Seeing Male Clients for Who They Are, Not What They Are
Writing a piece about our work with male clients is a challenge. Questions arise: What are the specific issues that a so called typical male clients bring? How are these different from female clients? Should there be specific approaches for genders or should our work be about the individual?
To start, it’s important to look at the two people involved, you (therapist) and yes, you guessed it, your client.
Let’s start with you—what bias do you bring to your work with male clients? Does you being a male or female therapist affect things? This is probably the most important question.
As we grow up, we learn a system of values from the culture around us, which we use to evaluate the world and choose actions.—Shohaku Okumura (2012)
The important thing to understand about Shohaku’s statement above is that the evaluation and choosing he refers to are not happening at a conscious level, they are implicit beliefs. You are, it seems, a unique and not so unique mix of personal, familial, cultural, and pan-human influences, many of which are more or less hard-wired into your system.
So, can you trust your ‘gut’ feeling, your intuition? How do you know? What are you basing this on? It’s unlikely that intuition comes from somewhere other than past experiences. Take a moment, think back on your life. Who were the key influences and how did you experience them? Are you sure that your perception and the conclusions that come from them are not based on your personal experience of the males in your world? Or indeed the experience of males that the other females in your life had. Yes, it’s complicated!
What would happen if you simply let go of your first impressions? What would it take for you to become interested in your client’s specific story, without judgment?
I’m not saying there are no “typical” male issues, just saying that it’s probably better to meet the individual rather than the gender. Of course, this approach applies to more than gender, it applies to age, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc.
The therapeutic relationship is a 2-way interaction. Your client will also have implicit (and possibly explicit) beliefs/ideas about you! How do you respond to his response to you?
So a good question to ask yourself is how do you want to be seen? What are your strengths? What do you need to work on? All this is in relation to meeting this specific client for who they are.
It is also critical to realise that it is around these implicit beliefs that we organise our experience and that these beliefs/values are revealed through the way we express ourselves—our body language, the way we talk, facial expressions etc. The consequence of this for us as therapists is that the unintended expression of these beliefs may create a less than optimal therapeutic relationship and subsequently affect the outcome. Or their expression might create an optimal therapeutic relationship, one that deepens with each session.
At the end of the day, I prefer to see my clients for who they are and not what they are. I hope that I can see myself as a therapist beyond my own gender (while still accepting that I am operating from that place).
- Okumura, S. (2012). Living By Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Somerville MA: Wisdom Publications.