Many teenage girls initially greet the idea of single-gender treatment with nothing short of horror: “No guys? No way!”
But in my experience running single-gender programs, these objections are all but forgotten soon after enrollment. Girls who have not experienced schools or residential treatment centers for girls often find that the benefits of a single-gender setting outweigh—at least temporarily—sacrificing access to the opposite sex.
In fact, some of the most frequent comments I hear from girls once they’ve had a chance to settle into treatment include things like:
“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, fortunately, do not amount to a permanent swearing off of boys! In fact, even with these endorsements of residential treatment centers for girls, many participants still openly pine for boys and most plan to return to a co-ed setting after treatment. But there is undeniable gratitude for the temporary reprieve from the distraction of the opposite sex.
Research is clear about the value of single-gender treatment centers. But this research really just affirms what common sense already tells us. Temporary single-gender experiences work primarily because:
- Girls communicate and process differently from boys (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.
- Girls tend to speak less in the presence of boys, perhaps due to a more dominant male communication style and/or because of a higher level of self-consciousness.
- Girls and boys 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 girls often balk at the prospect of attending a residential treatment center for girls, a little time in that kind of setting generally wins them over. An all-girls treatment experience often results in more confidence, better boundaries, and a clearer sense of self–all things that help immensely when they transition back to a coed environment.