Does the Sex or Gender of the Therapist Matter?

Often, people’s fears about therapy revolve around the therapist or the development of a healthy, lasting relationship with a new therapist. It’s common to have some worry or confusion about choosing a male or female therapist, especially if the nature of the topics covered in therapy have anything to do with gender identity, sexuality, or sexual orientation.

Beginning therapy and developing a relationship with your therapist is all about your comfort. Take the time to think about what you might prefer to look for in a therapist, and let these therapists shed some light on the decision-making process:

topic expert lynn somersteintopic expert lynn somersteinLynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT: People have different comfort levels and may have preferences about working with certain kinds of therapists, such as male or female, straight or gay, older or not. Those preferences should be respected, if possible, because they help ease the social part of beginning therapy, which promotes a calmer relationship that can help you overcome the scariness of beginning a therapeutic relationship. What matters most of all when choosing a therapist is your gut feeling that the two of you click.

When I began seeing a therapist, I knew that I had to see a woman because I felt I would feel safer and better understood by a woman than a man. At least, that is what I thought at the time. I never regretted making this decision, but did feel that I needed to work with a male therapist too. Later in my training, I studied with a supervisor—a male therapist—who became my mentor.

People who have experienced sexual abuse often prefer to work with someone who is not the same gender as the predator; this is a wise choice to defuse the terror and mistrust that will probably come up in treatment. When therapy progresses and lasts, however, it can become clear that the sex, gender, sexual orientation, or age have less to do with successful therapy than we might think. A good therapist will reach out to the person in treatment and develop a mutual understanding and ability to be helpful. The skillfulness, training, and experience of the therapist are important. So, I would say that ultimately sex or gender are not so important, but it can take a while to reach that understanding, and if you have a preference for a certain kind of person, go with that inclination. And always listen to your gut feelings. Is this therapist the right person for you? How do you feel talking together?

topic expert damon constantinidesDamon Constantinides, PhD, LCSW: I’m trained in both clinical social work and sexuality education, so I think and teach a lot about gender. What I’ve learned is that there are as many gender expressions as there are people. I have had clients choose to see me specifically because I’m a man. For them, my gender makes me easier to talk to, or less threatening; or perhaps they think I’ll understand what they’re saying better than a woman would. However, for other clients, my gender has not been a deciding factor in their choice to work with me.

There are many things to take into consideration when looking for a therapist who is a good fit; gender is only one part of that equation. Other factors such as ethnicity, experience, modality, specialties, or location might be more important. Many people have different levels of comfort with different genders. This can be because of past experience, personal belief systems, or communication style. Most importantly, you want to feel like your therapist understands you. For you, does gender play a role in communication and feeling understood? What are the key components you need to feel connected with another person? Is gender one of them?

topic expert norma leeNorma Lee, MA, MD, LMFT: One of the biggest determining factors if therapy will be successful is how well a person is able to connect with their therapist. A person needs to feel that their therapist is nonjudgmental, interested in what they have to say, and accepting of them exactly as they are. So, depending on the issue(s) that brings someone to therapy, the sex/gender of the therapist can make a significant difference. You may be aware of these issues, or you may not. For example, if someone was mistreated by their mother growing up, they may have difficulty trusting a woman, especially if she is of the age the person’s mother is. If a girl or woman has been sexually abused or assaulted, she would likely prefer a woman therapist, as most sexual abuse/assault incidents against women are committed by men.

The majority of therapists are women, and the majority of people in therapy are women. In general, women have more of a need to talk things out than men do. Men often don’t want to talk about a problem—they just want to fix it. This is not a judgment or a bad thing, but rather just a difference between the genders. Men who choose to become therapists typically do not have this mindset as they know people have usually tried to help solve their problems before coming to therapy and have been unsuccessful. Sometimes in couples therapy, a male and female therapist may work together so that each member of the couple can feel that someone truly sees their perspective.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Gary


    September 2nd, 2016 at 8:49 AM

    Yes I have a quick question I’m a very abused man abused by women and I was refused a male counselor at a hospital after I waited a year and a half to get into a hospital to get proper counseling I do not want to take medications I cannot take medications because I have a hearing disability that the medications make the ringing in my head 100 times worse if they refused me a male counselor I had to leave are they allowed to do this in Canada please help

  • The Team

    The Team

    September 2nd, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    Dear Gary,

    Thank you for your comment. We are sorry to hear of what you have experienced. The Team is not qualified to offer professional advice, but we encourage you to reach out to the hospital and discuss this with them.

    You can also use our website to search for a different therapist located in Canada. Use the International Search here to find a therapist in your area:

    Please know you are not alone. Help is available, and we wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • Moira


    September 8th, 2016 at 7:46 PM

    Hey I am interested in the ethical issues surrounding gender and its effect on a client-practitioner relationship, particularly on how many of the issues discussed above such as personal perception of gender, cultural values and personal experience such as sexual abuse affect this.
    If anyone can put me onto some good research papers on this subject it would be excellent.
    Thank you

  • Jimbo123


    February 2nd, 2017 at 7:33 AM

    I am in my seventies and had a heart issue that was successfully treated. That said, since then I have issues that I cannot bring myself to discuss with male doctors. I have no problem being nude for my female dermatologist or cardiologist, or any of their assistants if they are female. I also find myself selecting more revealing clothing when walking outside and seem to have taken on a new attraction to women. I’m not an exhibitionist, but I can see the changes in my demeanor and that younger women seem more cordial and interest to meeting me in malls or on the streets where I walk. I’m assuming this is unordinary behavior and worry that I have become abnormal.

  • Leviticus B

    Leviticus B

    February 22nd, 2017 at 10:43 AM

    I definitely agree that it’s best to find a therapist that you are most comfortable with-whether gender is a factor determining your comfort or not. When you are visiting a therapist, it’s probably because you need to discuss things that you can’t discuss comfortably with others. If you’re not comfortable with your therapist, that will be a major stumbling block in your therapy.

  • Max


    October 17th, 2017 at 8:28 AM

    I’ve been really curious about psychologist services lately, and I think that being able to get some of my questions answered would be good. I’m glad that you talked about whether or not the psychologist is male or female, and I think that being able to find whatever works best with your preference is smart. I think that being able to find a psychologist that you’re comfortable with is the best option, no matter if they are male or female! Thanks for the article!

  • Sophia L.

    Sophia L.

    November 11th, 2017 at 4:29 PM

    How does one select a therapist based on never having met prior to the selection? I have been in therapy and it took years and many therapists to finally connect with the one person with whom I clicked. Now I don’t know whether to contact a male or female… I tried one person who sounded ok on the phone and on the second visit asked if she was helping me… I said not yet, and she then said I can’t help you and that was the end of that. What a bizarre question for a second visit…

  • Daniel


    January 11th, 2018 at 7:41 AM

    This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, I was really searching for if therapy in general is more or less effective depending on gender. I’m a man, and I’d like to know if there is some statistic that can tell me if I’m just as likely or more or less likely to be helped by therapy than a woman. It would also be interesting to see a statistic of it’s affects on children as opposed to adults. And a statistic on not going to therapy at all vs. going to therapy, it could just be that people that go to therapy are also the people that seek help which means that the therapy doesn’t necessarily matter, or?

  • Mathman phrophecies

    Mathman phrophecies

    January 11th, 2018 at 8:40 AM

    I design research studies, usually leaning more toward the hard quantitative end, and there is no way to gain any kind of meaningful information from the kind of study you would like to see. Furthermore, any such study is guaranteed to be fundamentally structurally flawed. Therapy is such an individual thing, with so many factors (gender of therapist x gender of client x therapy model x client’s response to therapy model x client’s concerns x client’s willingness to put in work x environmental x socio-cultural beliefs around therapy and so on) that studying it the way you want would yield no information of any practical use.

    You should decide for yourself what gender you would like your therapist to be, or if it even matters to you. Therapy is about finding someone who suits you, and everyone has different needs/wants/desires in that department.

  • Daniel


    January 24th, 2018 at 3:24 AM

    I do not accept that answer, if you are studying variables like x and y, then gender is one variable. It’s sad when “science” becomes dogmatic and bias. Personally I don’t think therapy and psychology should have a basis in science anyway, but since they do you could at least check all the variables you can easily observe if for nothing else than adjusting the rates. A psyche is not a natural phenomenon, the will of humans can override nature, so to use a system designed to study nature to study the human soul is a ridicules from the get go in my opinion. We are atoms contemplating atoms? How does that make sense? Why aren’t all animals doing that then? You know there is a part missing just as much as the rest of us and you’re a bit scared to look, that’s what I think.

  • Mathman phrophecies

    Mathman phrophecies

    January 24th, 2018 at 8:28 AM

    Of course gender (both of the therapist and client) is a variable. What you are looking for, however, is an easy way to isolate that variable, which is a bit of a pipe dream given the number of confounding variables inherently present in any such study of the human mind.
    This seems to be something you acknowledge, too, given your argument that humans are somehow too complex to study (but then also advocating for applying an overly simplistic form of study to them, which will yield, as I said, no viable results).
    As to the idea that we are somehow exempt from the natural world (and so cannot be studied in accordance with natural law) if you genuinely don’t understand how humans are capable of self-reflection, I’m happy to try to explain neuroscience to you. But to briefly answer some of you questions; we are clusters of atoms communicating in synchronicity in order to contemplate other clusters of atoms, because thought is both a numbers game and an inter-connectedness game (we happen to have lots neurons that have lots of connections), not all animals need to do so in order to survive and thrive but there are plenty that are capable of things we typically use to measure cognition (mirror test, mental self-assessments, problem solving, abstraction of thought, etc.) and since we don’t have an agreed-upon definition of consciousness that includes only humans and no other animal it’s fair to say none of the elements that constitute humanity are unique, we have just combined cognition and abstraction with tool use and aggression in some interesting ways.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on