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Many young women initially greet the idea of a single-gender residential treatment centers with horror: “No guys? No way!”

But once they’ve settled in, most young women come to greatly appreciate a single-gender setting.  In fact, following are some comments I frequently hear from young women in all-female treatment programs once they’ve had a chance to get their bearings:

“I feel like I can relax and just be myself for the first time.”
“I eventually want to be in a co-ed environment, but for now it’s nice to not have that distraction.”
“I’ve been able to make really close female friendships for the first time in a long time.”
“I can focus on what I need to focus on.”

These comments, of course, do not amount to a permanent swearing off of men!  In fact, even with these endorsements of residential treatment centers for young women, many of these young people still openly pine for the opposite sex and most plan to return to a co-ed setting after treatment.  But there is undeniable gratitude, in most cases anyway, for the temporary reprieve.

Research is clear about the value of residential treatment centers for young women.   But research merely affirms what common sense already tells us. Temporary single-gender experiences work primarily because:

  • Women communicate and process differently from men (this is brain-based as well as socially driven), so an all-girls’ environment makes for more efficient, more effective communication, and communication is the key to good therapy.
  • When treatment touches on sensitive issues such as sexual acting out, trauma, and abuse, a single-gender environment can feel safer and embarrassment is less of an issue.
  • Women tend to speak up less in the presence of men, perhaps due to a more dominant male communication style and/or because of a higher level of self-consciousness.
  • Women and men alike tend to be more distracted from academics, therapy, and same-sex friendships when in the presence of the opposite sex.
  • Old patterns of unhealthy romantic involvement are tougher to interrupt and correct in a coed setting.

While a young woman initially balks at the prospect of a single-gender treatment experience, a little time in this kind of setting will generally win her over.   Residential treatment programs for young women often result in more confidence, better boundaries, and a clearer sense of self–all things that ultimately improve a young woman’s relationships with others, regardless of gender.