Why Gender-Specific Treatment Is Crucial for Women
“When co-ed therapeutic groups happen, the women will often hesitate or hold back while the male members of the group speak up and get their needs met.”
Addiction does not discriminate but there are legitimate reasons why treatment should. Gender-specific care is becoming more and more common and for women especially, it could be the key component to making the most of a client’s time in rehabilitation. There are a multitude of reasons why women might thrive more in recovery if they’re fighting the addiction battle alongside other like-minded women.
The sheer physiological differences between men and women are an incentive for women to seek out female-centric treatment. “Women’s bodies metabolize chemicals differently than men’s bodies do so women are often much sicker from the physiological effects of addiction by the time they get treatment. They have a harder time getting a running start,” says Cecelia Jayme, Director of Clinical Services at Hazelden Betty Ford’s Center City, Minnesota campus. So the impact is two-fold: women physically experience the medical remedies for getting relief from the addiction differently than men, and in turn might garner more empathy from those who have had similar physical side effects.
The Height of Vulnerability
Early sobriety is a time of healing, discovery and often total disorientation. Jayme explains, “Take your primary relationships, which is that with [the] drug; go into treatment and remove [the]drug, which is removing your primary relationship, and there is this big, gaping empty feeling left behind. Women are vulnerable to predation at that point.” Many professionals (and recovering addicts who’ve learned the hard way) believe that early recovery is not the ideal time for new romantic relationships. A women-only therapeutic environment is the simple solution. “People can confuse that emptiness and that predation as romantic love and build their stability on that, and we all know how stable relationships are in early recovery—they dissipate quickly and they need the relationship with the other women to support them through that,” Jayme says. Gender-sensitive treatment assures one more essential layer of protection.
The vulnerability factor goes beyond the risk of mistaking attraction for safety. Jayme has seen in her own work that women are less likely to share openly in a group setting when there are males present. “When co-ed therapeutic groups happen, the women will often hesitate or hold back while the male members of the group speak up and get their needs met,” she says. “Women hold back until the men have had their turn, which often results in women not getting their time.”
There is also a comfort level that’s not available in co-ed groups. “It’s really difficult for many women regardless of age or generation to talk about women-specific issues around body image or family relationships,” Jayme says. “The way that women relate is very different than the way men relate to significant others and family.” In short, gender-specific groups usually result in more honest feedback and a lot less rescuing.