Men are far less likely to go to therapy than women and, when they do, they often end up talking about their problems with therapists who happen to be women. But the reasons men end up with female therapists are less about their desire to unload on someone who reminds them of their mothers — or someone they’re sexually attracted to. Instead, most men see female therapists because there aren’t enough male therapists to choose from.
Indeed, guys tend to prefer male therapists if given the choice. “A lot of men don’t want a nurturing mother to be their therapist and tend to be more practical problem solvers, and they want a guy that’s going to match him in that approach,” psychotherapist Fran Walfish told Fatherly. But male psychotherapists are hard to come by. “It’s slim pickings when it comes to quality, standout male therapists. There are more females to choose from.”
Fortunately, there’s nothing wrong with men seeing female therapists. But there are a few potential complications that can come up. One concern is transference, a common phenomenon in which a patient projects feelings about another person onto his or her therapist. When that person from the past is your mother, spouse, or ex-partner, projecting her onto your therapist can get in the way. At the same time, transference also happens to men seeing male therapists, and mental health professionals are trained at recognizing this and addressing it head-on before it gets out of hand. It’s not unusual to get some signals crossed, Walfish says. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
When transference is not an issue, there are other specific factors that may make a male therapist the best fit. “If the man has not had warm, positive, well-attuned relationships with a strong father figure, he needs a male therapist for a corrective experience,” Walfish says. But for men who’ve had abusive relationships with father figures in the past, their traumatic history may make it more difficult to trust a man in this role initially. In these cases, it’s important for a female therapist to be sensitive to this and help male patients work up to, and perhaps recommend a male mental health provider when they’re ready for it. Conversely, if a man has grown up with a complicated relationship with his mother, having a female therapist may be helpful for the same reasons.
Ultimately, finding a therapist you’re comfortable being open and honest with is far more significant than mulling over his or her gender. And, heck, even if you do mull over it or not — odds are your therapist will be a woman.