If there are to be dual-sex therapy teams, what roles do the individual cotherapists play? What guidelines do they follow? What therapeutic procedures ensue? What should be their qualifications as professionals in this sensitive, emotionally charged area? These are all pertinent questions, and, as would be expected, in some cases they are difficult to answer.
The major responsibility of each cotherapist assigned to a husband and wife problem is to evaluate in depth, translate for, and represent fairly the member of the distressed couple of the same sex. This concept should not be taken to suggest that verbal or directive interaction is limited to wife and female cotherapist or to husband and male cotherapist far from it. The interpreter role does not constitute the total contribution an individual cotherapist makes in accepting the major responsibility of sex-linked representation. The male cotherapist can provide much information pertaining to male-oriented sexual function for the wife of the distressed couple; and equally important, female-oriented material is best expressed by the female cotherapist for benefit of the husband.
Acute awareness of the two-to-one situation frequently develops when a sexually distressed couple sees a single counsellor for sexual dysfunction.
For example, if the therapist is male and there is criticism indicated for or direction to be given to the wife, the two-to-one opposition may become overpowering.
Who is to interpret for or explain to the wife matters of female sexual connotation? Where does she develop confidence in therapeutic material she cannot express her concepts adequately to the two males in the room?
Exactly the same problem occurs if the therapist is female and contending with a sexually dysfunctional couple. Who interprets for or to the husband?
Dual Sex Team
Avoids the potential therapeutic disadvantage of interpreting patient complaint on the basis of male or female bias. Experience has established a recognizable pattern in the various phases of response by a female patient to questioning by a male cotherapist.
As a rough rule of thumb, unless the distress is most intense, the wife can be expected to tell her male therapist first what she wants him to know; second, what she thinks he wants to know or can understand; and not until a third, ultimately persuasive attempt has been made can she consistently be relied upon to present material as it is or as it really appears to her. With the female cotherapist in the room, although the wife may be replying directly to interrogation of the male cotherapist.
During the first exposure to questioning she routinely is careful to present material as she sees it or as she believes it to be, for she knows she is being monitored by a member of her own sex. The inference, of course, is that “it takes one to know one.” The “presence” usually is quite sufficient to remove a major degree of persiflage from patient communication.
When the sexually dysfunctional male patient is interviewed by a female therapist, it is extremely difficult to elicit reliable material, for cultural influence inevitably will prevail. Many times the male tells it as he would like to believe it is, rather than as it is.
Sexual Dysfunction and Male Ego
His ego is indeed a fragile thing when viewed under the spotlight of untempered female interrogation. Not infrequently his performance fears, his anxieties, and his hostilities are magnified in the face of his concept of a prejudiced two-to-one relationship in therapy, when he presumes that his wife has the advantage of the therapist’s sexual identity.
The participation of both sexes contributes a “reality factor” to therapeutic procedure in yet another way. It lessens the need for enactment of social ritual designed to gain the attention of the opposite-sex therapist, an unnecessary diversion which often produces biased material in its effort to impress.
These hazards of interrogation and interpersonal misinterpretations can be bypassed through use of the dual-sex team. Certainly, during history-taking there is a session devoted to male cotherapist interrogation of the wife and female cotherapist interrogation of the husband, but in each instance within the method there is built-in protection to avoid the previously mentioned pitfalls.
The husband has had an extensive discussion with the male cotherapist the previous day (as has the wife with the female cotherapist); thus, the pattern for same-sex confrontation and information interchange has already been introduced, concomitantly establishing greater reliability of reporting.
Both members of the sexually disturbed couple are aware that four persons are committed to a common therapeutic goal and that all parties will be brought together the next day for the roundtable discussion. Hence, any tendency of the patient to provide the cotherapist with inaccurate clinical material in the opposite-sex interrogative session usually is curbed in advance by the dual-sex team environment and the previously described progression of the treatment program.
Equal partner representation in a problem of sexual dysfunction is a particularly difficult concept to accept for those patients previously exposed to other forms of psychotherapy. When either partner has been accustomed to being the principal focus of therapy, he or she finds it strange indeed that neither partner holds this position. Rather it is their interpersonal relationship within the context of the marriage that is held in focus.
An additional fortunate therapeutic return from the presence of both sexes within the therapy team is in the area of clinical concern for transference. There always is transference from patient to therapist as a figure of authority. There is no desire to avoid this influence in the therapeutic program, but, beyond both patients’ and therapists’ need to establish the authority figure, every effort is made in the brief two-week acute phase of the therapy program to avoid development of a special affinity between either patient and either cotherapist .
Instead of generating emotional currents, especially those with sexual connotation, from one side of the desk to the other, the therapeutic team is intensely interested in stimulating the flow of emotional and sexual awareness between husband and wife and encourages this response at every opportunity.
For example, if the team were to observe the wife becoming intensely attentive to the male cotherapist, directing all questions to him, accepting or even prompting answers only from him, in short, replacing the husband with the cotherapist as the male figure of the moment. The team would take steps to counteract this distracting, potentially husband-alienating trend.
The male cotherapist would begin to direct questions only to the husband, and all material pertinent to the wife (even including basic information pertaining to male sexual response) would be presented by the female member of the team until it was obvious that the wife’s incipient tendency to establish special interpersonal communication with the male cotherapist had been counterbalanced by team intervention. Attempted recruitment of special rapport with the female cotherapist by the husband is handled in a similar manner.
To create further emotional trauma for either sexually insecure marital partner by encouraging or accepting such alignment, however deliberately or naively proffered, is not only professionally irresponsible, but also can be devastating to therapeutic results.
It cannot be emphasized too vigorously that the techniques of transference, so effective in attacking many of the major psychotherapeutic problems over the years, are not being criticized. The Foundation is entirely supportive of the proper usage of these techniques as effective therapeutic tools.
However, from the start of the clinical program, the Foundation has taken the specific position that the therapeutic techniques of transference have no place in the acute two-week attempt to reverse the symptoms of sexual dysfunction and establish, re-establish, or improve the channels of communication between husband and wife.
Anything that distracts from positive exchange between husband and wife during their time in therapy is the responsibility of the therapeutic team to identify and immediately nullify or negate.
Positive transference of sexual orientation can be and frequently is a severe deterrent to effective reconstitution of interpersonal communication for members of a couple, particularly when they are contending with a problem of sexual dysfunction.