experience.
In a short sermon, Father Larry Dolan spoke of our human body as tents. As we walk further into the forest, the tent gets tattered. With rain and big winds, pieces of covering break off and fly away. Our skin and bones are just the exterior containers...we lose more and more over time.   
Words spoken by Father Larry were just what the doctor ordered. At one point, a cell phone went off with a barking "Who let the dogs out?" ring tone as the speaker, Mike's son (handsome, prim, attorney), was speaking. He looked down and said, "That's my mother in law." Of course, freakin funny! Then the priest checked his pocket and said, "No, it's a Veterinarian friend of mine." I don't know who was right but humo is so therapeutic. 
As I headed home later that morning, I passed another cemetery, of course, with my eyes more attentive to such a thing at that moment, and saw a limousine at the mortuary entrance. Then, I spotted a group of young boys, teens, lined up nearby - all wearing football jerseys. Again, I had a moment of ... feeling.
Emotions are healthy. It's a nice purging. To feel is living.

 Great Grief Book


I spent time recently with a dear family friend, Emily.
Emily is 29 years old, with a college degree and a new professional job. 
She shares a cute apartment in Los Angeles with a roommate and manages her finances well enough to be self-supporting and free of student debt. 
She's travelled extensively and cared for her ailing mother.

I say all of this so that you understand she is able to function competently, with communication skills and a basic knowledge of her rights in this world - solid.
My friend, Emily, (not her real name) began telling me how she recently leased a car from a large well-respected local dealership - and had an "awkward" experience with the finance man who handled her leasing paperwork. 

EMILY: "He started texting and calling me, invited me out, in the middle of the paperwork process. I told him no and that I had a boyfriend"
ME: "That's horrible."
HER: "I felt so uncomfortable. And, he wanted me to come in over and over again for information that I know I could have given to him over the phone.
ME: "Emily, why didn't you call her manager or something?"
HER: "I didn't want to get him in trouble. We went to the same high school. And he kept bringing that up."
ME: "So what! That is creepy, inappropriate and bordering on harassment."
HER: "Well, I was a little scared too because he had my address, license number...everything."

 I'm surprised, given that she has all the right ingredients to stand up for herself...nice folks that encouraged her strengths, esteem-building of security and love, AVID classes in a diverse high school, un-coddled and independent.

I am sharing this story because it perfectly illustrates the fear of perceived power.  
She chose to ignore him and hope he would go away. 

Of course, there were many other smarter responses and I am sure this man would have lost his job over such behavior. 
Furthermore, I suspect he has done this before.
Did he cross a line? Yes
How could my friend have behaved proactively and less fearfully? 
My experience says that her response is typical and not some cowardly anomaly. The guy was creepy and anyone of us would see it for just that. I am sure that his company's owner would be mortified and his co-worker's embarrassed by such unprofessionalism.

By the way, I don't find this sheepishness in the face of to be unique to females either. It seems to be our first response, as pack animals that innately don't want to make waves or invite further conflict.

ME: "What's his name?"
HER: "I'm not telling you."