How These Married Therapists Confronted Their Prejudices Against Single Women
They knew they were biased against their single clients. Here’s what they did.
Single people’s lives are undermined in so many ways by the stereotyping and stigmatizing of single people that I call singlism. One of the most disturbing set of examples comes from disappointing experiences with mental health professionals. I have been studying single people and singlism for decades. To this day, I continue to hear stories from single people who like being single and went into psychotherapy for help with other life issues, only to find that their therapist seems to think that marriage or romantic coupling is the real issue and the actual goal.
Mental health professionals are swimming in the same pool of stereotypes and mythologies and ideologies as everyone else, so it is not altogether surprising that some of them absorb the prevailing prejudices. Fortunately, there are also a few who realize that there may be something wrong with the way they are thinking and decide to do something about it.
In Israel, 6 married heterosexual therapists (5 women, 1 man) working at a family therapy center compared notes on their experiences working with single women clients. They found that the women seemed to take seriously the dominant cultural discourses that stigmatize single people and accord greater value to coupled people. The relentless message that their lives were not as worthy as those of married people was a source of great pain.
The therapists wanted to know whether they had been influenced by the same narratives that their single women clients found so hurtful. And if they were, what did that mean for the quality of the help they were giving those women?
To answer these questions, the therapists did something impressive. For 18 months, they met every other week, spending two hours together each time. They interviewed one another in depth over that time, posing questions such as:
· “When you hear the words ‘single woman,’ what words, thoughts, feelings, images, or memories come to mind?”
· About single men: “Do you think they experience similar or different feelings to those of single women?”