Leaping into another’s shoes

The debate on men in the profession continues.

I was interested to read Kane Baker’s letter (November 2018) on the paucity of men within the profession. I agree with the author’s suggestion that the aim should be to create a gender inclusive service, but I’m not convinced that the instrument to achieve that should be simply to recruit more men into clinical training.

There are certainly advantages to having a workforce that reflects the diversity of the population. In this instance, a male may have a more nuanced insight into the issues that men may struggle with, and this perspective could aid an understanding of a client’s distress. I have reservations, however, about the assumption that because you’re a member of a particular demographic that confers an automatic and exclusive comprehension of issues specific to that demographic.

Baker notes that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK, and 75 per cent of suicides are male. But do I understand why men commit suicide simply because I’m male? I’m not so sure. Would a female clinician, who knows the research, or experienced some of the same issues, have a deeper insight into male suicide? I think they probably would.

There may be a collective ignorance around men and mental health. But there is also a troubling implication if the chosen solution is just to even out gender imbalances in the profession. It suggests that we really can only understand people who are like us; and renders obsolete any attempt to sensitise oneself to the experience of anyone who is other. The process of putting yourself in another person’s shoes does sometimes require a leap of the imagination, but it’s very important that we emphasise that it is, nevertheless, possible. The focus should be on ensuring we cultivate empathetic clinicians who can identify with a range of clients from a range of different backgrounds.

David Meechan
Streatham Hill, London

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