Recently, I had a long and exhilarating conversation with a male colleague who had sought to challenge some black and white (binary thinking) by making a particular job application. We spoke the day after his application had been turned down on the grounds of occupational requirement – this is a circumstance where it is lawful to be treated differently due to your sex.
One of the reasons it became such a meaningful conversation is that the failed application appeared to raise so much detail about the way humans get locked into simplistic or binary thinking. Take, for instance, the complex sociopolitical situation the UK has become embroiled in since Brexit first reared its head. You don’t have to look too hard to have seen numerous examples from both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ camps of over-simplification and binary thinking. Such debates perhaps underline that the world is a complex place but that our actual ability to cope with these complexities is limited. Maybe it’s best to see that, in seeking simple solutions, we largely ignore or hide the complexities.
After my conversation with my colleague I was left to consider something I have lived with the whole of my psychotherapeutic career – the fact that women who you might expect to want to work with another women often choose to come and work with a man instead.
Simple and binary thinking might lead you to imagine that a woman who has lived in a coercive or abusive relationship with a man would only want to work with a woman. Similarly, if you are female and have been raped by a man, then it might be expected that you would only work with a woman. However, as we have already discussed, the reality is that the real world is more complex. While it might be that many women feel far more comfortable working with a female therapist, some women make different choices. Some women – especially those who have also suffered at the hands of other women – actually need to work with a male therapist. It might be that to work in a safe, secure space with a trained, registered and accredited male therapist can offer certain women the opportunity to begin to work towards trusting men again.
On numerous occasions during my career, I am glad to have been prepared and able to offer to be a trusted man in the repair work women have undertaken. I just wish that all therapeutic and support organisations would consider getting their palettes out, mix the black and white, and do some ‘grey’ thinking by offering the opportunity for women who need it their choice of gender for their recovery.
Duncan E. Stafford MBACP (Reg and Accred) has a private practice in Cambridge, UK for psychotherapy, counselling and coaching. He is the author of Turned On: Intimacy in a Pornized Society, and has special interests in working creatively with individuals and couples both face-to-face and via Skype. Duncan can be reached through his website here