The following is a short discussion about cleavage in counseling and psychotherapy. We’re not especially trying to be provocative (which is one reason why no photo accompanies this blog post) and so we’re interested in your thoughts on this short excerpt BEFORE we include it in the 5th edition of our Clinical Interviewing text.
[Excerpt starts here] For the first time ever in a textbook (and we’ve been writing them since 1993), we’ve decided to include a discussion on cleavage. Of course, this makes us feel exceptionally old, but we hope it also might reflect wisdom and perspective that comes with aging.
In recent years we’ve noticed a greater tendency for female counseling and psychology students (especially younger females) to dress in ways that can be viewed as somewhat sexual. This includes, but is not limited to low necklines that show a considerable amount of cleavage. This issue was discussed on a series of postings on the Counselor Education and Supervision listserv which includes primarily participants who teach in master’s and doctoral programs in counseling. Most of the postings included some portion of the following themes.
- Female (and male) students have the right to express themselves via how they dress
- Commenting on how women dress and making specific recommendations may be viewed as sexist or inappropriately limiting
- It is true that women should be able to dress any way they want
- It is also true that specific agencies and institutions have the right to establish dress codes or otherwise dictate how their paid employees and volunteers dress
- Despite egalitarian and feminist efforts to free women from the shackles of a patriarchal society, how women dress is still interpreted as having certain socially constructed messages that often, but not always, pertain to sex and sexuality
- Although efforts to change socially constructed ideas about women dressing “sexy” can include activities like campus “slut-walks,” the clinical interview is probably not the appropriate venue for initiating a discourse on social and feminist change
- For better or worse, it’s a fact that both middle-school males and middle-aged men (and many “populations” in between) are likely to be distracted—and their ability to profit from a counseling experience may be compromised—if they’re offered an opportunity for a close up view of their therapist’s breasts
- At the very least, excessive cleavage (please don’t ask us to define this phrase) is less likely to contribute to positive therapy outcomes and more likely to stimulate sexual fantasies—which we believe is probably contrary to the goals of most therapists
- It may be useful to have young women watch themselves on video from the viewpoint of a client (of either sex) that might feel attracted to them and then discuss how to manage sexual attraction that might occur during therapy
It’s obvious that when it comes to clinical interviewers showing cleavage, we don’t have all the perfect answers. Guidelines depend, in part, on interview setting and specific client populations. At the very least, we recommend that you take time to think about this issue and hope you might also consider discussing cleavage issuesJ with your class or your supervisor.
Info on Clinical Interviewing – the text and videos – is at: http://lp.wileypub.com/SommersFlanagan/