Men may be best left alone for therapy

July 23, 2004

New research from the University of Alberta confirms what most women have probably known all along: most men aren't really good at sharing their feelings.

The findings come from a study of the differences between men's and women's responses to short-term group psychotherapy. The results, which have been published in the latest edition of Psychotherapy Research, indicate that women generally had better outcomes in both supportive and interpretive short-term group therapy relative to men. The research also showed that men were less committed to their therapy groups and were perceived by other group members to be less compatible than women.

"Our results may not be surprising, but they are important because they might help clinicians plan treatments more effectively for their patients," said Dr. Anthony Joyce, a psychologists in the U of A Department of Psychiatry and an author of the paper.

The study focused on patients who had undergone 12 weeks of group therapy to treat a condition known as complicated grief, meaning they were unable to come to terms with the loss of a significant other and, in addition, were experiencing problems in work or social functioning. The results of the study, which were based on surveys completed by psychotherapists and their patients, showed that symptoms of avoidance, depression, anxiety, and general distress improved in a clinically significant manner for the women but did not change to a similar degree among the men.

"It is becoming more and more clear from research conducted all over the world that gender is a key variable to consider when dealing with depressed individuals," Joyce said. "The evidence from our findings certainly suggests that men may derive less benefit from a short-term group psychotherapy than women."

"We recognize that in contemporary society there is considerable variability among women and men in the preferences, needs, and behaviors related to group therapies," he said. "Nevertheless, our findings suggest that patient gender is a potentially influential variable for group psychotherapy."

However, Joyce added that size of the study group was relatively small (12 of 51 people in the trial were male), and the results of this study do not suggest that group therapy can not help men.

"This research focused on short-term groups," he said. "In longer-term therapies, it may be that men are better able to eventually 'get on board' and attain the same level of improvement as women."

The study is just one of many that Joyce and his colleagues have completed for the Edmonton Psychotherapy Research and Evaluation Unit (EPREU). Nearly 20 years old, the EPREU was developed by Joyce and other psychologists and psychiatrists at the U of A to help clinicians around the world determine which mode of therapy is best suited for each of their own patients.
Dr. Anthony Joyce can be reached at 780-407-6501 or

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