Originally published in The Psychologist magazine June 2018 as ‘Pioneering new ways to reach men and boys’, published online 9th May 2018 [here]
by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Martin Seager (Central London Samaritans), John Barry (UCL), and trainee health psychologist Louise Liddon write on behalf of the Male Psychology Section.
The nation sighed and cooed recently when Prince Louis was born. Some might presume that he will live a protected life of privilege if only because he is royal. But what sort of world will a boy of his generation be growing up in when it comes to attitudes to the male gender?
In education, boys across all social strata have been falling behind girls for around three decades. In the UK today young men make up less than 40 per cent of those in higher education. However, society seems blind to this issue and there are no policies or interventions to address it.
Boys today are also growing up in a culture that talks openly about ‘toxic masculinity’, where the awful things that a minority of damaged men do are presumed to be typical of the whole male gender. This stigmatising narrative must surely be impacting negatively on the identity and self-esteem of boys in our schools and communities.
As psychologists we should be eager to debunk irrational ideas about gender, but this doesn’t happen often enough. Instead our profession remains unresponsive to the need for teaching and research on male gender issues, and consequently toxic assumptions and attitudes towards the male gender are perpetuated. It is perhaps therefore unsurprising that only 20 per cent of clinical psychologists these days are male, though what need is not simply more psychologists who are male, but more psychologists who can be male-centric.
Although men make up 75 per cent of suicides, and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, men are less likely than women to seek help from psychologists. Men make up 85 per cent of rough sleepers, 95 per cent of the prison population, 75 per cent of addicts, 40 per cent of reported domestic abuse victims and 97 per cent of those who die at work. And yet as a society, we provide almost no services for male victims whilst at the same time chastise men for not seeking help. We are a caring and scientific profession, yet we are doing almost nothing about these issues in terms of research, teaching or service provision.
As professional psychologists, we should be better than this. We could be exploring these problems and leading the way to solutions. We know about cognitive biases, prejudices and distortions, and pride ourselves in respecting diversity, but we need to apply this knowledge to solving the festering social problems that this new generation is being born into.
Let’s together pioneer new ways of reaching men and boys in need of our help. A Male Psychology Section of the BPS is urgently needed to create the research, teaching and interventions that can help boys and men, and by extension help also the women and girls who share their lives. We encourage all psychologists – men and women – to join us in this venture. Please vote positively and please get involved!