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Male staff working with traumatized females?

2014

Hi all,
 
The facility where I work has implemented a policy whereby only female staff work with our female residents.  This is in response to research suggesting that a male presence may either unintentionally re traumatize these youth or cause difficult flashbacks.
 
While I certainly see the merit to this approach, I also think it is very important that female residents be exposed to both positive male role models as well as positive and respectful interactions between male and female staff members.
 
I’m interested in hearing about what other facilities are doing in regard to gender staffing as well as any thoughts or opinions practitioners may have. Any academics aware of any research endorsing the notion of traumatized females benefitting from positive male role models? Appreciate any feedback.
 
Barb Phillips
Canada
...

Hi Barb,
 
Wow this is an interesting one, and I am sure many people will weigh in their opinions.
 
I can understand the reasoning, but I think such a decision is short-sighted (to be blunt).  Eventually everyone has to adjust and cope in a society where we have male and female, and eventually no matter what you do, you cannot prevent them from having contact with males - in the long term. 
 
Also, it would suggest to me that there is the assumption that being either male or female alone is a qualification or disqualification for working with certain populations or clients - that does not sit so well with me.
 
I would accept that if you are working predominantly with female clients, that you might have predominantly female staff.  I would also accept that staff have to be very carefully chosen, given the intimate/sensitive nature of the difficulties you may be working with.  And that clients should have a choice - if this is appropriate. 
 
I think it is the qualities, skills and qualifications of the person that is more important, than being male or female, and which is probably a better determinant of success in a working relationship with a client.  In fact, some of these clients may benefit specifically from therapeutic interaction with a male therapist/worker.  It's about responding appropriately to the individual developmental and therapeutic needs of the specific client - not making global decisions.  If in each case, it is appropriate and justified to have a female worker, because it is specifically in the best interest of those clients/children, then of course it is the right decision - but I doubt that would be the case.
 
It is also possible to have male co-workers who are not the initial frontline workers, so that clients can have the benefit of emotional safety offered by female workers, but knowing that there are men, and that at the right time they will interact. 
 
Not having ANY male workers is like confirming the belief "Yes, you are right, men cannot be trusted, and men cannot care for you in a therapeutic way, so we will protect you by eliminating this threat".  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but you can see where I am going with this.
 
I have encountered similar arguments in residential care of children where only female carers are employed. There is a perception that males present a (higher) risk because they are unable to empathetic, or unable to care for children.  Of course it is simply not true.  But there are many such perceptions that form part of our work with children and other clients.
 
In conclusion, I think it is acceptable to say that one would have more female staff members, but to specifically exclude men completely as possible therapeutic agents is just not justified.  I also think the clients should have some input in this decision - they might have a different view of things.
 
Good luck.
 
Werner van der Westhuizen
South Africa
...
 
Hi Barb.
 
I think that this is an important question.
 
Like pretty much everything else in our field, there is no simple response to this issue. However, I wrote a short reflective piece related to this and it appears in the August 2007 issue of CYC-Online. It probably will not provide you with any clear answers, but maybe some more questions …
 
All of the best to you.
 
Jackie Winfield
...
 
Hi Barb,

I have recently taken the directors post at an exclusively female facility (youth aged 13yrs to 18yrs) and I intend to bring a senior male child and youth care worker on board as I agree fully with you that if we do not expose young ladies to well-balanced and well-intentioned males then they are never really going to get the opportunity to see them in a positive role and this then robs them of getting a proper balanced view of men.

Michelle Linger
...
 
Hi!
 
Has anybody asked the female survivors in this program if they have a problem with male staff? I wonder what their opinions would be, seeing as they are the clients.
 
I think that ultimately, it is important that survivors experience positive male interactions to re-enforce that not all males are bad/going to be hurtful. This applies in many areas. For example, if somebody was bitten by a dog and now thinks that every dog is going to bite them, allowing them to pursue that fear by never being around dogs ever again allows the brain to continue thinking that there is reason to believe all dogs are bad.
 
I am also a firm believer that avoiding triggers and flashbacks altogether may be less helpful than learning how to cope with flashbacks and other trauma responses when they do happen.
 
Whether or not males are involved directly in the treatment process, I do believe that exposure to positive male relationships is important when recovering from trauma. Keeping all males away will, just like the dog example, give the survivors reason to believe that males are bad, whether this belief is conscious or not.
 
Jennifer Pothier
Alberta, Canada.
...
 
I think Werner has just about hit the nail on the head for this one, as usual.
 
If we can understand the nature of trauma (and we must do our utmost to understand this – try this link http://www.sanctuaryweb.com/ - then we must recognise the many ways that delivery of care might replicate previous trauma in the lives of the children we look after, complicating the service that we offer.  Having men involved in the care of traumatised girls is not the only thing that may have a negative impact on recovery and may not be the worst we can do.  On the other hand male staff may prove to be beneficial if effectively deployed.
 
I recall a time about two years into my first job as a residential social worker looking after 20 teenage girls.  Most of the other staff were female except for the management.  The depute head one day was discussing a girl who he found particularly hostile and he expressed the opinion she just did not like men.  Given her history this might be understandable as she was almost certainly traumatised by her experiences at the hands of her father.   However I had a good relationship with her indicating that the depute’s assessment was not accurate.   It was my understanding that probably it was not men but authority figures that she had difficulties relating to so I consciously and deliberately softened my dealings with this girl, to good effect.  I still challenged her when necessary but taking a relationship based approach rather than being authoritarian.
 
Trite generalisations are unhelpful  as they serve best to stifle creative application of the range of resources we have at our disposal, including appropriately skilled male workers.
 
Ni Holmes
Scotland
...

Many years ago, by design or default, I was assigned to manage a residential program for “emotionally disturbed” adolescent girls.   As a twenty-seven year old male, I approached my responsibilities with an odd mixture of excitement and caution.   In those days, I wouldn’t have used the term “trauma” to describe the collective condition of the residents.   On the other hand, each had suffered some degree of deprivation and/or abuse – often through the relationships with the men in their lives.
 
As the central authority figure, it was to be expected that I would become the object of their projected frustrations, fears and fantasies.    Over time, I became used to being the bad dad, the good dad, the protective brother, the cheating lover, the punitive teacher, the sadistic cop, the wise guru, the perverted priest, the champion of the downtrodden etc. etc.  It was quite a challenge for a young buck still seeking to affirm his own masculine identity.   Yet I became (and remain) convinced that these were the issues that needed to be addressed and my male presence was an essential factor in the process.   My female colleagues were quite capable of providing supportive follow-up without reinforcing the old projections – whether positive or negative.   On the other side of the coin, these girls were teaching me about personal boundaries and how to become a conscious practitioner.   But, even more importantly, they offered me incredible new insights into what it means to be female and, thereby, what it means for me to be male.
 
Since that time I have become convinced that all our so-called ‘problems’ are created in relationships and can only be resolved through relationships.   To suggest that “traumatized” females should not be working with male practitioners makes no more sense than saying deprived and abused kids should not be working with adults.
 
Gerry Fewster 
...
 
Hello, it‘s been a long time since I worked front line. What I know is change happens through relationship. Trauma recovery in my opinion happens through trust and safety, and safe relationships. Everyone has a story and should be able to share it in a manner that they find helpful.

Judy and Duane Durham 
...
 
Clarity please. Appropriate Male Workers notwithstanding, if we agree that trauma can be triggered by gender isn't a program that responds to that have merit? If a young woman's trauma is so profound at the hands of a male isn't it excellent that our global continuum somewhere has a service that responds so intensely, such as the one described? I am not hearing their service is against males, I am hearing that they are creating a context that responds to the needs of abused and traumatized women. I am not hearing them say that they won't ever take into consideration the integration of males at some point. I agree, with the point trauma can never be fully insulated if one hopes to step out from the environment of treatment. Maybe this service can help with the early stages of profound pain-based behaviour and brain responses to a gender which were undeniably inappropriate, so says their amygdala. An environment created for the developmental needs of the client sounds like what they are creating. I think we may want to allow room for many forms of treatment environments, so they can inform others. I worry sometimes that we can homogenize our services so much they we think we can deal with all forms of trauma. I agree with the outcome that successful intervention would have the traumatized female be able to experience males as non-threatening too. However the starting spot for them may require an environment that doesn't have males? That doesn't make males awful it makes males responsive. 
  
Ernie Hilton
...

I like the ideas about having both male and female staff, both with girls and with boys.  It provides two opportunities for children that they may not have experienced previously.  First, it provides them with the opportunity to have relationships with responsible members of the opposite sex.  And second, it provides them with the opportunity to observe appropriate interaction between adult members of opposite sexes.  
 
I suspect, however, that much of administrative reluctance to have males working with female children and adolescents has to do with fear of allegations, investigations, and lawsuits. 
 
John Stein
New Orleans 


Well said Gerry as it would also imply that men, as an entire gender, are not safe.
 
Janet


Good day
 
Are we working from an assumption that the only species that has the potential to create trauma are males? If so than all male caregivers in all the different spheres of working with young females are being unfairly judge. By choice I never ever worked with traumatised females, but that don’t mean that I don’t have the ability to work with those girls.
 
Regards
Alfred Harris
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