Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counselors' Perceptions of Female and Male Clients. (Practice & Theory)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Counselors' Perceptions of Female and Male Clients. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

Counselors are not passive in their attempts to understand their clients. They actively seek information, integrate it, and form impressions about their clients (e.g., Leary & Miller, 1986) in order to decide on the most effective counseling interventions (Strohmer & Shivy, 1994). However, as human beings, counselors may not be able to conduct this process in a fully value-free manner (Katz, 1985). For example, prior research has indicated that counselors form impressions of their clients very quickly (Sandifer, Horden, & Green, 1970) and thus may make inaccurate assumptions and decisions based on easily identifiable information.

One such easily identifiable cue that has been suggested as influencing counselors' understanding of clients is biological sex (e.g., Deaux, 1976; Knudson-Martin, 1997; Knudson-Martin & Mahoney, 1996; Stabb, Cox, & Harber, 1997). Deaux suggested that counselors may "have expectations for the behaviors of a ... male or female which derive from stereotyped assumptions" (p. 336). In testing this idea, researchers have demonstrated that counselors make stereotypical gender attributions related to (a) responsibility for presenting difficulties, (b) problem formulation, (c) diagnosis and treatment recommendations, and (d) degree of severity of the problem (for reviews see Lopez, 1989; Nelson, 1993; Nutt, 1992). In addition, recent research shows that when clients do not conform to traditional gender roles, they are more likely to be viewed as pathological (e.g., Robertson & Fitzgerald, 1990). As a result, researchers have suggested that when counselors do make differential judgments about female and male clients, they seem to be based on the stereotypical assumptions the counselors have about women and men (Stabb et al., 1997).

However, previous studies have found that most people avoid dealing with gender issues, in general (Hochschild, 1989; Hood, 1983; Whitbourne & Ebmeyer, 1990; Zvonkovic, Greaves, Schmeige, & Hall, 1996), and their impact on counseling, specifically (Knudson-Martin, 1997, Margolin, Talovic, Fernandez, & Onorato, 1983). For example, Van Buren (1992) reported that gender issues are rarely addressed in graduate training programs. Therefore, it may be that gender-stereotyped patterns of perceiving women and men, so ingrained by one's social development, remain unidentified or unchallenged (Stabb et al., 1997). This has the potential to harm the client (Tsui & Shultz, 1988) because counselors may unintentionally convey restrictive notions about the roles of women and men (Hare-Mustin, 1983), which may limit rather than expand the range of behavior available to their clients (Shields, 1995).

Because of the potential for harm to a client that such behaviors entail and because counseling training tends to ignore this issue, most scholars and clinicians agree that this is an area that deserves attention. However, counselors' perceptions of actual clients have been largely unstudied (O'Donohue & Crouch, 1996; for exceptions, see Fisher, 1989; Stabb et al., 1997). Instead, many of the aforementioned conclusions about counselors' perceptions of female and male clients have been based on analogue research, which assumes that the judgment processes used by counselor participants are similar to those they would use in a real-life counseling session. However, this assumption may not be valid, because counselor participants may be more interested and invested in a real client than in an experimental client (Strohmer & Shivy, 1994). The extent to which a laboratory experiment resembles the actual counseling process is an important consideration in assessing the relevancy of the findings (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1992). Consequently, these designs may not be applicable to examining gender and counseling issues.

In addition, these analogue studies have been plagued by many methodological and conceptual problems (Barak & Fisher, 1989; Lopez, Smith, Wolkenstein, & Charlin, 1993), including (a) nonrepresentative samples; (b) use of different and even inappropriate measures across studies; and (c) covert, political, social, or value agendas that lead to selective reviews of the literature (Barak & Fisher, 1989). …

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