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Women Treating Men - Page 4

One of the most difficult types of client for me is the emotionally restricted man, who can talk about himself only in a detached fashion. I don't generally get bored in my therapy sessions, but when I do, I've learned that it's often a sign that the client is disconnected from his own emotions. A man's slower pace of disclosure can make me feel left out and irrelevant—feelings no therapist relishes. Accordingly, I've learned to slow down and take it easy—not to act as an emotional can-opener, but to let the client set the pace. Failing to do so can lead to losing a client.

Gerry was a client who came to me with anxiety that was crippling him at work and in his personal relationships. It turned out he'd grown up with a detached father and an emotionally abusive mother, who criticized everything he did. As he began to explore his repressed emotions, I encouraged him to express his fear, anger, and hurt with me. The more he expressed, the better I thought therapy was progressing, until one day, he said he didn't want to continue anymore. I realized too late that what I should have done with him was to let him go at his own pace, neither encouraging nor discouraging his affect, and checking in with him regularly to assess his emotional comfort level.

Sometimes, however, my boredom can offer insight into the detachment of a male client and open a new avenue of inquiry. For instance, one day I said to Ed, "You're losing me. I'm feeling a little detached and wonder if you are, too. What's going on right now?" It was a turning point in our work together. For the first time in his life, he realized that someone wanted to know more about him, rather than avoiding him or tuning out.

Like most female clinicians, I never received any training in how to deal with sexual feelings in the therapy hour with men, so most of my learning has been on the job. Tony came into therapy because he was lonely and wanted to find a romantic partner. As our sessions wore on, he said how close he felt to me and that he wished he could find someone just like me. He'd comment on how nice I looked or would ask about my experiences dating men. Instead of being scared of his attraction to me, I welcomed it as an opportunity to understand more about what intimacy meant to him. When he said how close he felt to me and that he wished he could date me, I said I was flattered and thanked him, but reiterated the roles of therapist and client, adding that therapy was an experimental laboratory for building a healthier self to take out into the "real world." He later started dating and would talk to me about his experiences, by which point I'd become more of a valued friend than a potential dating partner in his eyes.

With male clients to whom we might be attracted, the therapy relationship can get even trickier. In my first session with Charlie, I was instantly reminded of an old boyfriend. Newly single, I began to look forward to our sessions, paid special attention to what I was wearing, and altered my hours so I could accommodate his schedule. I began to feel an intimacy with him I didn't with other men in my life. I soon asked myself whether I was being unprofessional and unethical by continuing to work with him. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that my sexual feelings toward him were most likely the result of his own presenting issues (cheating on his wife) and his tendency to separate women into either sexual partners or companions, rather than anything having to do with my own need for a male partner.

I discussed the case with colleagues, did some reading about sexual countertransference and transference, and went back into therapy for a while to make sure I wasn't using Charlie for my own needs. Through these explorations, I used my own feelings to understand better what he was going through. I never directly said I was attracted to him, but explored his relationships with women and his tendency to split intimate connection into sex (the mistress) on the one hand and companionship (the wife) on the other. Finally, he saw that his compartmentalization left him lonely and was one of the main sources for his depression. Had I shied away from exploring this with him, I don't think he would have reached the insight he did. My advice? Don't ignore the sexual feelings that arise with a male client. Those sexual vibes will be a wonderful source of information for helping him with his issues.

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