Gender Based Therapy in Group Recovery

Contributor:   Alexis L. Franzi, Content and Social Media Specialist, Lakeview Health

couple-692708_640Addiction is a non-discriminatory disease. It doesn’t care if you’re young, old, tall, short, male, or female. Despite both genders experiencing the same physical effects that prolonged use of drugs and alcohol have on the body, the approach to seeking treatment varies between men and women. Women are less likely to seek help than men and more likely to feel shame for seeking help. [1] 

Much like treatment programs geared specifically towards first responders, more and more treatment facilities have been incorporating gender-specific recovery groups where peers are able to share their general life experiences amongst their same sex. This allows for an understanding and common ground not always found in mixed-gender group recovery.

Group Therapy

Group therapy in session sitting in a circleIn recovery, it’s important to be open in group therapy as it allows the patient to recognize the underlying issues behind their addiction resulting in the acquisition of prevention methods lowering their chance of relapse and increasing the likelihood of treatment completion.

Statistically, women who complete treatment are nine times more likely to remain abstinent than women who do not complete treatment. Inversely, men who complete treatment are only three times more likely to remain abstinent than men who don’t complete treatment.[2]  Completion of treatment is imperative and feeling comfortable while in group therapy directly correlates to openness and understanding of a patient’s addiction.

Gender Expectations

Couple having relationship problemsGender roll expectation also plays a part in the need or desire to have gender based therapy in group recovery. Tyrenia O. Cross, MS, RMHCI at Lakeview Health explains that a woman is expected to be feminine, care for the children, and be a lady. However, a woman struggling with the disease of addiction who happens to be a wife and mother may have

However, a woman struggling with the disease of addiction who happens to be a wife and mother may have difficulty in the area of depression, anxiety, or simply feeling that she will be stigmatized due to not filling her roll.

Gender roll expectation can cause a woman to develop low self-worth and other issues that could affect her ability to separate her gift of being a woman from the disease of addiction. The same stigma and feeling of inadequacy goes for a man in treatment as well. If his addiction had prevented him from providing for his family, he could feel like less of a man and perhaps embarassed by the fact that he isn’t living up to society’s standards. When put in mixed-gender group therapy, both sexes could feel unmotivated to open up based on these gender roll expectations.

happy students giving high five at schoolMen and women in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse face similar challenges, but they frequently follow different paths to resolving them. It is the recognition that men and women process information and experience differently.

Men, for example, tend to be more “cognitive,” preferring, at least initially, lectures and content and tending to resist talking when women are at the table. Women, on the other hand, are generally more receptive to experiential, interactive exercises that help them tap into feeling and memory. [3]

Therefore, in gender-specific therapy groups, the therapists are able to focus on the precise feelings that each gender faces in their struggle with addiction as well as their everyday lives.

Gender based therapy in group recovery seems to be gaining popularity across the country in many different treatment facilities. The more research that is done to determine the best outcome for patients in treatment, the more facilites are willing to change their methods of therapy to better accommodate both men and women who are on the road to recovery.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you or your loved one participated in gender based therapy in treatment for addiction?  What was your experience with this type of support?


  1. Schmidt, L., and Weisner, C. The emergence of problem-drinking women as a special population in need of treatment. In: Galanter, M., ed.Recent Developments in Alcoholism, Vol. 12: Alcoholism and Women. New York: Plenum Press, 1995. pp. 309–334. PMID: 7624551
  2. Green, C.A.; Polen, M.R.; Lynch, F.L.; et al. Gender differences in outcomes in an HMO-based substance abuse treatment program. Journal of Addictive Diseases 23:47–70, 2004. PMID: 15132342
  3. Smith, Tyler. (2013) Genders Separate but Equal in Addiction Recovery. UCH Insider, Volume 6 (Issue 16), Pages 1-2

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.  

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 3, 2015. Published on