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Can Women Work with Men?

June 18, 2010
by Dan Griffin
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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.



"A good therapist can work with people." Totally agreed. But what does it take to be a good therapist? And what training is out there for men and women to be as effective with men as possible? Not a lot. There is not a lot of training that really seeks to understand men in the context of male socialization - and without some foundational understanding, training, skill development, and personal work in that area it is hard to be a good therapist for men. Until that becomes an expectation rather an exception (or an anomaly), I will stand by my earlier comments. The challenge, as we have found with our trainings, is that you often don't know what you don't know. A lot of folks who tell us they provide "men's services" are blown away by the topics we cover and, quite honestly, often quite uncomfortable themselves because of the topics covered. That confirms we are on to something - and that something is only seeking to help make the services we provide for men as effective as possible.


I stand by what I said about men and women using for different reasons except one: Loss which invokes the grief emotion. I don't think there are enough programs which deal with grief. Where I live it is either me, a hospice or church. I am reluctant to refer them to a church program because many have their own spin/dogma that does go hand in hand with their grief counseling. This spin may not be in sync with their own spiritual beliefs.

I think as a society we are not in touch with our feelings. In light of all the technology, it seems we are no longer required to develop the all important social skills. This goes without explanation. Watching others in the field, I really think they get their egos involved with whether or not a person gets better. If you take credit for their successes then you have to take blame for their failures. I absolutely refuse to get in this trap. This is very dangerous and it involves bringing your personal issues to the table. Also a lot of pressure, judgment, guilt, stress, and the beat goes on. I do feel that men and women use for different reasons and this needs to be addressed. I do believe you can have gender neutral counseling in a group setting and deal with the more sensitive issues during individual sessions. As far as counselors are concerned, it seems that co-dependency comes with the terrority iunfortunately more with women than men.

A good therapist can work with people. Note the "genderlessness" of that statement. But because of the vicissitudes of life, every good therapist has recognized a time when they could not work with a client/situation. Oftentimes people don't know how to relate to someone of the opposite sex. Therapy can represent a microcosm of what can happen in the larger world "out there."
Limiting treatment to only between people of the same gender seems a bit draconian.
But I will quickly concede that men have great difficulty knowing how to develop friendships with men. That's why we include classes on that very topic in our treatment program for men.

A woman's best friend is another woman and a man's best friend is usually a woman. I find the men in my group are more comfortable talking about their feelings with me. It seems rather uncool for men to talk feelings with other men. Feelings, the inability to deal with them, and the constant need to numb them seems to be one of the main reasons men and women turn to addiction so they don't have to deal. The more feelings the more dope. I work probation/parole and there are always very deep seated issues at the core of their addiction. Getting off the drugs is the easy part having to face themselves is the struggle. Hell, they have to be high just to be alone with themselves.

Thanks Teresa. I would agree that traditionally many men tend to be more comfortable talking about feelings with women. We tend to think men are more comfortable talking with women because both men and women assume that is the case and we have built that idea into almost every facet of a man's life.However, that is not proving true in our pilot groups of the curriculum. The difference is because we create an expectation and safe container for men to talk with other men about feelings and many other challenging topics in groups facilitated by other men. We also know that men can do this work with male counselors. It does not mean they have to. The goal of working with men is to get them comfortable sharing their inner selves with other men AND women. Men have to learn how to have close relationships with other men - that will take a lot of pressure off of women to carry the emotional load of a relationship. But then some women will also have to look at their own need to have men in that position and that is not always the easiest to do. It is necessary, however, if women want to provide the best support and services to men.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, MA, is an internationally recognized author and thought leader on...

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