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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


It is impossible, at this time, to judge the impact of therapist gender on therapy outcome. Yet preliminary reports suggest that therapist gender facilitates or hinders in special circumstances (Zetzel, 1966) ; (Goz, 1973). Because initial resistance can thwart effective therapy, I generally honour the patient's request if a well-trained analyst is available. This is the policy advocated by Greenacre (1959) 'if a little discussion indicates that this is a definitely established attitude of the patient's, I myself always treat it with the utmost respect and compliance, since I recognize that such a patient really would

find it difficult, if not impossible, to work with an analyst of the undesired sex'.

This is a time of social change. Women's liberation, itself a product of that change, has focused our attention on cultural value biases and on some institutionalized interactions between women and men. Recognizing sexist values and their own proclivities to stereotypic defences, women have sought to circumvent these problems by seeking women therapists. While therapist requests, based on gender, are not predictive of outcome, they underscore certain aspects of female psychology. I have discussed the defensive and manipulative functions of ingratiation, dissembling, and eroticism, those attitudes women fear will contaminate therapy with a male. I have suggested a further motive in the request for a female therapist, the wish for a maternal blessing for permission to compete and achieve in order to avoid unconscious conflicts centring around mother-daughter competition.

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