Psychiatrists' and Non-Physician Psychotherapists' Beliefs about Gender-Appropriate Behavior: A Comparison

Article excerpt


As Freud observed,(1) traditional assumptions about the psychological differences between men and women must be questioned. Given the unique role of psychotherapists in setting standards for mental health, it is especially important to characterize their beliefs about gender stereotype and how those beliefs affect the practice of psychotherapy.

We have previously reported the results of a survey of psychiatrists' attitudes about gender-appropriate behavior,(2) which reflected a change in these attitudes compared with the double standard documented by Broverman et al. in 1970.(3) Others have reported similar results supporting a change from this double standard of mental health.(4-6) We found that neither male nor female psychiatrists endorsed rigid gender stereotypes but, using Bem's sex-role categories,(7) female psychiatrists were more likely to choose masculine traits as optimal for female patients, while male psychiatrists more frequently chose the undifferentiated category (low levels of both masculine and feminine traits) as optimal for patients of both genders. Female psychiatrists may value and rely upon masculine traits in their choice of a career in a male-dominated field, as do women in non-medical management positions.(8,9) We hypothesized that female psychiatrists are more masculine-identified than non-physician women psychotherapists. Since male psychiatrists tended to choose Bem's undifferentiated category, we proposed that they have been sensitized to the risk of being labeled "chauvinistic."

Alternatively, this response may be specific to men who choose psychiatry as a career. To further investigate the effect of the interaction of professional education and gender of the subject on choice of Bem sex-role categories, we asked clinical psychologists and social workers to complete the same questionnaire and compared them to the psychiatrists.


One hundred and sixty non-physician psychotherapists were chosen from the Cincinnati Yellow Pages. Half were licensed social workers and half doctoral-level clinical psychologists. There were equal numbers of males and females in each group. The questionnaire and its handling was described previously.(2) Half of the subjects (40 men and 40 women) were asked to characterize optimal psychological attributes of a female patient described as "a 35-year-old employed woman in psychotherapy to explore difficulties in intimate relationships and work satisfaction." The other half received the same description but the patient was male. Subjects were asked to identify themselves only by gender and age. Subjects who did not return questionnaires were contacted by telephone and sent additional questionnaires if they indicated their willingness to participate.


Of the 160 questionnaires mailed, 115 (72%) were returned; the respondents were 67 women (84%) and 48 men (60%). The overall response rate from M.D.'s was 7 percent, with 70 percent for women and 76 percent for men. The subjects' ages ranged from 29 years to 69 years, with a median age of 42 years. The median age for M.D.s was 42.5 years.

There was no correlation of subject age with response (for men chi square = 0.15, p > 0.05, df = 1; for women chi square = .70, p > 0.05, df = 1). Since there was not a significant difference between social workers and psychologists (chi square = 5.46, p = .06, df = 2), their responses were combined so that we compared psychiatrists to non-physician therapists.

The responses were scored according to the BEM Sex-Role Inventory instruction manual. As in our previous study, norms were derived from our own sample by means of a median split on both the masculinity and femininity scale scores. The median was 4.7 on the masculinity scale score for both psychiatrists and non-physicians. All scores above 4.7 were considered high masculinity and all below, low masculinity. The median on the femininity scale was 4. …