Wish Your Man Understood You Better? Team Therapy May Help
When my two colleagues and I developed the idea behind 3VIEW -- an innovative team approach to therapy -- we envisioned how much women would love it. Women would have three times the support, validation, and insight in just one session. Didn't women envy Carrie Bradshaw for her entourage of support?
And then we put our team approach into action -- the three of us working with one client at the same time. We honed our model with a series of pro-bono clients. One was male and the rest were women. Quickly we realized this was not only a therapy for women who wear designer shoes and drink cosmopolitans. This was the real deal. Serious therapy with team support and a change-driven focus.
Even with this understanding we didn't expect that our typical client would end up being... male. Not just male in category, but 'male' male. Type A-male. Corporate-suit-wearing male. Men-who-would-normally-never-come-to-therapy male. Couples aside, and on average, we see three men for every one female client. And these men are all ages, from late-20s to early-70s.
At first we were surprised. But over time, and based on broad generalizations, we've come to understand why men seem to prefer this team approach to therapy. One, it makes sense from a cost-value perspective. Men are highly rational and like knowing they're making the most of their money. Two, it's more efficient. Men want to solve their problems as soon as possible. Three, it's less intense that one-on-one. Men like to feel they're in a business meeting -- with a team -- rather than being analyzed by a doctor.
The biggest reason though, we believe, is that three female therapists can best help men with their relationship issues. Who better to talk to about problems with their girlfriends, partners, wives? Not only can we help navigate rough emotional terrain, and get to the root cause, but we can help translate and teach them the emotional language of their spouse.
Our goal in these cases is to help our male client learn to open up, to feel comfortable even talking about these issues (that they don't sit around discussing with their friends like women do). We start with where they're comfortable -- speaking about thoughts and logical analyses -- and we integrate emotions and relational analyses. We then take their idea of the problem and frame it in this new language.
Client: My wife and I don't have time to talk because our schedules are too busy. Well, she thinks I work too much. Not that she said that directly, but I can tell.
Therapist #1: It sounds like you feel some guilt, which must be hard.
Therapist #2: But you are still communicating by not talking -- that silence is actually saying something.
Therapist #3: I agree, and it makes me wonder what you might be avoiding by keeping so busy? It's not really work that's come between you, but something else. Work can be a way of avoiding it.
Sometimes our focus is to help our client better understand what his girlfriend is trying to tell him. We think of it as building empathy, but it's like translation work.
Client: I don't understand. Everything was going so well until I told her she didn't have to go to my office party with me. I don't even want to go. It's hours of painful small-talk with a bunch of number-crunchers, which is totally not her scene. But then she went all cold and quiet and cancelled our date. I figured she wanted space so I gave it to her. Two days ago -- out of the blue -- she texts that maybe we need to break up.
Therapist #1: I can see why you're confused. You thought you were doing something good.
Therapist #2: Although your girlfriend saw it differently.
Client: I guess she did.
Therapist #2: Maybe she felt left out, or hoped you'd want to introduce her to your colleagues?
Therapist #3: Whatever she thought, it's clear she felt hurt, which is why she cancelled the date.
Therapist #2: If you'd have known she was hurt, would you have still given her space?
Client: Seems I got that wrong.
Therapist: #1: But you thought you were doing something good. She could have just told you what she was thinking.
Therapist #3: That's true, although responding differently could have avoided her getting angry.
Therapist #2: I think the lesson here is that 'space' didn't make her feel better. And actually, often we don't want 'space' when we're hurt, even if we get upset and pull away. It can seem confusing, but sometimes women withdraw as a way to protect themselves when what they really want -- and need -- is reassurance.
My colleagues nod. And that's another benefit, the one of consensus. There is something about three professionals -- a team -- agreeing on a perspective, or approach, or strategy, that is reassuring and obviously appeals to the male mind as much as the female one, and maybe even more.
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