The BPS Annual Conference 2018: a high point or low point for Male Psychology?

As I finish writing this blog, the words of one delegate are still ringing in my ears:

“I completely see the point in starting a Male Psychology BPS Section. It would really help us to begin to properly tackle things like men’s mental health. But some [psychologists] I know are saying “You know what, I really think the men can take care of themselves”. They think men already have enough privileges, so they are going to vote against a Male Psychology Section. But if there is a Psychology of Women Section, then why not a Male Psychology Section?

I guess one person’s medicine is another’s poison, but it’s sad to think that something that is potentially useful to a huge number of people might well be scuppered by the misguided views of some psychologists. No doubt they think of themselves as taking the moral high ground, but what they are really doing is nothing less than preventing advances in the field of psychology that will not only help countless men and boys around the UK and wider world, but will by extension help the women and girls who share their lives with these men.

Gender wars aside, what can I say about the BPS annual conference in Nottingham? Well, where else would you find such an eclectic mix of studies, bringing together all sorts of topics and methodologies, all colourfully displayed like a wonderful sweetshop of science.

Amid such a high standard of material, I had been lucky enough this year to be able to give a presentation on each day of the conference. On Weds I co-presented a study with fellow founder of the Male Psychology Section, consultant clinical psychologist Martin Seager. With Katie Holloway, we interviewed 20 experienced therapists, who identified ways in which therapy might be made to appeal more to men (paper currently in review).  On Thursday I presented a survey of 2000 men, which found that that men value their mental health more than their physical health, and that job satisfaction and relationship stability are key factors in their wellbeing http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Harrys-Masculnity-Report-2017.pdf  On Friday I co-presented a study with Tamika Roper (pictured above), which found that having a haircut is good for your mental health, especially if you are a black man. This finding probably won’t surprise black people but it’s intriguing for an Irishman like me, who traditionally finds getting a haircut a chore [link]. I also presented a poster describing my new psychological intervention for polycystic ovary syndrome [link]. PCOS was the subject of my PhD and continues to be a topic I write about and research.

Some of the most interesting feedback I got was from therapists, who – as usual – say that the Male Psychology research on gender differences in aspects of therapy reflects their clinical experience, highlighting patterns they hadn’t really thought about much before. But although these therapists saw the clinical value in having relevant gender differences highlighted, for some other psychologists highlighting gender differences is anathema. We can all agree that there are ‘more similarities than differences’ between men and women, but some psychologists almost make this their mantra, twisting it into the extremist view that ‘thou shalt not examine sex differences’. This self-inflicted disability makes them blind to gender differences, and although gender blindness vaunted as a virtue, it is in reality more likely to be an impediment to good science.

Predictably then the idea of having a new Male Psychology Section of the BPS got a mixed reception. Some people said they would vote for us – a national newspaper even wants to interview me about it – but I hear that some others say they will vote against it. Opposition to the creation of a Male Psychology Section is generally based around two false assumptions: 1/ men already have enough privileges; 2/ anyone who supports it is a men’s rights activist (MRA). Even if the first point were true, is it right to do nothing to intervene while (a) the privileged half the population is killing itself at three times the rate of the dominated half, (b) in education, the privileged children have been falling behind the dominated half for over 30 years, and (c) 90% of the prison population is made up of privileged half of the population? And even if was true that people who support Male Psychology are MRAs, then if helping to reduce male suicide, preventing boys educational underachievement, and saving men from a life of crime means that you are an MRA, then everyone with any common decency should be an MRA. I doubt that most people who support men’s mental health would consider themselves MRAs, but of course that won’t stop the label being bandied around.

In a way some opposition to a Male Psychology Section is understandable: 40 years ago the field of psychology was dominated by men, and was accused of taking a male-centric view of the world. However times have changed radically since then, and today 80% of clinical psychologists are women. I hope this doesn’t mean that psychology hasn’t become a field that no longer has compassion for men and boys.

 

If you think having a Male Psychology Section of the BPS is a good idea, you must vote before 20th June.

Details of how to vote are here: details here

 

 

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