by Anonymous Author
Whilst attending interviews this year, hopeful to be chosen for a place to be trained as a clinical psychologist in our NHS, I managed to talk to many other hopeful candidates. After the textbook icebreaking questions, once they knew how far I travelled to get there and if I had anymore interviews lined up, the next question was usually about my gender. “How does it feel to be the only man here?” or “I have never worked with a male clinical psychologist”. Of course there was no offence to be taken, to me it was harmless, but one comment struck me:
“I would love to be male in this process, it’s such an advantage”.
I felt a bit awkward; I did not want to be selected purely because of my gender. But was it true? Was I at an advantage because I was male? Just as with some of these candidates, every psychologist I have worked with to date has also been female. I knew it was well documented that clinical psychology is a female-majority profession (e.g. Caswell and Baker, 2008; Willyard, 2011), and I knew concern was growing about the lack of males in clinical psychology (e.g. Barry, 2016). I also remembered reading when applying on the clearing house for postgraduate clinical psychology training courses website (www.chpccp.leeds.ac.uk) the statement: ‘We welcome applications from people from ethnic minority backgrounds, people with disabilities and men as these groups are currently under-represented in the profession’. But did this mean, compared to the female who made this comment, my chances of getting a place were higher as a male?
No. In fact, they might not have even been equal. What I have recently discovered is that overall, male applicants are statistically and systematically less likely to be accepted onto clinical psychology doctorate courses than females.
The clearing house website has published equal opportunities data since 2005 (www.leeds.ac.uk/chpccp/equalopps), stating numbers and percentages of the applicant demographic compared to the accepted demographic. Let’s take for instance 2015. In total, 633 males applied and 84 were accepted onto a course. For females, 2,922 applied and 498 were accepted. Of course, there are going to be more female clinical psychologists, after all, there are far fewer males applying. However, what deeply concerns me is when we look at these numbers in relative percentages.
Those 633 males applying made up 18% of the total applicants for courses, and the 2,922 made up the other 82%. Yet, those 84 males that were accepted only made up 14% of total acceptances, with the 498 female acceptances making up the other 86%. Seemingly then, in 2015, females had a statistically higher chance of being accepted onto training than males. In fact, every male had roughly a 13% chance of selection, while females had roughly a 17% chance.
Hoping this was just a one off, I decided to look at other years. The pattern, however, was almost systematic. Apart from 2011, the relative percentage of males accepted onto courses were lower than the relative percentage of male applicants in every single year after 2005, when data started to be collected.
I think it is fair to say that the NHS could benefit with more male clinical psychologists. It makes sense that men and boys entering NHS psychological services can request to see a male psychologist; after all, we all reasonably expect to be able to request to see a same-sex GP when we have personal or private physical health issues. More male psychologists could also inform a more gender-inclusive service, which is critical when we consider that 75% of suicides are male. It is even more critical when we consider that 25% of these males seek help from a health professional in the week leading to their suicide (Mental Health Taskforce Strategy, 2016). There are obvious questions as to whether the NHS is meeting their needs effectively; in 2015, over 88 males on average committed suicide each week (Samaritans, 2017), meaning suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK (Mental Health Foundation, 2018).
Many ideas have been offered to try and explain the shortage of male clinical psychologists, such as men are more reluctant to pursue the profession because of its association with ‘caring’ aspects of human nature, that fewer males undertake an undergraduate degree in psychology, and commonly that there are far fewer applicants for doctoral training (e.g. Bradley, 2013; BPS, 2004; Morison et al., 2014). The explanation is far simpler. There are enough males applying; enough to fill over 50% of places in any given year. They are just not given the chance to be accepted; at least not as fair a chance as females.
I do not have enough experience or knowledge of doctorate course selection procedures to evaluate them, though, I do speculate that male applicants typically have lower academic achievement than their female counterparts. I also wonder if male personal statements are less warm-hearted and reflective, and whether males come across less compassionately at interviews.
It makes sense that the top scoring candidates get accepted; presumably they would make higher-quality clinical psychologists. However, the entry requirements from the clearing house for postgraduate clinical psychology training courses website states you ideally need at least a 2:1 in a degree that confers graduate basis for chartered membership (GBC) and an unspecified amount of clinically relevant experience. It would be reasonable to assume that all, if not the majority, of male applicants have met all of these entry requirements before paying £23 to submit an application. Therefore, it is reasonable to say, some university selection procedures, which are not controlled directly by the NHS, Government or the clearing house, are disadvantaging male applicants.
Of course, to look at this through the lens of gender is a one-dimensional and narrowminded view. I may come across bias; I may even come across supporting the comment made to me at my interview, that males should have an advantage in the process. I absolutely do not believe this. The best clinical psychologists I have met are female. Instead, I think the profession needs to look into this issue further and think of its implications if it were to continue. More diversity in the profession will only better meet the needs of our diverse range of service users. But things could get worse yet; less success could be further pushing males away from the profession. In the last three years of data published (2013-2016), the number of females applying each year has fallen 2%, however, for males this has fallen a staggering 8%, from an already relatively small number applying anyway in 2013.
Given clinical psychology training is funded by public taxpayers’ money, directed from our NHS, is it fair to say males should have at least an equal chance of getting onto such programmes as females? If the relative percentages were equal in the years where less males were accepted since 2005 (i.e. 18% of applicants being male lead to 18% of acceptances being male), we might have over 130 additional male clinical psychologists working in our NHS today.
About the author
The author has asked for his identity to be witheld.
You can vote now for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.
Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/
Barry, J. (2016) ‘More male psychologists?’. The Psychologist, (29): 412-419.
Bradley, J. (2013) ‘Where are all the men?’. [Letter to the editor]
British Psychological Society (2004) Widening access within undergraduate psychology education and its implications for professional psychology: Gender; disability and ethnic diversity. Leicester: BPS.
Caswell, R. and Baker, M. (2008) ‘Men in a female-majority profession: Perspectives of male trainees in clinical psychology’. Clinical Psychology Forum, (214).
Mental Health Foundation (2018) Suicide. Accessed from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/suicide [01.06.2018].
Mental Health Taskforce Strategy (2016) The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.
Morison, L., Trigeorgis, C. and John, M. (2014) ‘Are mental health services inherently feminised?’. The Psychologist, (29): 414-417.
Willyard, C. (2011) ‘Men: A growing minority?’. gradPSYCH, 9 (1): 40.