My Transformation Experience as A Woman With A Male Therapist
Meredith Cariski Writes...
Sometimes, my mind is a dangerous place to be when venturing through its thoughts and passages alone. I was nervous to go to therapy for my body issues. I thought to myself: “Why can’t you just deal with this on your own?” I answered that question for myself: “What I am doing is not working.” I began to listen to my heart instead of my mind and stomach. For some reason, intuitively I felt I should see a male therapist even though I am a woman.
When choosing a therapist I was a tad torn. I am female, so do I seek out a female therapist or because we are of the same gender? In the past, that did not make me more comfortable even though conceptually I thought that it would. I had to dig deep. It’s true, I have issues with men that concern my body. Part of the reason I am so self conscious is because of how men place expectations on women to look a certain way which in turn unmasks my low self esteem and mind churning insecurities.
My hope was that seeing a male therapist would give me an unbiased perspective in a safe environment. This is a man who would not judge me for my physique. With my choice, I was prepared to admit my past sexual, emotional and psychological trauma that involved the men in my life. For some reason, I did not want to tell a woman that my ex boyfriend told me that I was too fat to be seen with at a pool and that he didn’t like my smile.” I wanted to face a man and admit it all. That would be an accomplishment for me.
Once I began my journey in therapy, I realized almost instantly that this was what has been missing in my life. It was the right decision for me to choose a male. My Father died a couple of years ago who I was very close with and having a male therapist made it feel like there was someone holding my Dad’s place in my life now. I believe that a therapist can provide that brotherly or fatherly love energy. That familiar feeling is the perfect space for letting my thoughts and feelings fly free, no matter what they are and no matter how embarrassingly humiliating they are. My goal was to maintain a healthy relationship filled with comfort and trust with a male that I could replicate and apply in my life in regards to my body.
I found comfort in therapy especially because I have a male therapist. I have an understanding of the male perspective I never would have gained without him. He honored my past traumas and all of my inner intricacies. With the cognizance that men and women are treated differently in society based on their bodies he traveled with me through my personal body issues. He understood how I felt when I spoke about men: the apprehensive looks I get (or think i get) when men scour at my body, my fears of never having an authentic relationship at my current weight, and how men’s ideals connect to my eating disorder.
My male therapist unburdens me. I feel freedom from his sincere honesty and eased communication skills. Him being of a different gender makes me feel less alone. There is a male who understands me; he is kind and caring. I generalize and believe that all men think and behave a certain way and seeing a male therapist proves to me that much of what I believe is purely fabrications of my mind. He takes my self sabotaging thoughts that men prescribe in me and reveals them for what they are. I thought I was crazy when I said that I am even afraid to lose weight because of the positive attention that men will give me. “Hey baby!” He told me, this is a common thought. I want to go through a big change, a transformation, and he is helping me every step of the way to love and accept my body.
I have had female therapists that have merely given me a book on weight loss and sent me on my way. There are gender roles and in my therapy we freely discuss them. Men and Women are treated differently in regards to weight and body image in society. I take this point very harshly, but being in therapy has helped heal my mind and my personal thoughts about my body and about the male opinion. I am working on releasing the focus I have on society’s standards and on how men perceive me. I believe that without a male therapist, this would not have worked as spectacularly as it has, opening my mind to a world I did not know: the male psyche. Now, I have an open window into the mind of a male that has helped me unlock parts of my soul. My inner being speaks to me now honestly and I am able to communicate that to a male. It might seem unbelievable, but all this provides comforting truth that is changing me for the better.
Brian Baumal Writes...
Meredith, my first experience with going "against-type" with a therapist occurred when I was training and chose my first personal therapist. I mentioned to her that I chose her because I thought as a Jewish woman she would challenge me because I was having issues with my religion at the time. She informed me that if the client is willing and able to do so, choosing a therapist who may represent people or things in your life that are challenging can be very helpful for all the reasons you mention above. Of course, there are nuances to this. The client must be ready to engage a therapist who may be triggering to them, and the therapist must know this and be able to work with it. I think it is the responsibility of a therapist to understand why a client has chosen them.
Therapy can be described as a series of experiences, and a good therapist will probe the experience of the client in the therapeutic session. This is called the phenomenological perspective. Phenomenology is defined as "a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions." I do not think it is coincidental that the rise in psychotherapy occurred at the same time as the rise in the phenomenological movement.
Another aspect of the therapeutic endeavor is transference, or what gets in the way of the therapeutic encounter, or the business of engaging in talk that would help heal someone. Combining phenomenology and transference together, a therapist will always be conscious of the client's nuances in the therapeutic encounter. In the case of working on issues of body image, or relationships with the opposite sex, a therapist may often say "what is it like talking to a male about these issues?" and then continue to sensitively explore the experience from there. The notion of sensitivity is critical, to avoid any form of causing excess or unbearable anxiety for the client.
Meredith, you also mention trauma as well. How a therapist that may be triggering works with trauma can be very difficult, but as you have noted, in the end it can be very worthwhile. You have mentioned that the therapist honoured your past traumas and traveled with you through your personal body journeys. Again, note the experiential and phenomenological words or verbs you used. He "honoured" and "traveled" with you. The client must be consciously ready to engage a therapist who is "against type" to honour and travel with them through some of the most difficult parts of their lives. The therapist, at the same time, must understand how difficult it must be for the client to do this, and provide the necessary support, and be fully aware of what the client is experiencing.
In summary, working with a therapist who is "against type" is both a risk and very common. If the risk is managed correctly by the therapist, the rewards are worth it for the client, as you can clearly see Meredith.