A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: Negative transference with a male psychotherapist.                    


I’ve only been in therapy for two months; because of a negative transference with my psychiatrist, I quit going. He wrote me after a month to suggest that I continue therapy. This is my first time having a male as a psychotherapist, and it is really hard to talk about issues such as my painful childhood including abuse. Up until this point in my life (I’m 33 years old) I’ve been able to avoid male supervisors and direct contact with male co-workers and professors in college. I cannot go through life this way feeling mostly depressed, and being afraid of men! I’m feeling now that it is not such a good idea to have a male therapist.

Apparently you have learned quite a bit from my website, because you have written to me, a man, without fear.

Technically, it doesn’t really matter in general whether a psychotherapist is male or female, as long as the psychotherapist is competent and doesn’t carry an unconscious anger at authority. Sometimes it can even be helpful to experience separate courses of treatment, first with a female psychotherapist and then with a male psychotherapist, or vice versa.

Nevertheless, if a person suffers from uncertain goals and general life confusion deriving from a lack of a father in childhood—that is, whether the father was literally missing from the family or whether he was merely weak and ineffective—then it may be best to seek out a mature male psychotherapist “father figure” who can help you overcome your hidden anger at your own father by teaching you discipline, responsibility, and wisdom.

Unfortunately, many psychotherapists who are relatively competent in terms of basic psychotherapy principles are not very competent in regard to gender issues. It can be very easy for a client to unconsciously manipulate the unconscious of the psychotherapist and turn the treatment into a blind alley of gender-bashing. It’s as easy as unconsciously splitting infinitives.

Thus it’s quite possible that you could seek out a female psychotherapist in the (unconscious) hope that she will miss the point about your fear of men—just as a man could seek out a male psychotherapist in the hope of avoiding his fear of women.

There’s a very simple rule in dealing with the unconscious: the more you try to avoid something, the more important it is psychologically. Therefore, this might be the perfect opportunity for you to encounter your fear of men as you work with a male psychotherapist. Just remember the BIG RULE of psychotherapy: the spoken encounter between the client and the psychotherapist is the core of the treatment. In this encounter you must learn to set aside all your characteristic psychological defenses and speak with complete honesty. And to do that, you have to come to terms with the emotional pain that caused those defenses to come into being in the first place.

So it will be important to keep talking about everything, especially the feelings you personally have about a male psychotherapist. To all your old defenses this sounds about as wise as playing catch with a jar of nitroglycerine or something, but this is the only way it will work. Talk, don’t run. And keep talking, especially about the negative things. This won’t be easy, of course, and you won’t be able to lay down your old defenses as easily as you can say you want to, but in the struggle to be honest and open you will start to grow, and that’s where the real healing will take place.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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San Francisco


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