If you read yesterday's New York Times, you may have caught a story on the front page entitled "Need Therapy? A Good Man is Hard to Find." This story comes as no surprise to anyone in our profession. If my graduate school experience is any indication, only 20 percent of graduates seeking doctorates in clinical psychology are men. The numbers are even more lopsided in specialties like social work and counseling where it's closer to 10 percent. I recently participated in a training program for couples counselors and of the 15 attendants, only one (myself) was a male. It's lonely being a man in this profession and even lonelier if you're a man in search of a male therapist.
This was not always the case. The original "talk therapists" were almost exclusively male physicians who generally didn't know the first thing about what it was like to be a woman. Psychoanalysts like Freud, Jung, and Adler to name a few devised all kinds of psychosocial theories that ignored women. Some of these theories even blamed women for their psychological unhappiness. The profession has thankfully come a long way since that time.
Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that it is now women who make up the vast majority of therapists in practice. As The New York Times points out, there is a real risk associated with this demographic shift. As many therapists have argued - including many female therapists - the profession is quickly losing its appeal to a large group of potential clients - most of them men - who may not initially feel comfortable working with a female therapist.
As I've written about previously, men often present with specific clinical issues that relate directly to their masculinity. Many of my male patients, be they straight or gay, struggle with issues of sexuality. Likewise, the topic of aggression and dominance is something almost all men deal with on a daily basis. While there is nothing inherently masculine about either of these issues, the way they emerge and manifest for men is often unique. I know many talented female therapists who I wouldn't hesitate for a second to send a male patient to see; the problem is, however, I'm not sure all male patients would feel comfortable talking with them. And that is the problem says Dr. Ronald Levant, former President of the American Psychological Association, and now editor of the APA journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity. Dr. Levant has studied the importance that gender plays when embarking on therapy and he has found that "a man's willingness to seek therapy [is] directly related to how strongly he [agrees] with traditionally male assumptions...'" As some of us know from clinical experience, if a man is on the fence about seeking treatment there's a good a chance he might baulk if his only option is to work with a female therapist.
While there are probably several reasons for why men are not choosing to go into the field of psychology, one thing is clear, the profession needs to be doing more to attract qualified men into its fold. If we don't, we run the risk of becoming a profession almost exclusively of women and thereby alienating many potential patients who are in need of our services. If allowed to continue, everyone stands to lose.
Tyger Latham, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC. He counsels individuals and couples and has a particular interest in sexual trauma, gender development, and LGBT concerns. His blog, Therapy Matters, explores the art and science of psychotherapy.