A shortage of male psychologists could be preventing men from looking after their mental health.
New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) looked at the relationship between the gender of therapists and the likelihood of people seeking help.
Of the 456 men and women surveyed, 43 per cent had a gender preference – and interestingly both men and women would prefer seeing a male psychologist.
Sixty per cent of the men who expressed a preference said they would rather see a male therapist and that they were significantly more likely to seek help if the preferred sex was available.
Half of the women surveyed said they too had a preference for the sex of a therapist and of those, more than 90 per cent would prefer a male.
There are currently about four times as many female psychologists as males registered in Australia.
Dr Gringart said while the disparity between the gender of psychologists in Australia was clearly relevant for both men and women, it was particularly concerning for men’s mental health.
“We know that men are less likely than women to seek help for their mental health in general. Additionally, in Australia, men are about three times more likely to die from suicide compared to women,” he said.
“This research shows that the lack of male psychologists could be preventing some men from seeking help for their mental health.”
Dr Gringart said it was important to encourage more men to enter the mental health profession.
“Having more male therapists available will remove one potential barrier to men seeking help, which would be a very good outcome,” he said.
Dr Gringart said the shared preference for male therapists could potentially be a result of widely held socio-cultural gender stereotypes.
“People may believe that certain issues would be dealt with better by a male or a female therapist,” Dr Gringart said.
“Congruent with gender stereotypes, they may feel that caring and warmth would be more readily provided by female therapists and that authority and direction would be more naturally afforded by males.
“Females who prefer a male therapist may assume that they already receive feminine support in their social networks and may therefore prefer a male therapist.
“Males who prefer male therapists may feel more comfortable confiding in another male.”
Dr Gringart said regardless of the reasons, this study indicated that people’s preferences affect the likelihood they would seek mental health support.
“Our study suggests that more male therapists are needed in Australia,” Dr Gringart said.
Dr Gringart worked on the research with Stephanie C. Black.
‘The relationship between clients’ preferences of therapists’ sex and mental health support seeking: An exploratory study’ was recently published in Australian Psychologist.
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