Men vs. Women Want Different Outcomes in Couples Therapy

Men and women look to therapy for two different kinds of help. Here's why.

Posted Feb 07, 2017

I doubt these new findings are likely to shock any psychotherapist who’s provided couples therapy—nor the couples who’ve ever sought it with unsatisfying outcomes: A new study has found that men tend to want a quick “fix” of the problems, while women seek a forum to express their real feelings.

Of course, that’s a typical feature of conventional gender relations, unfortunately. And it continues to play out in daily life among many couples of all ages. But this new study documents empirically how that difference affects what happens during couples therapy, as well.

The study was led by researchers from the University of Portsmouth, and described in a report from the British Psychological Society. They asked 20 experienced therapists whether they had identified gender differences in any aspects of their work. All 20 of the reported noticing gender differences in one or more aspect of therapy, and that, in general, “men want a quick fix and women want to talk about their feelings.”

A second, related study from Northumbria University asked 347 members of the general public to say what kind of therapy they would like if they needed help. The men and women in this group, half of whom reported having received some form of therapy, showed similar differences. For example, men more than women expressed a preference for sharing and receiving advice about their concerns in informal groups. In contrast, more women than men preferred psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on emotional experiences and past events. 

Interestingly, when it comes to coping with couples conflicts, the study found that women more than men used comfort eating, whereas men more than women used sex or pornography. Of course, that warrants a study of its own.

But regarding the current findings, one of the researchers, John Barry, from University College London, pointed out that, “Despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate that women do, men don’t seek psychological help as much. It is likely that men benefit as much as women from talking about their feelings, but if talking about feelings appears to be the goal of therapy, then some men may be put off.”

So true! 

Now this study was with a British population, but I think it pretty much mirrors what we experience here in the US, as well. Despite the evolution that many men have demonstrated towards greater allowing greater emotional awareness and exposure, the allure of just “fixing” the problem and “moving on” is still strong.

Blog: Progressive Impact

Center for Progressive Development

© 2017 Douglas LaBier

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