Abuse of Male Counselling Students

Published in NZ Association of Counsellors Newsletter December 1999 Vol 20 No 2

I recently had the good fortune to take part in the Advanced Supervision Workshop run by NZAC and Auckland University. At one stage we were talking about the need to take into account cultural issues including race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion. During this conversation I was struck by the need to also take into account the environment our clients are in at the time & and sometimes this is not so obvious.

To quote Samuel Osherson in his article entitled "The Wounded Father within ("Reclaiming The Inner child") “For all that feminism has contributed to our culture, it has also brought a subtle idealisation of women and a less subtle denigration or misunderstanding of men." Nowhere is this experienced more by men than within counselling circles, and particularly within counselling education.

As Counselling Team Leader in a men"s agency I have provided clinical supervision for several students on placement from counselling, psychotherapy and social work courses in the various Auckland Polytechs. They all talk about how difficult they find it for them in female dominated programmes and when I look back far enough to my own Nursing training and the various training"s since or when I talk with many of my male colleagues the stories are very similar.

Some of this is as simple as being the minority gender in an area that is predominantly women"s terrain. Occasionally they may experience tutors who give them a hard time because of the tutor"s own prejudices against men. But much more common is the difficulties they experience from the women who are in their classes who are being newly politicised (or re-politicised) about the negative effects that patriarchy has on women & and who are then perhaps having this reinforced by clinical placements where they see a lot of women who have been badly abused by men.

Most male students or ex-students I know talk about the hostilities they have felt through this. This can be both covert and overt and comes at times from the rest of the class as a whole - and from individuals at other times. One colleague has felt this so strongly that he describes it as "the toxicity of counselling programmes".

This is often reinforced in many subtle ways such as always being chosen to play the abuser in role-plays and the like. Along side of this comes the mixed dialogue that go something like this:-

  • Men are bastards
  • Hey I"m a man
  • But you"re different

What does this really mean? "Am I less than a man & as a male in a traditionally woman"s profession I"m already getting that message from many areas of society. Or does it mean that I"m more than a man."


The results of this are that many good men are discouraged from getting involved in counselling. It causes some to drop out and also be lost to a profession that badly needs more good men.

It also puts subtle pressure on those that who do manage to stay to take on one of two attitudes. One is to work with women so that they can save them from the destructive forces of other men (rescuer role), the other is to work with men so that they can punish these abusive men who are not as aware as them (persecutor role).

Neither of these roles is healthy for the clients, society or the counsellor themselves. Both are frankly still patriarchal, and the latter results in the further shaming of clients many of who already feeling shamed.

I encourage our training establishments to urgently make the following changes:

  • Be open to male friendly paradigms that encourages men to change in positive ways rather than ones that punishes men who do not. I see this paradigm as complimentary to the feminist ones rather than trying to compete.
  • I would also ask that we discourage paradigms that emphasis blaming the other gender. I believe that this is extremely damaging and that there has been more than enough blaming from both genders & and damage to both genders.
  • Include in all courses significant education about the damage that the conditioning of a patriarchal society does to men. Male tutors who are well-versed in men"s issues should do this.
  • Include in the programmes regular times that are gender segregated, and have the male groups facilitated by men who have good knowledge of men"s issues. This would amongst other things acknowledge that male conditioning is isolative and that being a male in a female dominated profession is even more isolative.

In summary I believe that it is essential that we encourage more good men into this profession. I also believe that our current systems are keeping many good men out by inadvertently being abusive to the men who do try to enter the profession.

If men and women are going to be truly equal it will only be by acknowledging and valuing each other"s pain, giving each other room to heal and then looking at how we can grow together. As a profession counsellors and therapists must model this if we expect these changes to happen in our society.
Peter Milne