Did you know that many more women than men experience emotional disturbances at some time in their lives? That many more women than men seek out some form of therapy? That women in therapy remain in treatment longer and are given many more drugs than men?
It is hard to find really firm figures. Even so, it is well documented that women receive over 70% of the chemotherapy prescribed – tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants and anti-depressants. Information like this raises important questions about issues that may go to the heart of the therapeutic process for women.
A sex bias in psychotherapy can be traced back to Sigmund Freud's view of women. It was not complimentary – and much of psychoanalytic theory is based on Freud's view. In Freud's theory, women are seen by nature as passive and dependent. Many therapists – both men and women – continue to hold this view to some extent. In our culture, such "male" qualities as independence and assertiveness are seen as being "healthier" than such "female" qualities as dependence and diplomacy. Can therapists who have absorbed such cultural stereotypes adequately deal with many of the problems women bring into treatment?
To add to this, there are special problems that are more common among – or unique to – women.
How can the reactions of therapists toward women be improved? The therapist's role needs to be that of an agent of change. Rather than helping a woman "adjust" to her existing condition, the therapist can encourage her to reach for greater power and independence in her life. This may mean working with the entire family to change the way in which the family system operates.
You may not agree with the most extreme feminist position concerning psychotherapy – only women therapists can be of assistance to women clients. However, it is clear that many of the special needs of women in therapy have not been addressed. In addition, many therapists – both men and women – are quite uninformed about the common dilemmas faced by women. As one woman psychologist stated in 1983:
"If psychotherapy is to help female patients, therapists must become aware of sex differences where they do exist and refute assumptions about sex differences where they do not exist."
Obviously many women have been helped by psychotherapy in the past. With greater knowledge and awareness, the situation for women in need of therapeutic help can be greatly improved.
So – whether you are a woman or a man – if your therapist tries to mold you into sexually stereotyped behavior, you have the right to seek another therapist.
* Adapted from Houston, Bee & Rimm's Essentials of Psychology, Academic Press, 1985, pages 428-429.
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