Of course my immediate answer was “no!” but then I reflected on a few facts.
Throughout my training I was one of no more than five males in my year group of over twenty trainees; the number fluctuated as trainees joined and dropped out and ultimately I was one of only three that graduated. The BACP and the UKCP both cite membership statistics of roughly 80% women and 20% male. A quick glance at any therapist directory shows the predominance of females in the profession.
Ok, so we can say that there are more women counsellors than there are male but does that make the role “women’s work?” The article raises some interesting arguments as to why counselling may appear to be better expounded by, and is more attractive to women. For instance, the role of carer is traditionally, or at least stereotypically, perceived to be that of women. The lack of clear career progression and financial security perhaps doesn’t appeal to men as they aspire to be the chief breadwinner.
There may be some truth here but is it enough to designate counselling as “women’s work”? I find the term “women’s work” derogatory to all genders. I’ll alter the term and suggest that what is more to the point is how counselling may be considered as more aligned to the feminine than the masculine.
For argument’s sake I’ll suppose we have somewhat similar opinions on obvious feminine and masculine qualities; the former suggests compassion, tenderness, nurturance and the latter invokes of force and brawn, competitiveness. It’s a ridiculously reductive list, I know, and we can agree that there is much more to both the feminine and the masculine but, arguably, we are all prone to making quick judgements based on stock, stereotyped information.
And perhaps it’s in those stereotyped snapshot judgements that a belief came that counselling is better aligned with the feminine. Certainly the media reminds us that violent crime is far more often perpetrated by men than women. Arrests under Operation Yewtree have shown us how some men let their lascivious drives manifest as cruel and predatory behaviours. Men and the masculine, in this light, would not seem the best paradigm from which to deliver counselling.
Yet we are also told that mental health issues in men run deep and silently, and go untreated more often than women who more easily seek and accept assistance.
On this score, at least, a male counsellor seems necessary; just as a woman may feel more comfortable seeking out a female counsellor, a male might feel more comfortable being counselled by a male. I’ve certainly had this reasoning reported to me by male clients.
But I’d go further and say that the masculine can be useful, even vital, in counselling both men and women. Where some might say force or aggression, others may say strength or positive assertiveness; I’d offer that courage, resolve and an ability to carry the load are within the masculine, and that these are qualities very much required within a counselling. It can be a reassuring boon to find that your counsellor can hold, and not be debilitated by the weight of the emotions you bring.
To be clear, I agree that strength and assertiveness are within the feminine too; I’m arguing that the masculine and feminine expression of these qualities may differ and that the masculine expression has a place in a counselling.
Some counselling vacancies, typically in regard of counselling women for abuse and trauma, are offered to women only. I can understand why, of course! The prospect of being alone in a room with a male after suffering trauma at the hands of another man can be unconscionable. But what of the possibility of a reparative experience with a male counsellor? Obviously not a man who denies the feminine and wears his masculinity as a prideful badge of honour, but one who can embody both the positive attributes of the masculine and yet not be ashamed to call upon the feminine.
And this is my conclusion; I’d prefer to seek counselling from someone who can call on both the masculine and the feminine, be that a male or a female counsellor. Human experience is endlessly diverse and the idea that only one side of the gender coin is worth calling upon is absurd.
Is counselling “women’s work”? Absolutely not, and neither is it “men’s work”. It’s “people’s work”.