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Person, E.S. (1983). Women in Therapy: Therapist Gender as a Variable. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:193-204.

(1983). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 10:193-204

Women in Therapy: Therapist Gender as a Variable

Ethel Spector Person

Psychoanalysts favour the proposition that an analyst of either sex can treat a patient of either sex and that transference, by definition, bears little relation to the reality of therapist attributes. In direct contrast, many patients regard the sex of the therapist as the critical variable. In truth, we have no systematic evidence to support either belief or to suggest those instances in which gender may be paramount. Our suspicions, one way or the other, are largely anecdotal.

Over the past ten years, the choice of therapist by gender has assumed a central role for women patients. Whereas, at one time, women sought male therapists as the embodiment of professional authority, today more women preferentially seek women therapists. Many insist upon it. The vociferous preference for a woman is in marked contrast to patterns of referral ten and fifteen years ago. At that time, the referring physician sometimes reassured a women therapist that he had discussed her sex with the patient and the patient didn't mind! Black therapists often suffered analogous discrimination.

This shift in preference is seen in New York City and in other urban centres where the women's movement has had a significant impact, where women therapists are available, and where there is a high concentration of professional and professionally aspiring women. The shift in New York City has been reported by Symonds (1976) and Turkel (1976) and has been privately noted by virtually every woman therapist I know.

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