I entered the room and immediately felt exposed, ‘dangerously’ outnumbered, and a little nervous. Instead of fleeing, though, I double-checked just to confirm that I was truly the only male there. My uneasiness escalated at the confirmation that of the twenty people in the large room, I was the only male. Even though I decided to stay, I sat very close to the door – just in case.
I was at my first general meeting for the Bermuda Counselling Association (BCA). While I expected to find more females than males, I have to admit that I was surprised, a little disappointed, and scared to be the only male present at the meeting. Where were the male counselors? Was I at the meeting for the female branch of the BCA? Those were a few of the thoughts swirling around in my head at the time.
In the July 2010 issue of Counseling Today, ACA president, Marcheta Evans shared the same concerns. “Why aren’t there more men in counseling?” and “What can be done to recruit more men in the profession?”, were some of her questions. She shared that only 27% of ACA members are males. I also discovered a similar statistic for the BCA. I found out that less than 27% of its members are males. I just completed a course towards my master’s in MFT and only 25% of the learners were males. The article and statistics have caused me to contemplate on the reasons and the concerns for the low number of men in the mental health profession.
Examination of other historically female-dominated professions reveals to me that our profession is doing relatively ok. For example, of the over two million registered nurses in America, only 5.8% are males; only 17% of all librarians in America are males; and just 25% of the nation's three million teachers are men.
I considered my own situation and the reasons why I am in this profession. I have wanted to be a counselor since I was a teenager. However, in my culture and race, such professions were not deemed appropriate for men. It was generally acknowledged as a woman’s profession or for “soft” men – those who are too emotional. The media did not help much. They often portrayed men in mental health as being ‘crazy’ and in need of serious help themselves. Of course, I did not want to be identified as such so I chose computer science and management studies in college. I took a meandering route to get to where I am today.
I may not have many answers for our ACA president. However, as a man, I will share the main reasons why I am in the mental health profession:
1.I believe this is my calling
2.I have successfully dealt with Erikson’s identity versus role confusion stage. In other words, it does not matter too much what others think about me as a black male counselor, it is who I am and I am very comfortable with my decision.
3.I enjoy serving others
4.I love to learn (through interaction with people and reading related materials)
5.I experience a certain level of autonomy not generally associated with some other professions
6.I have no aspirations of being wealthy
7.I do not like what is happening with families globally and so I have decided to do something about it
I have decided and would like to encourage the ACA and its members to not be too concerned with the low number of males in mental health but to affirm their contribution. It is also very important that we dispel the stereotypical perceptions associated with our profession, especially gender preference. I believe the men who need to be in this profession are here. They should commit to modeling excellence and make it clear that this is a noble and rewarding profession for men. The others will come at the right time. I would not want men to feel coerced into entering the profession. I recently attended a college fair to help out at the BCA booth. During my hour of manning the booth, about 20 students stopped by and showed interest in a career in mental health. Of those students, there was only one male. I daresay that we should rejoice and be content with this one because of his choice. We need not go out and try to convince others to enter the profession. Let them enter on their own accord – at their own risk.
Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com