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Finding a Male Therapist – Take Two

I had about 10 people forward me the New York Times article on the dwindling number of men going into counseling professions. Most of them know that male psychology is an area of special interest to me, and I’m also one of the only male therapists that they know. It has been interesting for me to learn that some controversy has emerged from the article, and the rationale for there being cause for alarm.

The article essentially made the case that if fewer men go into counseling professions, then fewer men may want to attend because they feel more comfortable talking about certain topics with other men. Dr. Grohol wrote a fabulous piece on this blog yesterday making the counter-point that there is no research evidence to support that view. While I also understand this to be true, I still have some concerns about the trend.

5 Comments to
Finding a Male Therapist – Take Two

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  1. As a male 4th year doctoral Psych student, I agree strongly with this article. I understood Dr. Grohol’s article about the lack of evidence for men “needing” a male therapist, but I don’t understand why this preference should be given lesser credibility than any other “culturally sensitive” therapy. Nobody scoffs at the idea that a Latino therapist might have specific advantages in servicing a Latino client, both in terms of the advantages of shared understanding of culture/historical experience as well as just the client feeling more “sameness” for the therapist. Why should it be any different for men? To argue that there is nothing specific to growing up male in America, a culture just as strong as any other that would be shared between a male therapist and client just seems like trying to devalue the male experience, as mentioned in the article above.

  2. The intro to this article highlights not many males going into the counseling professions. My experience through undergrad and particularly graduate school and the world of work–is that I was part of a very small minority being a male therapist. I don’t know what the official stats are but it seems to be about 80% females in the various places I have worked.

    Regardless of gender the mental health field has serious challenges. The median income for my masters degree dropped by 3k since I graduated. Social work degrees and graduate degrees typically win for the lowest paid degree program. I for one would not choose to go into this field if I could re-do things, based upon lack of income and the use of part-time therapists–providing no sick days/bene’s/retirement and only mediocre hourly wage. Many men still wish to make money, and for most of us–going to college for a very long time to basically make what I made as a landscaper is not very appealing.
    As long as mental health is treated so poorly by the health insurance arena, and continued to be viewed as overly feminized by many males who tend to be reluctant to go to Doctors or therapists–since we men don’t like to give power to anything considered a potential ‘weakness’. I think that commercial with that former drill sergeant calling the male client a wussy and hitting him with a box of tissues–could be a metaphor for why many males still avoid therapy.

  3. Will, I think you are correct in believing that the writing is on the wall, not only because fewer men are entering the profession but also because a considerable number of the women who become therapists do so because they were abused, often since childhood, by men. Though some of them do seem to work through their fear of and anger toward men prior to employment as therapists, others do not. They often carry unhealthy beliefs and attitudes resulting from abusive experiences into their relationships with clients of both genders. It is difficult to believe their claims of professional objectivity when I see evidence of general distrust of men in comments written by female therapists in trauma and abuse support forums. Some of these therapists openly declare that they would never see a male therapist themselves because they do not trust men and they still harbor fears of and intense anger toward men, but these same women also believe their attitudes are so well hidden that they have no effect on their clients of either gender. I find that hard to believe, because fear and distrust manifest themselves in many ways, and perhaps some men who leave therapy because they “don’t feel comfortable talking to a woman” are actually being affected by unspoken fears and beliefs that result in a vague discomfort they cannot identify. Even as a woman I am not immune to the harmful effects of unhealthy attitudes displayed by some female therapists who hold these deeply ingrained beliefs. Having been in treatment with several female therapists in the past — some helpful, some quite harmful — I feel very fortunate and grateful to have a middle-aged male therapist who is gently but firmly guiding me toward a more balanced view of both genders. His kind is a dying breed and my fear is that in the current climate it won’t be long before they are extinct.

  4. Appreciated your comment Bonnie. I have seen this as well, particularly with child protective services workers–who many have openly admitted being abused/raped etc in consults. Doing work that sadly, often re-affirms their bias/beliefs about men isn’t helpful. I was often amazed when I switched majors to Psychology, how many young women were pursuing that field/or related to help understand/fix their problems. Not many academic fields can likely say that.

    Nearly all my mentors or supervisors have been females, and I have had some great experiences with them. I do think that this field could use some more male perspectives, and far less ‘wounded healers’ who haven’t actually recovered. I see other therapists that should be in treatment themselves as their personal lives are out of control. Professionals who are attempting to fill unmet needs through their clients not only risk losing any objectivity they may have, but also risk acting unethically–be they male or female.

  5. I found this blog a little late, but have been personally musing on this topic for some years and perhaps my belated comments may reinvigorate some healthy discussion. I am a clinical psychologist in my late 60’s who is still working full-time and enjoying the experience as I hope do my clients. I found my way into the profession in my late 20’s after being ‘hooked’ while completing a psychology elective as part of a completely different degree. I was genuinely fascinated about the potential of objectively studying human behaviour and applying the findings in all types of settings, therapeutic, organisational, vocational, educational, ergonomic, artificial intelligence, etc. My undergraduate lecturers were all male (and inspiring individuals), bar one highly capable woman who added to my primary interest in psychotherapy. Let me hasten to say though that the greater inclusion of women in academic psychology was long overdue even back then and it is pleasing to see them take a significant role in this area over the intervening decades.

    Did I enter the profession because of deep seated childhood trauma as Bonnie B suggests some do? If it was the case I hope that I would be more than happy to say so at my age (not that it would have mattered anyway). In my case I was simply turned on by the thought of being able to study human behaviour as a scientific discipline; although I concede that developmental influences did play a part, including a Salvation Army mother who was always cognisant of lending a helping hand to those in need, something that probably guided me more toward counselling and psychotherapy, rather than perhaps the organisational speciality of the profession.

    Now to address the central issue of this blog, the matter of the fast-growing disappearance of males from the profession. Let me say that I chuckled when I read Benedict Carey’s article in the NY Times (May 2011) when he commented, “And at many therapists’ conferences, attendees with salt-and-pepper beards wander the hallways as lonely as peaceniks at a gun fair.” Hey, I thought, “I can relate to that!” Although in my case the beard is more grey than salt-and-pepper these days.

    What I have personally noticed in recent years is the preponderance of fellow grey-beards sitting across the room at conferences and training courses along with the dwindling number of young male graduates to replace them, and the host of bright and capable female psychologists who significantly outnumber the sum of the males in attendance. I have asked myself on more than one occasion, “Is this significant change to the gender mix of my profession of any real consequence?”

    Fine, I can come up with most of the anecdotal reasons, some of which are mentioned by John Grohol in his article, “Hard to Find a Male Therapist?” (Comment on Benedict Carey’s NY Times article – John Grohol’s website, World of Psychology). In the final analysis though, I have to agree with Grohol that there is little research evidence to support my homespun hypotheses. Perhaps my feeling that something must be wrong with the disappearance of males from the psychology profession is simply a vague feeling of nostalgia about the loss of male colleagues and their distinctly male-kind-of-fellowship. At the same time I also have the growing realisation that I had better get used to the experience of being part of a minority group and that perhaps there is an upside to this in respect to developing a greater understanding of how members of minority groups actually feel!

    Finally, I want to say in conclusion to this brief comment that most of my younger female colleagues continue to make me feel welcome and even enquire at times about what knowledge and experience I might be able to impart before I am gone forever – a forgotten remnant of an endangered species.



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