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Hall and Lloyd (1989) identified issues that might serve as potential difficulties for counselors of each gender. A female counselor, for example, may over-identify with survivors’ issues, become over-involved with their problems, and play the role of the ‘rescuer.’ Male counselors, on the other hand, might over-identify with the abuser, focus on issues of sexuality rather than abuse of power, or feel guilty about being male and attempt to overcompensate for this by being ‘kind’ to the survivor.
Less has been written regarding the gender of counselors with male survivors. Bruckner and Johnson (1987), who discussed group treatment for adult male survivors of sexual abuse, recommended the use of a mixed-gender team as co-leaders because having a female present in their groups seemed to facilitate the discussion of issues and feelings, although the participants also seemed to seek the female co-leader’s acceptance and permission. Evans, who discussed the treatment of male sexual assault survivors and Vietnam veterans, stated that, ‘The key issue in gender identification with the client . . . is not the gender of the client and the survivor, but the gender attitudes’ (1990: 71). Counseling is hindered by male gender stereotyping, resulting in harmful beliefs (for example that male survivors are more to blame for their abuse than are females, males are unable to address personal issues, males are more competent and therefore male survivors are less in need of treatment than are female survivors).
So the literature recommends that a female counselor may be more effective, at least initially, in working with female survivors, although there are also some advantages to including a male therapist at some point in the process. Clinicians working with male survivors have not taken a similar stance (i.e. that male survivors should be seen by male counselors). However, in general, counselors’ abilities to examine their own gender-related issues as these influence their beliefs and attitudes, and the ways in which power issues are handled within the counseling relationship, may ultimately be more important that the gender mix between counselor and client.
The gender of the client
Urquiza and Capra (1990), in their review of the initial and long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse on boys, cited several effects that were similar to those experienced by women and girls (e.g. self-concept disturbance, somatic complaints) , but identified two areas which ‘stood out’ for males: disturbances of conduct and acting out of compulsive sexual behaviors. The authors suggested that these effects are related to gender-based differences in coping with trauma, most specifically the use of externalizing behaviors by males. Struve (1990) suggests that the recovery of male survivors is influenced by their socialization, which leads them to believe that they should not be victims, that they can act on their feelings but not express them, and that they should have been able to protect themselves from their abuse.
Abuse by member of the same sex
In addition to addressing the impact of socialization on males’ responses to victimization, the issue of same-sex abuse is also pertinent. The most frequently discussed, specific effect arising from the experience of male-to-male abuse is confusion related to sexual identity. Struve (1990) pointed out, for example, that if the abused boy perceives himself as experiencing pleasure or sexual arousal, which are normal physiological responses to stimulation, he may interpret those reactions as latent homosexual feelings, and this can lead to later identity confusion. Some researchers have found a relationship between sexual victimization by an older male in childhood and later same-sex behaviors (Finkelhor, 1979). The male survivor often directs anger towards himself for not protecting himself from the offender, and therefore views himself as ‘less of a man’ (Struve, 1990). He may then try to overcompensate for this failure, resulting in exaggerated ‘macho behaviors,’ homophobia, sexually aggressive behaviors, and, in some cases, sexual offending. Counselors of male survivors need to be sensitive both to gender-specific issues of abuse and to issues related to same-sex abuse.
As Sepler pointed out, male victims inevitably experience their abuse from a different world view and self-view than do females. She warned counselors that a crisis experienced by the male survivor related to the abuse ‘may be unresponsive to, or further precipitated by, a program model that assumes universality when it comes to sexual victimization’ (1990: 76). For example, because males are raised to value mastery, they may be unlikely to acknowledge their powerlessness in the situation in the way that females might, and adapt by adopting a ‘pseudoconsensual posture or reciprocating with aggressive acts’ (1990: 78). By failing to acknowledge the male’s view and by working from a model of victimization based primarily on women’s experiences, counselors could increase the male survivor’s sense of isolation and alienation.
Reflection Exercise #2