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Women Treating Men - Page 5

The Advantages

While I've emphasized the challenges women experience in treating men, many men request female therapists. When asked why, they've said they feel safer with women because they expect them to be supportive and see them as the better "relationship managers," more experienced in giving feedback and advice about handling subtle relationship tangles. Many men are afraid of being vulnerable and open in front of a man, especially the imagined alpha-male figure of the therapist to whom they're turning for help.

Therapy can be a venue in which a man can explore his feelings toward women with a safe person with whom he's in a direct relationship. He can use her as a source of information about how women feel, get angry with her and watch how she handles it, be attracted to her and not be put down or rejected for his attachment. He can engage in a dialog with her about painful issues in his life in a way that can help him figure out how better to communicate with the other women in his life.

For female clinicians, one of the side benefits of working with men is that it can help us understand the other men in our own lives. Both genders win when we learn more about men. My compassion for men in my personal life has grown as I've learned more about what the world is like for my male clients—how hard it can be having to live up to the sometimes punishing male standards of competence, strength, stoicism, independence, and sexual prowess. I think working with men helps us be more useful to our female clients as well, since sharing our knowledge about men's issues can help them gain greater insight about the men in their lives. If we can move beyond the tendency to see gender issues as a zero-sum game (i.e., the more attention you give to men, the less attention women get), the more we all will win. That's my kind of game.

Holly Sweet, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in the Boston area and cofounder of the Cambridge Center for Gender Relations. She's taught classes on sex roles and relationships at MIT, where she cofounded GenderWorks, a peer-training program in gender relations. She received the APA's Division 51 (Society for the Study of Men and Masculinity) Practitioner of the Year award in 2005. Contact: Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at, or at Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.

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