A brief look through the online therapist directories will persuade anyone who doesn’t already believe that males are a rare breed in the field of psychology. In my honours year I recall being one of a select handful of males after which I became the sole survivor during my Masters degree. There just simply appears to be an ever-decreasing number of males entering the field of Psychology.
Gender is a contentious issue these days and so I tread with caution and ask for forgiveness if I appear to generalize in anyway. Nonetheless the link between gender and therapy has been widely studied. Research suggests that adolescent boys and men often present with concerns that can be directly related to their sense of masculinity. In my own practice I have seen a greater proportion of male patients struggling with aspects such as sexuality, addiction or anger-related concerns than their female counterparts. While these issues are certainly not male-exclusive they do appear to present in a unique way and as such require therapy in an equally unique way.
I have many female colleagues that are incredible therapists and work brilliantly with males and females, however I have seen many of my patients that have openly said that they feel more comfortable with a male therapist. Of course, this works both ways but my point here is that there are an abundance of adolescent boys and young men out there that may consider a male therapist, but limited availability has meant the moment of action passes and they fall between the cracks. In other words, we weren’t available when they needed us.
Not only have I seen this in my practice but having worked in both single-sex boys’ and girls’ schools as well as a co-educational school it is clear to see that there are gender-related trends when it comes to mental health. Girls appear less impacted by online gaming addictions however have greater challenges with social bullying or eating-related disorders. Girls are generally more open to trying therapy and less impacted by stigma. Boys on the other hand are far more reluctant to engage in therapy and in many cases see it as a weakness thus fueling the stigma. Of course this is a generalization and based on my own anecdotal observations, however I feel strongly that having more relatable male therapists, whom can model healthy ways of communicating one’s emotions, is incredibly important.
I have found over time that a significant role I play in the therapeutic relationship is connecting with my male adolescent patients in a way that models the belief that working through life’s challenges is a strength and not a weakness.
If, as a profession, psychology does not encourage more males to enter the field we run the risk of potentially isolating many patients who need assistance. On the more extreme end of the scale, we need look no further than our prison systems to see a disproportionately high percentage of males being incarcerated each year. Of course, not all prisoners have mental health concerns nor would all behaviorally troubled teens land up in the prison system but it begs the question that if we had more resources and more men in the profession would we be able to work with those youth that are in precarious positions but on the fence about therapy?
In the end I truly believe that at the heart of any good therapy is the therapeutic relationship irrespective of gender. We all connect differently with one another and may find same-gender or opposite-gender relations easier and more approachable. In addition, there may be concerns or issues that lend themselves better to female or male therapists which is why the importance of gender-varied therapists is pivotal in the fight against mental illness.