Women who chose psychology Essay

This phenomenological study is an attempt to come closer to understanding why people choose a certain career path and what factors influenced their choice. To approach the question, I will first analyse empirical literature and then look at the real-life experiences of three women who chose psychology as a career. The aim of this research is to identify and describe subjective experiences which influence women to choose psychology and psychology-related work. A qualitative research method was adopted in order to answer these questions and data was collected by means of phenomenological semi-structured interviews. The data was analysed through Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis which revealed three major themes. First, professional choice was commonly influenced by various internal and external factors. Second, it was strongly motivated by the desire to have a meaningful job. Third, the different motivators based on gender.

Key words: career choice, profession, vocation, female psychologist.


Choosing a profession is a complex task closely connected to personal development processes (Cooperstein & Schwartz, 1992). Every choice is a question of self-identification from a social and personal aspect. The correct choice is important for inner harmony, spiritual comfort and satisfaction. Holland defines six types of personality: realistic, research, artistic, social, entrepreneurial and conventional (Holland, Johnston & Francis Asama, 1994). Job satisfaction and, consequently, its effectiveness, depends on how well the chosen type of activity corresponds to the type of personality. An important concept of Holland's theory is professional identity, which arises from attempts to define personality and errors which can be made when choosing a profession (Reardon & Lenz, 1999). Holland's approach has some limitations as there is evidence that these six types are insufficient to describe the diversity of difficulties and problems encountered in a person’s professional life (Spokane & Catalano, 2000). Schneider (1999) explains personal identity as the consequence of certain processes such as self-knowledge, self-understanding and identification. Thus, students’ professional identity is a result of the activity in the framework of the educational and professional fields. This is where a profession serves as a means of meeting personal needs, conscious or unconscious, which could be physiological, material, spiritual, social, etc., in their form (Hall, Schneider & Nygren, 1970).

Until recently, professionals involved in careers advice were guided by Parson’s model where it was enough just to “calculate” personal identity (Parsons, Adler & Meece, 1984). In contrast, Coleman (2011) asserts that the choice of career is always predetermined by gender; people are naturally inclined to make their choice in relation to the norms and expectations of society. However, what happens when you choose a profession that is involved with people’s emotional problems and traumatic events they have experienced in their lives? Is it still a profession or is it a vocation? Who are these people who enter into the field of psychology? It was noted that when men choose to study psychology, they are mostly driven from the perspective of obtaining good grades, while women are more motivated by the desire to help people (Harton & Lyons, 2003). Weber, Owen & Strong (2004) relates a profession to a vocation.

As a chosen profession, psychology has become more popular. According to mental health statistics, around one in six people experiencing mental disorder which automatically leads to a high demand for help (Baker, 2018). This is not a surprise as the world is experiencing a crisis where problems relating to mental health are concerned (While, Bickley, Roscoe, Windfuhr, Rahman, Shaw, ... & Kapur, 2012). In the age of information technology (IT) we still have the same mindset as years ago. According Gazzaley (2016), we have an ancient brain structure, while the technological revolution has gone far beyond a natural development. Thus, psychological help becomes more popular. However, only those who possess certain skills and personal qualities can become good psychologists. Toussaint (2005), states that women are prone to having a better understanding of people's attitudes towards each other; this makes it possible to predict the actions of another person and easier to find a common language. Women are also more susceptible to empathy, which increases the effect of psychological help they provide. This adds to the debate relating to gender and profession choice (Harton et al, 2003).

Professional opinions of psychologists have rarely been the subject of purposeful qualitative study. There are a few studies on the reasons behind this choice of profession, and a very small number of them adopted a qualitative approach. This research focuses on the subjective experience of three females in the field of psychology. We are looking beyond psychology solely as a profession, but rather as a vocation. The aim of the study is to explore the subjective real-life experiences of being a female in the world of psychology.


This research is concerned with the subjective experience of females in the field of psychology and exploring the motivation behind this choice of a career. In particular, we are looking at psychology beyond the notion of a career. The aim of the study is to explore the experiences of three females engaged in the world of psychology. The researcher’s role is to look at career choice, leading motivations and challenges through the eyes of participants. For this reason, a qualitative design method was adopted as the most appropriate. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was chosen by the researcher to depict the essence of a particular choice.

Originally, the concept of phenomenology was derived from works of Husserl (Zahavi, 2003). Phenomenology focuses on the world and reality of a particular individual. Hence, there is nothing objective, everything is subjective. IPA is based on the understanding of the phenomenon’s true essence. The method itself was established by Smith (1996) as an inductive way to explore the personal experience of a particular phenomenon. IPA is highly participant-oriented and adopts an epistemological position (Pietkiewicz, & Smith, 2014). It involves a double hermeneutic and ideographic approach which are predominant conditions in order to achieve the goal of the study (Alase, 2017). The object of IPA is to explore the phenomenon from within. It is crucial to mention “Epoche” as an essential part of IPA, the concept which comes from the Greek language and could be translated as a “suspension of judgement” (Giorgi, 2011). As an IPA researcher, it is important to avoid making any form of judgements and to strive to conduct the analyses independently from any prejudices and preconceived ideas.

There were three participants who took part in the research. In IPA, a small sample size and homogeneity among participants are crucial in order to conduct a comprehensive research (Smith, 2004). Thus, in this study, all participants were females who were self-employed and were in the process of becoming chartered. Participants were aged between 29 and 37 years and recruited though personal referrals. All females worked in the field of psychology and were studying towards further qualification. In this study, the profession of coach fits nicely within the main concept of research. According to Seligman (2007), coaching could be seen as a new direction of psychological counselling which uses modern psycho-technologies and focuses on effective goal achievement.

Semi-structured interviews (Appendix 1) were conducted in an informal manner; audio-recorded and transcribed for the analysis (Appendix 2). The structure of the interview corresponds to the stated task of the research and aimed to obtain information about the subjective understanding of professional choice. This included questions about the motivation, reasons behind the choice which prompted an individual to enter the world of psychology, and challenges faced. These interviews were conducted in a quiet place and each of them lasted between 25 and 33 minutes.

This research was conducted according to all ethical guidelines relating to confidentiality and anonymity. Each participant completed the consent form and was informed about their right to withdraw from the study at any time.

Results & Discussion

Analysis of the interviews revealed the following matrix of themes (Appendix 3): internal and external influences, search for meaning and the question of self-identity and gender differences. I am using P1, P2 and P3 as names for the participants in order to maintain anonymity.

1. Influences (internal & external)

Everyone is born as a blank slate. Our ideas are formed through interactions with the environment, parental upbringing Every child has their own interpretations and reflections and, step by step, we create our own picture of the world. Family is where we form our first attitudes towards work, to professional activity and growing our ideas about a future potential career. Analysis of interviews carried out showed that all participants, in order to follow psychology as a career, were motivated and influenced internally as well as externally where family, social expectations, inner voice, personal interests and flexibility at work were especially strong. P3:

“So, when my parents had a dinner party and after the guests left, they would always talk about the dynamics. Who held the power, what the conversation subtext was, and I just thought it was a whole other way to see the world in light!”

While some of us look at parental influence and feel grateful for the inspiration which led to our choice, others have had a completely different experience and look at it with sadness as it resulted in a forced choice. Only after years these people decide to take life into their own hands and start doing what they once wanted to do. After all, this time could never be relived. P1:

“Unfortunately, my parents did not agree with my choice and they decided that I should study economics instead of, you know, either psychology, teaching or journalism. So, I went to university and studied economics so, unfortunately, I wasn't able to pursue what I wanted to do and then carried on working in the bank in the position that was logical after my studies. I still kind of felt that it was not really me…”

2. Search for meaning & self-identification

It is noted that all three participants were dominated by the desire to understand people and themselves when entering into the field of psychology. Those three women were motivated by a strong ambition to help others and do something meaningful in life. It could be described as the desire to “humanise” society (Denmark, 1998). This could be attributed to job satisfaction and the ability to play a meaningful and fruitful role in other people’s lives. According to Maslow’s theory (1943), our needs predetermine our behaviour and, as a result, our career choice. Thus, this analysis reveals that desire to help others brings meaning to life and serves as a powerful source of motivation in the choice of a profession. For P1, this sense of calling started in her adolescence, from the age of 16.

“I don't want to sound too pretentious but I kinda felt this urge I should be doing something else but in a way that I should be doing something more meaningful like for humanity! I'm basically just had that urge to be helpful to people because that's the most rewarding feeling for me.”

Analysis of the data showed that the theme of self-identity is closely related to the sense of importance of being in the right place and doing right things to feel good. It could be closely related life satisfaction. All three women emphasised the necessity of being “good enough” and have a sense credibility from interaction with their patients. Those women intend to become chartered and qualified and will have to deal with a number of challenges on the way. Self-identification could be also influenced from inside; how we assess and feel about our-selves, as well as by society’s expectations. P2:

“I'm a woman and I'm a young-looking woman … And so, I always feel like there's a barrier I have to overcome. And it's probably what's driving me to get a doctorate. I want to have the title. I want to be a doctor. I want to have more credibility because I feel like with my credibility, I have to overcome some stereotypes before I'm respected for what I do.”

In spite the barriers, these women are still on the way to becoming qualified. However, they already having their own unique style when working with clients. P1 stated:

"…I know I am quite different in a way because I like using certain tools in in my coaching style. I can work with clients using challenging or metaphorical questions. So, I like bringing the power of imagination into the game and I feel like that just expands the space of probabilities and possibilities and inclines minds. And I am also quite spiritual as well…”

3. Gender differences question

According to various researches (Martin-Wagar., 2018; Snyder, McDermott, Leibowitz, & Cheavens, 2000) the proportion of women in the field of psychology has grown significantly over the past 20 years. In the field of psychology, this process is known as feminisation (Ostertag, & Regis McNamara, 1991). According to this perspective, women have different motivations in comparison to men when following a route into psychology as a career. Another approach to take to better understand this phenomenon is to look at the range of professions, activities and flexibility available in this sector. According to Hakim (2004), being a women has many advantages. It is normally the woman who has the choice whether to work or be a stay-at-home mother. Women have more choices as to whether they want to work from home, from an office, to be emotional or to be strong. Moreover, Hegewisch (2009), argues that having a certain freedom, flexibility with working hours and being able to work from home is predominantly a woman’s prerogative. Men simply do not have this sort of choice. P3 describes her view on a modern woman of our days:

“I think that women are told we can be anything. We can be therapists, we can be nurses, we can be teachers, we can be mother’s, we can be CEOs, we can be scientists. And I think that we give men far fewer things they're allowed to be.

Snyder et al (2000), argue that for females, building and nurture relationships has a higher value than for men. It is also explained that women naturally have better access to their feelings and emotions. All participants underlined this point. P1:

“Meanwhile, women are quite opposite in this emotional agenda. I think women let themselves talk about emotions more and they seem to be more willing to explore feelings and emotions when they see their clients.”

The final conclusion of participants leads to the following idea. Biological and historical differences between men and women could not be ignored. However, it does not necessarily mean that the one is better than in the other in the field of psychology.

Reflexive Statement

This research topic is especially interesting for me as I am doing a Diploma in Existential Analysis Therapy and master’s degree in psychology towards my future qualification. I would say that the decision to change my career and become a student again was not an easy one and took a lot of time and effort to enable me to get to where I am today.

There are a number of different factors which brought me here. First, since I first witnessed my mother suffering panic attacks, I had this burning desire to help her, even though I was a very young girl at that time. Second, recently, I quit my job after realising that apart from a good salary, nothing motivated me. I developed a strong desire to change my life and could not ignore a primary instinct to help people. I wanted to find greater meaning in everyday life and to have a greater sense of purpose, which became an irresistible draw for me. Lastly, I have always had a strong interest in people’s minds and the potential we all have.

It was a hugely rewarding experience to examine how certain people and situations can affect our decisions regarding a career path. As a young women, just to embark in this field, I wanted to look at other stories of career choices that made people feel complete and happy with what they are doing. My findings revealed that neither participants nor myself were motivated by money.


The aim of the study was to investigate and describe the subjective experience of three females in the professional world of psychology. Interviews identified four major themes: influencers, search for meaning, challenges and gender role. Literature analysis also supports those findings regarding idea that family, environment and internal sense of calling influence the most (Richardson-Spears, 2018; Farber, Manevich, Metzger, & Saypol, 2005). This research revealed that reasons leading to career choice in psychology are interconnected and could not be examined separately, which is also reflected in the previous research (Sciberras, & Pilkington, 2018). Numerous influences prompt our decision but sometimes it is very easy to become disillusioned and burn out. Finally, people who decide to pursue a career in psychology are also usually trying to understand themselves and other people better.

It is important to mention some limitations of the study. It would make sense to have a bigger sample however within IPA standards. To better understand the factors influencing the choice of the field of psychology for a career, it would be a good idea to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Those findings can add value to future research in the field of psychology. It can help us understand what influences people to work in the field of psychology, which could be possibly applied as a means to attract more professionals in the field of psychology and hence contribute to future improvement of the current mental health situation.

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