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A rooster in the hen house

by Alex Dalziel (May 2009)

I have probably been, and have certainly felt, part of a majority all my life. Being born a white, middle class male in a western culture I have probably been dealt quite a strong hand. Not perhaps a full house but at least a couple of kings and a jack, so I was intrigued to be asked to contribute an article from a minority viewpoint. Relatively late in life and after major surgery, I decided to make a significant career change from the world of business and commerce to the world of counselling and therapy. From the beginning, I could observe a gender imbalance in the profession and found myself as part of a small minority. To me this was moving into new and uncharted territory and caused me to challenge some of the assumptions about the world. Assumptions that formally I accepted as certainties but now seemed less concrete.

The figures of this imbalance are striking. For the statistically minded among you here goes - BACP membership is 84% female 16% male. My training group is 15 female 6 male, my supervision group is 4 women and myself, the organisation where I see clients has 15 female and 2 male counsellors, my own therapist is female - in fact I could give numerous examples of workshops and CPDs where I have been in a minority of 1! At directorial level in world of business and commerce the balance is reversed - indeed a call to the Institute of Directors revealed 48000 men to 6200 women members giving a 89% male majority. Perhaps both parties need to reflect on these figures that are so unrepresentative of the world we live in.

The core of my work and study is psychodynamic so it will be no surprise that this initial conscious perception is also being challenged in my personal therapy. Moving from a world where I am experienced, assured, knowledgeable and where I closely mirror my peer group to one where I am inexperienced, hesitant, still learning, and am obviously not from the mainstream (at least from the perspective of gender) sets up its own emotional challenges. I recently submitted a theoretical paper, even allowing for the fact that the paper was on Klienien concepts, I could not help being aware that the words mother and breast were so prominent and the words father and phallus so absent. I am working in a world where the female is predominant. I noted from the beginning of my journey of change that most of these challenges we internal. They sprung from my experience of emotional life and were shaped by the apparent advantage I introduced in the first lines of this article. Scratch the male psyche and you don't have to go deep to find issues of potency, being expected to perform, of being expected to lead and provide. These pressures can seem more acute when the familiar external structure is radically altered. However when I look outwards to this new external world my experience is far removed from my internal insecurities. It has been one of support, help and containment. Ironically far from being marginalised I have been welcomed as bringing a different perspective - one that can be worked with and ideally bring about a sense of better integration. On a more libidinal note male vanity can be flattered, or perhaps flatter itself, by being in the company of women. The rooster in the henhouse as my therapist rather pithily pointed out. I hope I am not idealising the position, as the real horror of a glass ceiling is that by its very nature you cant see it when it is holding you back.

I very much hope that this imbalance in our profession will start to change as I believe it can be part of a process of liberation for women and men, both as therapists and individuals in our wider society. It would be such a waste to see this opportunity lost because of a male reluctance to consider the world of therapy as an appropriate place for a man to work and make a contribution. This would be especially so if it was due to an incorrect perception of therapy as a world where their contribution is either not welcome or not valid. An expanded world of therapy with a better gender balance means more inclusivity for both therapists and patients. Perhaps the analogy of a card hand can be reworked - a really strong hand needs balance - two queens and two kings is stronger than two kings and a jack.