This semester, like every other semester, Malcolm Housson’s human sexuality class is big — 106 students big. In class, every Thursday, students see the enthusiastic professor teaching them the biology and psychology of sexuality.
The class is not so much about sex as it’s about high-interest topics like transgender sexuality, pre-natal sexual differentiation, gender identity disorders and sexual dysfunctions, among other things, Housson, a senior lecturer in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, or BBS, said.
It is usually taken by juniors and seniors, has no pre-requisites and is offered every semester, he said.
A majority of the students are biology majors or pre-med students, although some engineers taking the class is not uncommon, he said.
For the past 15 years, Housson has not only been teaching the human sexuality class but also runs a successful clinic of his own in downtown Dallas for children and adolescents with learning disorders and attention problems. He also teaches two additional classes — abnormal psychology and exceptional children, in spring and fall, respectively.
Steven Richards, a psychology senior, took all three classes that Housson teaches and interned at Housson’s practice for a summer.
Richards said he found the human sexuality class interesting, particularly because of the additional guest speakers Housson brings in, and also because Housson himself is knowledgeable and can answer questions on his feet.
“He’s really good about bringing his experiences from his private practices into the class and being able to show from a practical standpoint what it changes,” he said.
As a mentor, Housson is encouraging and taught him how to assess and evaluate children disorders in a private clinic setting, Richards said.
Housson earned his bachelors’ from UT Austin, a school with a population of 52,000 students back when he was a student. The adjustments he had to make coming from Eastland in west Texas, a town with a population of 3,500 people, were big.
“There were only two red lights at the time, and I had 49 people in my high school class,” he said.
His psychology class in UT had between 300 and 400 people.
Housson majored in psychology at UT after a psychology class he took interested him in the working of the human mind. He then continued his education at UT Southwestern and started graduate school in 1991, eventually completing his doctoral degree in 1997.
However, he didn’t want to always be a psychologist and until his sophomore year at UT, Housson had no idea of what his major would be.
“When I was a little boy I wanted to be a fireman, I remember,” he said. “I think as I grew older I was planning on doing pre-med and being a doctor. But I used to enjoy the psychology classes so much more than the basic sciences, and I enjoyed much more the (study of the) mind than the study of the body and biology and some of those classes.”
It was an uncle of his who inspired him to major in psychology. His uncle, who also practices family and couple relationship therapy in Dallas, got Housson interested in studying the mind. When he actually did well in his psychology classes at UT, he realized that this was what he wanted to do, that he was a natural at working with people, particularly kids.
“It’s always been easy for me to interact with kids, and I think with children there’s also the challenge of relating to them but also working with parents,” he said. “There’s a dual challenge of working with the families and helping them to understand what the needs of their children are.”
Although he practices child psychology, Housson’s dissertation wasn’t very different from his uncle’s, and he worked on revising marriage and therapy rating scales for his dissertation. The chair of this research was Margaret Owen, who is now a professor in BBS.
Owen is a researcher and working together, she soon became Housson’s role model in graduate school.
With the demands on his time that he had, Housson was very organized and good with people, even in graduate school, Owen said.
“He was chief resident in his year, one of the best — he wouldn’t be chief resident among that group of highly skilled, highly qualified candidates there otherwise — and able to work with everybody,” she said.
On his own time, though, this professional clinical psychologist lets himself fall back into the uncomplicated, secure life of the young cowboy who grew up on a ranch, playing football and running track.
“I grew up on a small ranch and going out to the ranch, and taking care of cattle, spending time out there and hunting, those are all very fond memories,” Housson said.
Very soon, Housson will take his wife and four children on a vacation to his childhood ranch, where his mother still lives.
“There’s a little creek that (my kids) like to go hiking on,” he said. “Now they’re developing fond memories as they grow up too.”