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Balancing the Power Dynamic in the Therapeutic Relationship

Section 8
Gender Role Conflict

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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♦ Why is the Focus on Males?
By now the male therapists taking this course may be asking themselves, "Why is the focus on males regarding the power imbalance in the therapy relationship?"

According to Penfold, issues in male socialization is an underlying factor that predominates among males in the mental health profession who abuse. In general, she states, males in our culture feel entitled to have their needs met, usually by women. They put their own needs first, and go after what they want. In their everyday lives, they may have little ability or opportunity to express their feelings and worries, so the chance to unburden to a sympathetic and compliant listener is appealing. Penfold states in romantic and sexual encounters men usually take the initiative and, if needy, lonely or deprived, might be inclined to mislead themselves about the ethics of the situation.

♦ Female Socialization and Risks
Regarding female socialization, Penfold writes that many females are still programmed to believe that they will be happy and fulfilled by serving others, by devoting themselves to meeting the needs of husband and children or other deserving adults. In addition to providing for physical needs, the woman in a family is the emotional organizer, the mediator of feelings, whose job it is to dampen or absorb tensions, avoid confrontations, divert energies, and generally keep the family running smoothly.

With this background, Penfold, who has been a victim of therapist sexual abuse herself, feels a woman is more at risk for becoming entangled in an abusive relationship with a male professional. As previously stated, many women are still socialized to defer to and serve men, and viewing themselves as primarily responsible for mediating relationships.

As you know, a woman can get stuck in a destructive relationship. She gets stuck because she believes in the authority of the abuser's contention that she should stay and that she is being helped. She is getting attention from a valued male, buying into his blaming of her for the conflicting feelings in the professional relationship, and thinking that if she tries hard enough all problems will be solved. Thus, she stays on and on.

This is even more likely, of course, if the woman feels the man is a prominent member of the community. Thus, because of their social programming as subordinates, women may be more readily impressed by the male mental health professional she views as in a position of power.

Penfold, P. S. (1998). Sexual abuse by health professionals: A personal search for meaning and healing. University of Toronto Press.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Baumann, E. F., Ryu, D., & Harney, P. (2020). Listening to identity:
Transference, countertransference, and therapist disclosure in psychotherapy with sexual and gender minority clients. Practice Innovations, 5(3), 246–256.

Kim, S., & Rutherford, A. (2015). From seduction to sexism: Feminists challenge the ethics of therapist–client sexual relations in 1970s america. History of Psychology, 18(3), 283–296. 

Kivlighan, D. M. III, Hooley, I. W., Bruno, M. G., Ethington, L. L., Keeton, P. M., & Schreier, B. A. (2019). Examining therapist effects in relation to clients’ race-ethnicity and gender: An intersectionality approach. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 66(1), 122–129.

Komlenac, N., Siller, H., Bliem, H. R., & Hochleitner, M. (2019). Associations between gender role conflict, sexual dysfunctions, and male patients’ wish for physician–patient conversations about sexual health. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(3), 337–346.

Owen, J., Wong, Y. J., & Rodolfa, E. (2010). The relationship between clients’ conformity to masculine norms and their perceptions of helpful therapist actions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57(1), 68–78.

What is one reason females are more vulnerable to male therapeutic abuse? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 9
Table of Contents