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.