Do Male Therapists Belong in Pelvic Rehab: Part II

Earlier this week a blog post asked the question "Do male therapists belong in pelvic rehab?" With increased frequency, male therapists are participating in pelvic rehab coursework and practices. Some of the male therapists are even attending coursework as students. I asked Justin Stambaugh, a student from Duke University (who very much impressed me with his command of the material, and his calm, curious, and competent demeanor), a few questions about his path into pelvic rehab. Below are his responses.

Holly: How did your path lead towards pelvic rehab in general?

Justin: Pelvic rehab really necessitates an openness and sense of comfort regarding issues that can be seen as very personal, private, and even taboo. I was drawn to pelvic rehab because I am the type of person who doesn’t believe that individuals should have to suffer in silence because of fear or embarrassment of addressing their issues. I want people to know that they can and should seek treatment for their pelvic health issues, and that physical therapy can be a valuable resource in this regard.

I also value the complexity of pelvic rehab. In addition to the clinical aspect of care there is also the psychosocial element that adds to the scope and depth of treatment. I appreciate that pelvic rehab requires the clinician to continuously evaluate and adapt their approach in order to be proficient.

Additionally I find that often times many physicians, patients, and other physical therapists don’t realize the extent of what we are capable of treating, and how great of an impact we can have on someone’s life. I get excited about educating and promoting this side of the profession.

Holly: What is your viewpoint on how you will be perceived as a male therapist in treating pelvic rehab with a female patient?

Justin: As a male therapist in the pelvic rehab setting I understand that there are some female patients who will be hesitant to work with me solely because of my gender. I think this is an unfortunate fact, however it simply requires me to be a bit more industrious as a practitioner. Patients who may initially be uncomfortable with me due to my gender are really just asking me to prove to them that I know what I’m doing and that I am trustworthy. It is completely understandable that I need to win their trust before moving forward with any type of treatment. I respect my patients and ultimately just want what’s best for them. We can work together on achieving this goal, and find the correct path that suits each patient’s needs based on their comfort level. Often times I think of the phrase “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Although I am capable of performing an internal pelvic floor exam and subsequent treatment, there are also external approaches that may work just as well for an apprehensive patient depending on their presentation. This may also help gain their trust in order to implement more effective care in future sessions.

Holly: How do you think your generation differs from those before you in addressing the entire issue of gender?

Justin: I would like to think that my generation is more open regarding issues of sex and gender. However I think there are still many hurdles left to climb in this regard. I feel that socially my generation is part of an evolution in tolerance and empathy towards diversity with respect to issues such as gender, gender identity, sexual orientation etc. All of these qualities define some part of all of us and are constantly being communicated and evaluated. If we look back through history we see the dynamics of social inequality based on gender. Today we continue to see broad discussions regarding sex and gender. I feel that each generation continues to grow from these conversations and socially we persist in advancing our understanding and comfort regarding this topic.

Holly: Where do you see us (on the continuum) as a profession in normalizing the experience of having treatment directed to the pelvis by any gendered therapist to any gendered patient?

Justin: It would be my hope that in the future more institutions will instruct pelvic health with patient models that allow students to interact and conduct treatment based therapies in a clinical manner. I feel that in order to alleviate some of the gender based fears and apprehension regarding pelvic rehab from a professional perspective, all students should get to experience this aspect of physical therapy before deciding if its for them. I do feel it’s unfortunate that there are not more males who are interested in pelvic rehab. Oftentimes people are afraid of what they don’t know. It seems that perhaps pelvic rehab has remained somewhat enigmatic in that many individuals don’t get to experience this type of patient care, and therefore never approach it. It is such a great benefit to be able to work with this population of patients. I feel that the more exposure and normalization pelvic rehab gets to the patient population as well as to the professionals in the field of physical therapy the more we will see an increase in gender representation within the profession.

If the work of pelvic rehab is in the hands of students like Justin, we have so much to look forward to in our field. Thank you to Justin for being willing to articulate his thoughts and experience so that we can continue to explore issues of gender in pelvic rehabilitation.

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