Following the Money: Following the Money

By Philipson, Ilene | Family Therapy Networker, March/April 1994 | Go to article overview

Following the Money: Following the Money


Philipson, Ilene, Family Therapy Networker


Why fewer and fewer men are becoming therapists.

WHEN I ENTERED GRADUATE SCHOOL IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY in the late 1980s, after 15 years as a sociologist and teacher, I had no idea that I was preparing myself for a world that no longer existed. I thought I'd get my Ph.D., continue to write, and support myself comfortably in private practice, like friends who had hung out shingles a decade before. Along with thousands of my fellow graduate students, I was oblivious to the bigger picture: hordes of us mostly women were pouring into a glutted market, and the statistics were telling a curious, rarely discussed tale about the relationship between gender and the dollar.

It boils down to this: The worse things get economically for psychotherapists, the more women enter the field and the more men stay away. It started in the mid-1970s, at the very beginning of what became the therapy glut. Between 1975 and 1985, as the vast population bulge of the baby boom went through graduate school, the  number of psychotherapists more than doubled. According to statistics kept by the professional organizations, psychiatrists increased their numbers by 46 percent, clinical psychologists by 80 percent, social workers by 140 percent, and marriage and family counselors by an astounding 367 percent. Increasingly, the newcomers were women, entering a profession whose edges had already quietly begun to fray.

Did men have more sensitive antennae for the economic changes ahead? In the 1980s, the numbers of male Ph.D. candidates in clinical psychology dropped by two percent per year. By 1992,62 percent of the nation's 1,300 new clinical psychology Ph.D.s were women, compared to 31 percent in 1976. Today, 42 percent of the 118,000 members of the American Psychological Association are female, compared to 27 percent in 1977.

Even the traditionally female (and less well-paid) field of social work has become more heavily female: 76 percent of the 120,000 members of the National Association of Social Workers are now women, up from 72 percent in 1988. Sixty percent of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's 20,000 members are female. Even psychiatry is changing: in 1979, women were 31 percent of all psychiatric residents; by 1993, they were 44 percent.

If the grim news about managed competition is filtering down the educational pipeline at all, it doesn't seem to be having much effect. My alma mater, the Wright Institute, a freestanding school of professional psychology in Berkeley, has 400 applicants for 40 openings next year. The average age of the applicants is 37, and 72 percent of them are women.

Why are women continuing to train themselves for an economically declining field while men are quietly walking away? Do women think less about money and more about meaningful work? Do men worry more about being breadwinners? Do they have wider career choices? If our work is seen as "women's work," will we lose even more clout? Whatever the answers are, we need to talk openly about them.

ONE THING IS CLEAR: MEN FORM a declining proportion of the newcomers to the field. At workshops, leading family therapists say, eight out of ten trainees are usually women. "Men have a way of bailing out of lower-status occupations into more lucrative professions," says Nicholas Cummings, the founder of American Biodyne, the nation's first and largest mental health managed care company.

Some men choose other work because they fear psychotherapy is losing status and won't provide adequate pay. "When my father went to graduate school, being a clinical psychologist was an unusual thing; it was the 1950s, and he got lots of job offers," one man told me, explaining why he chose medical school over psychology two years ago. "It's different now much harder to find a job."

"Men seem to follow the money," says Dorothy Cantor, a psychologist in private practice in Westfield, New Jersey, and chair of the APA task force on the changing gender composition of psychology. …

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