Male Psychologists

Blokes are in short supply amongst practicing psychologists. Is this a case of 'who cares?' or is this a real problem for those wishing to access psychological services?

The lack of men in psychology is illustrated through stats from various countries. In New Zealand for instance, men made up 30% of practicing psychologists based on the 2009 board survey1 of that country. In 2008, nearly 60% of practicing psychologists in the US (those providing health services to the public) were female2. In addition, the presence of men in US universities is on the decline with the percentage of PhD's awarded to men dropping from 70% in 1975 to under 30% in 20082. This issue has received some increased attention in the academic community as well as in the general media (e.g., see recent NY Times article.

In line with these stats, I was in the minority during my training. It wasn't really an issue for me. Sure, some of my male mates wouldn't miss an opportunity to work some sort of derogatory angle of this into our weekly pub-based discussion of world affairs. But largely, most people I knew were really supportive of the profession I was pursuing.

More important that ensuring an even gender split between practicing psychologists is making sure these professionals are competent to wield a clipboard, comfy sofa and bag of ambiguous utterances (e.g., "hmmm", "that sounds interesting" etc). So, if you are a good therapist then the most important box has been ticked. Also, I think it is important to challenge our preconceptions about the types of people we want to deal with across a range of situations in our lives. Sometimes, it can be really helpful to seek help from someone you perceive as markedly different (but remember there are less differences between males and females than most people are led to believe). One of the big potential benefits of talking treatment is that you can come to see a view of your situation that had been previously blind to you. Some call these 'ah-ha!' moments (but can equally be 'oh-damn', 'oh-bugger', 'oh-yeah', or 'oh-no' moments) and can be a springboard towards positive progress with mental health and psychological difficulties. 

Having said all this, I think this gender ratio imbalance is a genuine issue for getting men through the treatment door. There is a lot of good evidence showing that men are reluctant help-seekers for mental health problems. The worry here is that they (and others) can go on suffering needlessly. I often see men in my practice who have specifically wanted to talk to a man. Obviously, the masculine stereotype is often hard at work here, but this preference can often exist because men are too embarrassed or ashamed to speak with a women. It can also be due to a perception that 'only another man can understand my problems'. While this may not be necessarily true, bottom line is that such perceptions reduce the chance of help-seeking if no men are available. As a little aside, there may also be several other factors behind low help-seeking rates amongst males. For instance, men seem to display an 'optimism bias' in that (compared to females) they think they are more likely to recover from mental health symptoms compared to their friends3. So, the help-seeking story is more complicated that can be explained by the gender imbalance of therapists. 

More men practicing as competent psychologists is not only good for increasing treatment options for members of the public, but I think this is also a good way to model healthier psychological coping amongst other men. Sending the message that it is ok for men to talk about and resolve psychological problems through healthy avenues may be a way we can up help-seeking rates.  This is also a good way to highlight the positive tactics many men do to cope with problems. For example, thinking repeatedly about the causes and consequences (known as 'rumination') of depression symptoms makes those symptoms worse. As a whole, young males are less likely to engage in this rumination4. Used in moderation, strategies such as distraction are perfectly OK responses when combined with other strategies (e.g., challenging negative thoughts, trying to resolve relationship difficulties).

In summary, there are many important attributes beyond gender that make a practicing psychologist good at what he/she does. However, there are many potential benefits of increasing the ratio of males in the profession.





4Hilt, L. M., McLaughlin, K. A., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2010). Examination of response styles theory in a community sample of young adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(4), 545-556.


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