According to Robertson "Traditional counseling requires men to set aside much of their masculine socialization simply to get through the door and ask for help" (Robertson in McCarthy & Holliday, 2004). In a male counselor - male client arrangement, the male client may feel more comfortable and open to someone who he perceives as empathic, who understands, to a certain extent, where he is coming from.
For female clients in the later stages of change, that is the preparation, action, and maintenance stages, where action-oriented therapies like stimulus control, counter conditioning, etc. are more effective, may be more open to having a male counselor. The gender of a counselor may not play that big of a role, at least not as much as the client's perception on who is the credible counselor. In a study by Robertson, the results showed that females are more open to seeking counseling (Robertson in McCarthy & Holliday, 2004). However, this, again, runs on a case-to-case basis.
A study conducted by Irene Harwood (2003) found that a female who grew up in an environment where men are considered to be more powerful than women and where men have all the authority, gave more credence to the male therapist's words than the female therapist's. In the study by Bernstein et al., the results of which showed that clients expressed no preference or preference for a male counselor for almost all problems with the exception of sexual problems, wherein clients preferred counselors with the same sex as they are (Bernstein et al. In Guterman et al., 2002), it was suggested that for clients, a counselor's gender does not appear to be that significant with issues relating to or involving sexual problems.
On the other hand, the results of the study also show a preference for male counselors. Similarly, Robitschek and Hershberger (2005) found theoretical literature indicating that females expect counselors, particularly male counselors to be experts. Robitschek and Hershberger (2005:458) explained this, "...perhaps because of many women's experiences of having less power than men" citing Gilbert and Scher.
However, it is important to note that it is still the client's decision what gender he or she feels comfortable with. Overall, it appears that there a counselor's gender alongside other variables has an impact on a client's ability to change.
In order to promote behavior change among clients and to promote effective counseling irrespective of gender, counselors can work on adopting a non-judging, observant attitude. Counselors must make the extra effort not to make their clients feel threatened or feel as if their counselors are judging them based on their gender. Counselors must overcome gender role stereotypes and other prejudices that relates to gender.
Counselors can also work on having the ability to be understanding and empathic. The more important thing is for counselor to feel that he or she is empathic towards his or her client. According to McLeod, "many professionals continue to regard empathy as a core component of effective mental health counseling" (McLeod in Miville et al., 2006). Empathy is generally defined as the ability or process of placing oneself in another's shoes, "as if one was the other person" (Rogers in Miville et al., 2006).
Counselors can also adopt a male and female co-therapy group, wherein a client's cultural background is taken into account. In such an arrangement, clients, particularly female clients, may benefit from having a male counselor function as an idealized male parent image "offering protective and validating functions that the patient has not experienced developmentally" (Harwood, 2003).
In the case of male clients, in order to decrease the likeliness of eliciting uncooperative responses, scholars have emphasized the need for the counselor's flexibility (Nahon & Lander in McCarthy & Holliday, 2004) and gender sensitivity (Brooks & Good in McCarthy & Holliday, 2004). In the case of female clients who requires a female counselor, those who find it hard to deal with male counselors, specifically because they have been victimized by the opposite sex, Harwood suggested an eventual transition from a female counselor or a female counseling group to a male counselor or a male counseling group to "help her both heal the early and recent traumas and look toward more equal and respectful relationships with males" (Harwood in Harwood, 2003). However, the male counselor or the male counseling group should have the ability to be understanding and emphatic. Moreover, the male counselor and the male counseling group must have attained some breakthrough of their own in terms of physical and psychological boundaries.
McCarthy and Holliday (2004) have also highlighted the importance of learning from their male clients in the counseling process. They have also emphasized the need for counselors to understand men in the traditional sex roles as well as the male socialization and its effects on the help-seeking behavior and attitudes of men. Moreover, counselors should also consider using various techniques that take into account the cultural background of men in traditional sex roles.
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