Gender and Professional Identity: A Qualitative Study of Social Workers Practicing as Counsellors and Psychotherapists

Ione Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article presents an analysis of the interactions between gender and class in the career pathways of social workers practising as counsellors and psychotherapists. Gender is one of the strong patterns found in the empirical data generated by a qualitative study of the professional identity of practitioners in social work. Gender was found to have a strong influence on the career choices made by men and women in social work. Women in the sample have pursued career directions that continue to have a strong clinical focus, combined with other roles such as management, supervision and training. They are more likely to express the need to balance their working lives with the needs of their families. Men are more likely to single-mindedly pursue careers in management and to express feelings of responsibility to provide for their families once children are born. However, the analysis of data also found that men were more likely to identify their family origins as working class, while women identify their family backgrounds as middle class. This patterning shows the complex interactions between gender and class in determining life outcomes. These differential pathways and work preferences need to be recognised and addressed to work towards more equitable outcomes for practitioners within social work, so that structural disadvantages on the basis of gender and class are challenged rather than replicated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-407
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Social Work
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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