When you imagine a therapist, whom do you see? Is this person of a particular gender or other demographic? Well, according to the American Psychological Association , approximately two-thirds of therapists are female, a shift from the mid-1970s and before.
The “feminization” of this helping profession appears to mirror the increased presence of women in higher education . The growing number of women in prestigious positions needs to be applauded, not questioned or minimized.
However, when the scales tilt from one side to the other, rather than balancing, is this diversity? This question is an honest one, and one that sparks polar discussion and opinion.
What actually facilitated such a shift is unknown, but it plays well with the stereotype that women are more nurturing than men. Some say the heavier presence of women has allowed for alternate perspectives in psychological theory. I am personally grateful for and embrace the shift of focus from just correcting individual thoughts to exploring the attachments and experiences that formed those thoughts and molded perceptions—a clear movement from individualist to collectivist ideology.
As a clinical social worker, I have received countless referrals for a “male therapist.” When exploring the presenting issues, oftentimes the request comes simply because the client is a young male. The assumption is that a male therapist can more easily relate to and/or provide guidance for male clients. But, is this true? What is true is that people are likely to trust that someone similar to them will understand them and their “issues,” no matter how rational or realistic.
Would More Men Get Therapy if There Were More Male Therapists?
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (2015), six million American men are affected by depression each year. All the while, there has been a steady decline in male clinicians to work with them. Does this matter? How many of these six million men will seek therapy, and how many of them prefer a male therapist, are difficult statistics to calculate.
There may not be statistical evidence suggesting any connection between the treatment outcomes of male clients and working with a male therapist, but the male resistance to and/or lack of experience with emotional vulnerability is widely known and accepted to be true, and contributes to low numbers of men in therapy, despite emotional distress among them.
The real questions we need to be asking are, “How do we soften the stigma of therapy among men, and in general?” Would having more male therapists confirm for these men that therapy is not just for women? Would they more easily lower their guard with a man to whom they believe they can relate?
Here, it’s not the universal truth or findings from research that need consideration, but instead, the respective perceptions of these men experiencing emotional or psychological distress, yet refraining from therapeutic intervention. To these men, facts are what they believe to be true, not what is published in a peer-reviewed journal.
I believe with 100 percent certainty that neither race, gender, age, nor class are determining factors for a good therapist. With the growing number of graduate programs across disciplines, the type of degree is also less of a factor. My being a male social worker has not inhibited my helping women clients grow and develop to get where they want to be in life any more than it has enabled me in doing the same for men.
What does any of this matter if we cannot get guys through our doors because of a skewed perception of gender and vulnerability? Regardless of gender, race, and other factors, therapy has an assigned image to many men, greatly due to social stereotypes, gender roles, and assumptions of vulnerability and “self-help” throughout masculinity.
For many of the guys I see, it’s the initial contact that helps them lower their guards. Their perception is that I look like them, talk like them, and, in some ways, think like them.
Though gender is not what makes our work effective, being a male seems to have opened doors for validating and normalizing some experiences, while gaining trust to suggest changing others.
The next step is giving these guys a platform on which they can discuss with other men how therapy helped them and their families, how it wasn’t as scary as they thought, and how guys with similar issues can also benefit. This, of course, requires that men can have this conversation with their buddies without being criticized or without taking offense to the critiques. I also wonder if this platform is what will help balance the scale of gender among psychotherapists, rather tipping it.
1. Cynkar, Amy. American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology 2007;38(6):46
2. Willyard, Cassandra. American Psychological Association GradPSYCH Magazine 2011;p40
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