There are many resources available that support the theory that both women and men benefit from separation in recovery, at least for the majority of treatments. Specific interpersonal issues and concerns with temperament all factored into our decision to create these private spaces for men and women to share their experiences in a setting that is most comfortable for them.
We know that women and men respond differently to certain kinds of treatments, and we also make sure to assign therapy groups to gender-specific leaders, providing an atmosphere of comfort and trust for each client. To that end, treatment with Enlightened Solutions is at times separated into gender specific groups, but our model also includes coed group therapy sessions.
Why do women and men benefit from gender-specific recovery treatments?
The Stress of Upholding Gender Roles
So, what’s the purpose of treating men and women separately in recovery when they’re all there for the same reason? The truth is that although they may all suffer from addiction and have similar experiences, they don’t succumb to addiction because of the same issues, nor do they experience the world in the same way. Men differ from women in many ways that often begin with the societal view of their perceived gender roles. When you add the stress of society’s assumptions regarding what men and women are expected to do or be into the recovery equation, combining genders in group therapy isn’t always the best avenue for building the initial safe space or fundamental trust we need to get through to the person who is struggling with substance use disorder.
Many times, the issue for men is that they’re constantly expected to bear the weight of the world on their shoulders, taking care of their families financially, and handling it all calmly without showing emotion or stress. On the other hand, women are often seen as nurturing figures that are made to take care of children and maintain a home, all while keeping a positive outlook and caring for everyone’s needs except their own. Imagine trying to maintain either of these personas when all you feel inside is broken and defeated. These perceived gender roles can change the group dynamic in a way that makes therapy unsuccessful, and even stressful. For example, the presence of men in a therapy group may cause a woman to not only feel uncomfortable sharing her feelings, but unsafe because of her past traumatic experiences with sexual assault and domestic violence. If we want treatments to progress, we need to remove these stresses from therapy and allow authentic internal focus that’s devoid of withholding.
Concern for Emotional Connection in Therapy
Gender-specific groups are the most beneficial for our clients in the beginning stages of addiction treatment, as they become comfortable sharing their experiences and emotional struggles with addiction, family dynamics, and other relationship issues. We want to remove as many mental or emotional blocks from the environment as we can, so we can start getting to the core cause of the addiction, and determine the best way to treat it. Group therapy also consists of creating a healthy relationship dynamic between those sharing within the group. However, there are emotional connections that develop when we begin to share something as personal as addiction, relationship issues, and deeply affecting life experiences. In a coed group, those connections can be confusing for some clients as they mistake intense emotion for romantic feelings. These distracting feelings can get in the way of progress in treatment.
Benefits of Gender-Specific Treatment:
- Focuses on gender-specific issues between men and women
- Comfort level
- Increased willingness to participate and share
- Build confidence
- Removing gender-specific societal boundaries and expectations