As we have been doing the presentations on the new curriculum for men (Helping Men Recover, Jossey-Bass 2011) and talking in general about men’s issues in treatment around the country one question keeps coming up from both men and women: What do you think of women working with men? Of course this is one of those questions that there are often hidden agendas to – for both the men and the women asking them. Nonetheless, it is a reasonable question. There is often an implicit – if not explicit – belief that only women should be working with women. So what about men?
First, let’s look realistically at the stats: While 70 to 80% of the people that get addiction treatment in this country are men, 60 to 70% of the people working with those men are women. So, even if we did not believe that women should be working with men it would not matter – it is going to happen. It so happens we do believe that women can work with men – just as men can work with women (contrary to what some may think.) There are some caveats, just as there are always some caveats when it comes to providing any kind of treatment services.
The first step is ensuring that men and women are receiving gender responsive services. There is solid evidence showing that when women receive targeted services they are more likely to stay in treatment, complete treatment, and achieve long-term recovery. We believe that once we have been implementing these services with men around the country the research will show the same outcomes for men.
So, to answer the question: A woman who has done her own personal work around women’s issues and issues with men and is well-trained will most likely be a better counselor than a man who has not done his own personal work around men’s issues and issues with women, even if he is well-trained. But, a man who has done his own personal work and is well-trained will almost always be a better counselor for a man than a woman who has done the same. Why? For the reason the same (but opposite scenario) is true for women. There are some issues or times in a man’s treatment experience when the best person for him to speak to may be a woman. Ultimately, the response is the same as it has been in previous entries: our hope is that women (and men) who work with men will realize that they need special training to fully understand men’s issues and support men in getting sober, just as the same expectation is now generally accepted for anyone working with women.