Gender-Specific Treatment & Why It’s Important

A group of diverse women talking to one another in addiction recovery

For treatment to be the most effective, it is vital that programs and clinicians use interventions that are evidence-based, culturally considerate, and reflective of patients’ gender-specific treatment needs. In residential treatment, these factors are especially important to ensure that individuals are receiving the best standard of care and can truly heal. 
One important consideration is the aspects associated with gender and how this can influence treatment. Many of the common interventions used for residential substance use treatment were originally designed for men, therefore omitting important cultural and societal factors specific to women. Gender-specific treatment allows for residential settings to incorporate these unique factors and needs into treatment, therefore providing holistic and comprehensive care.

What is Gender-Specific Treatment?

Gender-Specific treatment is based on a model established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2009. This treatment improvement protocol was implemented to research women in substance use treatment and determine their specific needs in order to establish a standard of care. Some important topics include:

  • Acknowledging the socioeconomic differences between women and men
  • Recognizing the role of relationships: women with substance use disorders are more likely to have a spouse with a substance use disorder, be victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and have less support from family than men.
  • Increasing awareness of reproductive health and address health concerns
  • Directing attention to parental and caretaking roles
  • Recognizing ascribed roles and gender expectations that affect societal attitudes
  • Maintaining a trauma-informed perspective: Women are more likely to have a history of trauma including childhood abuse and IPV. A trauma-informed perspective includes empowering women who are survivors of trauma, including offering choice and autonomy whenever possible and respecting personal boundaries.

What does Gender-Specific Treatment look like?

Men in Gender-specific treatment group

Gender-specific treatment can occur in an outpatient, residential, or inpatient setting. Some co-ed treatment programs may offer gender-specific groups. Typically, residential programs will include men-only and women-only residences, therapies, and meetings.

While this may mean tailoring therapeutic interventions to include the specific needs and values of men, women, or those who are non-binary, treatment may also include a curriculum designed specifically for that population. A pioneer in gender-specific treatment protocols is Dr. Stephanie Covington. She is a researcher and clinician who has developed multiple curricula for gender-specific substance use treatment. Some examples of her work include Helping Women Recover, Helping Men Recover, Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey for Women, and Exploring Trauma: Brief Intervention for Men.

Why It Matters

Women in Gender-specific treatment group

Providing treatment based on gender is an effective therapeutic model for men and women with substance use disorders. One reason why this is important is that it reflects patient-centered care. This is considered to be a vital component of ethical treatment. Patient-centered care means that clinicians are responsive to patients’ values and needs and allow patient preferences to guide the treatment process. This is embodied by recognizing the cultural and societal factors that influence gender and incorporating them into the recovery process, providing more comprehensive care and better outcomes.

Gender-specific treatment creates an environment that is safer to process, discuss, and heal from trauma. Trauma is highly correlated with substance use and is an important element of treatment. For men, trauma is often not talked about, dismissed and can be associated with weakness. Men may be less likely to share about trauma and abuse with women present, and a single-gender, trauma-informed environment can provide the safety and space to discuss sensitive topics. For women who have experienced trauma, often their perpetrators are men, and some feel they cannot discuss their trauma with men present. It could also be triggering and feel like an unsafe situation. Therefore gender-specific treatment is an effective strategy to uphold trauma-informed care.

Recover From Addiction at The Haven

Addiction is universal and affects people of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses. However, this does not mean that everyone experiences addiction the same. Offering treatment that is gender-specific creates a more inclusive, extensive, and effective environment. 

Gender-specific treatment recognizes the unique needs, values, and socio-cultural factors associated with one’s gender, therefore offering more specialized and tailored therapy. Gender-specific treatment can remove romantic and sexual distractions, allowing individuals to focus on their recovery and treatment. 

Individuals often feel more comfortable opening up with those of the same gender, allowing men and women to more easily share their feelings and experiences. This vulnerability creates a sense of trust, belonging, and closer peer relationships that strengthen one’s recovery network. By establishing a recovery environment that feels safe, individuals can feel empowered to flourish in their recovery.

To further discover the benefits of gender-specific addiction treatment, please contact The Haven at Pismo today.

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