Clinical psychology has a man problem

Vaughan Bell, Beyond Boundaries column, The Psychologist, November 2009

Mentioning lap dancers in The Psychologist sparks angry letters to the editor but actual biases raise not an eyebrow. On clinical psychology training courses, perhaps among the most competitive in psychology, males are not only the single most poorly represented demographic (about 15% of trainees in comparison to half the population) but they are statistically less likely to get a place than females. 2005 was the last year in which the male minority were equally represented in applications and admissions. Since then, the selection bias against men has generally worsened to the low point of 2008 where only about three quarters of the proportion of men who applied were accepted onto a clinical programme. For psychology undergraduates, where four out of five are female, males are also less likely to acquire a place than females. This seems to be a problem in many places around the world, to the point where I’ve not yet heard of a country with an equal sex ratio, but it’s perhaps most striking in the UK where gender issues are often publicly debated in professional forums.

For example, we’ve recently had two prominent psychologists lambaste an article in The Psychologist for suggesting that the discussion of a peer-review study on strippers in a research methods lecture “will leave many women feeling… that their discipline has a very long way to go before they are truly part of it”. We’ve also had the Psychology of Women Section write in to complain that a publication included in women’s magazine that addressed women’s issues, provided by the predominantly female BPS, didn’t fully represent the female experience.

These are indeed important issues, and it is only right that we should be debating them, but I’m just amazed at the fact that we aren’t similarly interested in redressing our own gender inequalities that manifest not as perceptions, portrayals or messages, but as a serious disparity in both the balance of the sexes and the likelihood of even being offered a route into the profession. A 2004 BPS report on ‘Widening access within undergraduate psychology’ found ethnic minority students were over-represented on degree courses compared to the UK population and made seven direct recommendations for recruiting more BME students. The same report found massive gender inequalities and selection biases favouring females and made only two recommendations for recruiting more males, one of which was ‘more research is needed’. I think we need more equality in our equality.