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.
For me, the most important thing is that unique concerns related to male psychology and the lives of men will be devalued. Each time I teach a class on the psychology of men, there is almost instantaneous push-back and reactivity. The arguments are generally that “all psychology is the psychology of men”, that most of the theorists in the textbooks are males, and that focusing uniquely on the psychological experience of male counseling clients (gender role issues, fragile nature of masculinity, power/sex dynamics, aggression, incorporating emotions into male identity, boyhood and socialization trauma, homophobia, etc) is not a credible topic and may even aid maintenance of a perceived patriarchal structure in the profession. I often make a statement up front that there is usually minimal compassion for the male experience, or interest in male psychology, and the level of agreement from the students is striking to me.
The ironic part is that in my training to be a psychologist, I became very skilled at working with female clients. Most of those accessing services were female, all of my supervisors and professors (with two exceptions) were female, and I got specialized coursework on the psychology of women. Not once was there even a 10 minute part of a lecture on the psychology of men. Sadly (but in hindsight not surprisingly), despite being male, when male clients came to my office, I felt lost amidst a complex picture of gender role expectations and pressures, internal conflicts, and distaste for the type of feeling based interventions that I was trained to do. In short, it was a mess, and later in my training I became compelled to be a voice for the importance of understanding male psychology.
Another important aspect of male therapists is in modeling alternate ways of being for both male and female clients. The experience of a client working with a male therapist who is healthy, attuned to his feelings, attentive, well-boundaried, and compassionate can be enriching by itself. I often hear my clients tell me that I am the only man they have ever met who is comfortable with emotions or who can communicate differences in non-aggressive way. For my female clients, the only man who they have had deep discussions and a connection with that doesn’t include a sexual motive. For adolescent males, I’m the one that models a healthy and mature way to be a man in contrast to what is seen on TV, or valued by an equally confused peer group or by a distant father. These things have intrinsic value above and beyond the content of the counseling sessions, and opportunities for these experiences are becoming more scarce.
Ultimately, the concern with these changes in the field is that the male psychological experience will be further devalued and ultimately obscured, and that this is what will cause fewer men to attend counseling sessions. There will also be fewer opportunities for people to develop healthy therapeutic relationships with men, and the unique benefits that come from them. Unfortunately there is no data on this stuff yet, but the writing is on the wall.
Will Meek, PhD is a licensed psychologist in the state of Washington where he provides counseling for adults, couples, and teens. He writes regularly on his blog: The Vancouver Counselor. He also writes about male psychology at Psychology of Men.