CTUK celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021

CTUK is a women-led organisation and so we thought it fit to not only acknowledge IWD, but to celebrate it – to celebrate the fact that here at CTUK, women head up the UK’s largest counselling campaign group with over 7000 members! This is significant when we consider that ‘Counselling is also, like many public service professions, and healthcare (as opposed to medical care), a field with a disproportionate number of male clinical leads and service directors.” (1)

It also feels significant when we take a closer look at the following:

  • Only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs is female. (2)
  • Only one in five businesses in the UK is run by a woman. (3)
  • While the UK is one of the best places in the world to grow a business, women are half as likely as men to be involved in starting one. (3)
  • Women looking to start and grow a business may be facing unfair obstacles not experienced by their male counterparts. (3)

With the stats stacked so heavily against us it feels somewhat astounding that we find ourselves relatively successful, perhaps we could even say we are winning!

However, the celebrations feel that they can only last for so long when we start to look deeper into what it means to be counsellor in the UK today, a profession where women outnumber men 5 to 1 (1), which we will discuss more in just a moment.

First, we thought we should touch on the history of IWD.

Did you know that International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911?

The idea began after a march that took place in New York City in 1908 with over 15,000 women campaigning for shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights.

Then in 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin had the idea to make the day International.

Today, women from around the world come together to celebrate each other and campaign for social, economic, cultural, political and gender equality.

Together, we campaign for change, not only for ourselves but the women who come after us….. and for ALL of our sons and daughters, because we believe that men too, benefit from a more equal society.

So what about the counselling profession?

What we know is that women counsellors outnumber men by more than five to one, and with that we might perhaps naively assume that those women would see certain benefits of belonging to such a female-dominated profession, e.g., equal access to managerial roles, acceptable levels of pay, etc. However, this is not the case at all, and the current situation in terms of equality for women in counselling is very alarming indeed.

To give you some idea of the current state of affairs in the counselling profession, we share with you the following research.

The following three paragraphs are taken from an article published by The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) in March 2017 entitled, ‘Is Counselling Women’s Work?’

“According to a 2014 BACP survey of its membership (BACP represents by far the largest number of counsellors in the UK), the gender (im)balance within counselling is 84% female to only 16% male. BACP’s data also tell us that the typical counsellor is aged 53, works 12–13 hours a week, and earns less than £10,000 a year. Yet, in marketing terms, as defined in the survey analysis, she falls into the ‘affluent achiever’ bracket (‘detached house, luxury car, buys wine and books on the internet, has an iPhone’). The disparity between her income and expenditure suggests we can assume she is not the household breadwinner. Just nine per cent of BACP members earn more than £30,000 a year.”(1)


“Moreover, 25% of practising BACP members are unpaid for their main role, and 52% earn less than £10,000. They are also likely to be earning their living by other means, or have several jobs to make ends meet: 48% of members do not rely on counselling as their main source of income; 41% have another occupation, and 48% have two or more roles. The majority – 72% of BACP members – say it is difficult to find employment in the current market.” (1)


“In the BACP survey, only 37% of counsellors who were working unpaid said they were satisfied with their professional life, compared with 75% of those earning more than £30,000 a year. Fifty-three per cent said they were likely to look for other employment in the future, and 58% said there were ‘no opportunities’ open to them for paid employment in the current market.” (1)

What we can see from this article is that in 2014 the majority of counsellors (77%) worked unpaid or earned less than £10,000 per year. We also know that the majority of these counsellors are women who were largely unsatisfied with their situation. This is wholly unacceptable and what is particularly alarming is that once CTUK delved into the reasons why this may be happening, it became apparent that women today continue to be exploited, including, and perhaps because they are working in a profession that is considered ‘caring’.

In 2017, Counsellors Together UK was founded and has since become the UK’s largest counselling campaign group. Our main aim is to work together to end the culture and prevalence of unpaid work within the counselling profession.

After taking the time to listen to thousands of counsellors we soon realised that there is a cycle of exploitation which keeps counsellors in unpaid or low wage roles – introducing The Cycle of Counsellors Exploitation.

You can download the above infographic here.

There are also more recent publications which show us quite clearly that the financial situation for counsellors and other mental health workers is not improving. In 2016-2017 the Surviving Work Survey was carried out. The aim of the survey was to try to get a sense of what is happening in the therapeutic professions and to ask some blunt questions about pay, promotion prospects and the decline in decent jobs. 1500 practitioners from right across the mental health sector completed 50 questions about working conditions and 68 were interviewed. (4)

In relation to Honorary Work (unpaid work), Surviving Work uncovered key issues as shown on the image below.

Then in May/June 2020 Surviving Work carried out three snap-shot surveys about the impact of Covid-19 on working life in mental health, with 770 respondents.

“The first survey looks at the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, and two additional surveys looked at the experiences of two important and growing types of work – self-employment and work within Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) mainly carried out through phone/online and a growing employer in the sector. These surveys were carried out when almost the entire public and private mental health service going online. The results again were both concerning and complex with a clear loss of income and issues around navigating new online therapy platforms and increased insecurity amongst practitioners.” (4) *See images below.

The results of the above research projects are actually quite terrifying. In a female dominated profession consisting of approx 60,000 professionals, we now know that Covid-19 has had a dire impact on the already suffering financial well-being of women and that it will continue to do so for many years to come. This is a scary picture indeed. And so, it comes as no surprise when we learn that data from UN Women has revealed that the coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality (5) and according to the World Economic Forum, ‘gender parity will not be attained for almost a century…’ and what feels like perhaps a kick in the teeth…. ‘there is no country where men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work as women.’ (6)

So where do we go from here?

Here at CTUK we are part way through our own research study to map the financial landscape for the counselling and psychotherapy professions across the UK. We collected data from 1284 therapists between December 2020 and February 2021. We anticipate the preliminary results to be available late Spring 2021 with the full report available by the end of Summer 2021. Both of these will be available on our website.

However, as bleak as we have painted the picture above, all is not lost. At CTUK we have run several successful campaigns and been instrumental in influencing policy change at National level, all of which have contributed to fairer pay, more employment opportunities and better working conditions for counsellors and psychotherapists.

In 2021, we launched #ActivistsTogether, alongside our co-hosts Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, which is a twitter chat that opens up the opportunity for people to discuss what it is like to be an activist in this day and age. Tara (CTUK) says on this subject:

“It is difficult to be a woman and to speak out to stand up for something. It is no secret to our members that CTUK (by being female led) has received sexist comments. We have been dismissed as being unimportant and uninformed simply for being female; females that challenge the patriarchal arms of our profession. In the most grotesque attack against our womanhood, the CTUK website was hacked and pornographic imagery placed onto the site. A violation of our organisation and of the team. The team who had to view these overtly aggressive imagery. Sexual acts have long been a weapon to wield against women. The subtle undertones of a sexual violence threat. If it’s not this response, we have been accused of being bullies. Told to watch our tone because we come across as ‘hateful and aggressive’ for simply pointing out when there are wrongs to be corrected. Dismissed of hand as ‘ladies-who-lunch’ and ridiculed for being ‘poverty-conscious’. We are not in isolation. Whenever women speak out, there are consequences and push back. So the Activists Together chat is a much welcomed opportunity to discuss what it means to be an activist and the challenges we face. The connections are important when facing this work. It is also important for those looking to join, to see there is this community that will welcome them.”

We hope you stand with us and support us in continuing our fight for better paid work for all counsellors and psychotherapists across the UK, and the development and implementation of policies which protect our rights, as women.

You can find out more about CTUK and the work we do here – www.ukcounsellors.co.uk/news

Happy International Women’s Day!

From Maria, Tara, Glenna and Vic!

Written by Maria Albertsen – Founder of CTUK


(1) https://www.bacp.co.uk/bacp-journals/therapy-today/2017/march-2017/is-counselling-womens-work/

(2) Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2019

(3) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/treasury-launches-review-into-barriers-for-women-in-business September, 2018

(4) https://thefutureoftherapy.org/oursurveys#mce_temp_url

(5) https://data.unwomen.org/publications/whose-time-care-unpaid-care-and-domestic-work-during-covid-19

(6) https://fr.weforum.org/reports/gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality

One thought on “CTUK celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021”

  1. I d like to get involved in the debate but my fear is that my views or opinions would be unwelcome because I’m male. I feel confused quite often around what males are expected to do or think about this subject if they want to help/ contribute.
    I hope this explains my fear and I wonder if other men feel similar.

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