Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys?

by Dr John Barry

The APA’s Division 51 (Men and Masculinities) recently released their guidelines for working with men and boys. While guidelines on this topic are much needed, the APA’s contribution leaves room for improvement. In this article I will outline issues with two of their 10 guidelines:

Guideline 1 of the APA guidelines suggests that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms”. However although it is true that masculinity is, in part, constructed, it is also partly innate.

What is the evidence that masculinity is, in part, innate? Well, sex differences in cognition and behaviour  are found worldwide, and their universality suggests something that transcends culture. Moreover, most of these clearly map onto masculinity. For example, the tendency to being more competitive, aggressive (physically), and interested in sports than women maps onto the male gender script of being a fighter and winner. The tendency to working longer hours, working in male-typical occupations, exploring the environment, more willing to take risks, maps onto the male gender script of being provider and protector.The tendency to show less fear, less crying, more inclined to substance abuse (self-medication) maps onto the male gender script of having mastery & control of one’s emotions.

The crucial point for therapy is that because some aspects of masculinity are innate, changing them is not a simple case of cognitive restructuring or behaviour change, any more than changing other deeply-held aspects of gender identity or sexual identity is straightforward or even desirable.

However we live in a culture steeped in the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’, telling us that there are ‘more similarities than differences’ between men and women. Of course this idea is not wholly untrue, but it typically deflects our attention away from the fact that it is the differences between men and women that ‘make all the difference’. Thus in many ways we are not encouraged to notice sex differences, and we might even experience cognitive dissonance if we are asked to focus on sex differences and consider the implications for, to take one example, treatment approaches in psychology.

Guideline 3 states that “in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society”. This statement is an example of what we have identified as gamma bias in psychology, a type of cognitive distortion in which examples of male privilege are magnified and female privilege is ignored or explained away. Examples of male disadvantage are boys’ educational achievement and the high rates of male suicide. Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs. In fact recent evidence has found that men are disadvantaged in many countries worldwide, especially those with medium to high levels of development.

Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.

As an alternative to guidelines 1 and 3, I would suggest that we recognise that masculinity is to some degree innate and potentially positive for mental health, and the vulnerabilities of male clients are more important to us, as therapists, than any hypothesised patriarchal power. We shouldn’t presume that the bad behaviour of the minority of men are representative of some underlying aspect of men in general, and we should recognise that negative views of men are a barrier to an appropriate level of therapeutic empathy.

I would encourage Division 51 to revise their guidelines to bring them in line with research evidence and common sense. I would also urge authors of any other guidelines relating to male mental health to make similar revisions. After all, men seek therapy less than women do even when suicidal, so we need to do what we can to make therapy more male-friendly.

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys? Well the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health offers practical advice to therapists and a more positive theoretical perspective on men’s mental health and male psychology in general. Guidelines based on this handbook will be issued soon, and I hope the 32 chapters offer therapists and academics a realistic and useful way of understanding and working with men.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys?

  1. Jennie Cummings-Knight
    Reply
    Jennie CK - January 11, 2019

    Well done JOHN and very well said!
    This is a message that needs repeating!
    Jennie

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - January 11, 2019

      Thanks Jennie. It’s a joint effort as you know, with people (like your good self) opening up the dialogue https://malepsychology.org.uk/2019/01/09/the-yin-of-being-looked-at-and-the-yang-of-looking/

      I am pretty sure that more and more of the silent majority are going to get on board soon, and bring some common sense and reality to discussions of gender.

  2. Reply
    Jon Lyford - January 11, 2019

    As someone who works in the field, this response to the APA backwards propaganda gives me a little hope that the profession can keep from sliding into the disrepute the “grievance studies,” and much of academia, have. Thanks!

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - January 11, 2019

      Thanks for your support Jon. Get in touch with me if you want to be on the newsletter mailing list, or want to become a member of the MPN.

  3. Reply
    Trygve Taranger - January 11, 2019

    Excellent piece as far as I can tell. There’s just one thing I would like to point out:
    “Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs.”
    It’s debatable whether it’s actually an advantage to come in on a quota. It might look that way on the surface, and for applicants who are capable enough it means more work, so it’s no wonder; It is an advantage for capable people trying to get a job. However, for people who actually needed the quota to get the job, it means that they wouldn’t be found qualified without it. Now that’s a problem, as it means that the unfortunate person who got in by quota is thrown into a situation he/she wouldn’t normally be expected to manage. Some people might successfully rise to the challenge, but I seriously doubt that would go for everyone. We should expect a fair number of the people who get a job by quota to struggle and ultimately become disillusioned, especially if the pool of applicants who could fill the quotas is significantly smaller than the pool of applicants who couldn’t. It’s a recipe for impostor-syndrome, isn’t it? And that’s without considering the people they work with, who will probably be aware of the quotas, and who might therefore question the ability of their new coworker.
    So: while it is an advantage for the quota-eligible applicants who are also capable, it’s more of a trap than an “advantage” for those who are not, at the expense of the overall quality the work if they were at all needed in the first place.

    1. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - January 11, 2019

      You make a very insightful point. I have heard women say that they don’t like gender quotas because they don’t want colleagues thinking that they only got the job because of their sex.

  4. Reply
    Lana - January 11, 2019

    Dr. Barry is off base in myriad ways. I’m a psychology grad student. Please read on for a woman’s perspective.

    I agree points #1 & 2, but not 3 where you state: “gamma bias in psychology, a type of ognitive distortion in which examples of male privilege are magnified and female privilege is ignored or explained away. Examples of male disadvantage are boys’educational achievement and the high rates of male suicide. Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs. In fact recent evidence has found that men are disadvantaged in many countries worldwide, especially those with medium to high levels of development.”

    First, when male privilege is being discussed, it is in terms of gendered oppression meaning men are oppressing women. There is no place in the world where women are oppressing men as a group. Men who are oppressed are oppressed by other more powerful men. Take up your grievances w/MEN. And even men who are disadvantaged are still abusive & oppressive jerks toward women because their insecurities of not living up 2 masculine expectations causes them to treat women poorly.Disadvantaged men r highly abusive (physically,verbally,sexually,financially).

    Second, women suffer about 2x more depression than men,&attempt suicide at 2 – 3x more than men,but men are just better at finishing the job cuz they use more violent means (i.e. guns).

    Third, boys/men’s low educational achievement is due to the fact that a.) throughout the years, we have EXPECTED LESS from boys & men, and it became apparent once girls/women entered academia & the workplace. Men were getting by doing mediocre in school & work until girls/women showed them up; 2.) we don’t expect boys/men to be strong physically/emotionally, be competitive/ambitious, rich, and providers & protectors anymore (largely because men don’t want to be and they feel overburdened). Instead, we tell them it is ok not to be these things because boys & men shouldn’t be overburdened.

    Fourth, lots of boys and men get hostile if you tell them to go into masculine competitive, money-making careers like business, law, &STEM. Just because there are quotas doesn’t mean women are surpassing men in these fields. It is that men want to be in less competitive, girly jobs where they can be home to chill & spend time w/their kids. And they don’t want to work hard to compete w/women 4 these jobs cuz they r so used to just flying by being mediocre.

    Fifth, Dr. Barry is complaining that women get lower prison sentences than men. How manly of him to resent women for not suffering more than they already do. Men commit most of the violent crimes in every nation around the world. U have like 90% of homicides being committed by men, & it is men who are mostly committing rape. As Dr. Barry states, men are more prone to aggression,thus,he shouldn’t be surprised that women get sentenced to less time behind bars. Women are are less violent on average, and less likely to re-offend in violent ways.But even more telling is how much the author resents women. Women haven’t gained as much privileges as men while men are doing even less for women & kids than they have ever done (i.e. women pay half the bills but r still expected to do unpaid traditional women’s care work), but Dr. Barry wants women to suffer & be burdened even more by being imprisoned as much as men!

    Dr. Barry continues: “Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.” OMG LOL

    The whole world for a millennia has had, and still does have, empathy for men’s feelings, needs, & wants to the detriment of women. Their
    woes are constantly posited as front &center.The APA guidelines for boys/men is the embodiment of misogyny/male privilege yet again centering men’s needs: “cut-men-more-slack-to-be-useless-to-women&kids&society- than-they-already-have-become-cuz-they-are-still-overburdened.” Unbelievable, when men misbehave and hurt women by either their abuse or by not being proper providers & protectors, women are told to coddle men. And now, we are being told to further coddle them by not pointing out their privilege which has oppressed women forever.

    1. Reply
      Kirk Kelln - January 12, 2019

      Lana, you have no idea what you’re talking about and could have proven as much with a lot fewer words. Brevity is a sign of intelligence – remember that. Furthermore, your lines of argument and word choice strongly suggest that you are not a product of medical training but, instead, are the malice of gender studies. Be honest with us: you hate men, don’t you?

    2. John Barry
      Reply
      John Barry - January 12, 2019

      I’m not trying to change your mind, but here are some thoughts on your comments:

      “First..There is no place in the world where women are oppressing men as a group.”
      …but somehow lots of places in the world where women are a lot better off than men (see reference in my article https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205349 ).

      “Second, women suffer about 2x more depression than men,&attempt suicide at 2 – 3x more than men,but men are just better at finishing the job cuz they use more violent means (i.e. guns).”
      It sounds like you are blaming the victim. I think male victims of suicide deserve more empathy than this.

      “Third, boys/men’s low educational achievement is due to the fact that a.) throughout the years, we have EXPECTED LESS from boys & men…”
      You will need to show me good evidence for this claim.

      “… and it became apparent once girls/women entered academia & the workplace. Men were getting by doing mediocre in school & work until girls/women showed them up”
      Please show your evidence for women showing up men in the workplace.

      “2.) we don’t expect boys/men to be strong physically/emotionally, be competitive/ambitious, rich, and providers & protectors anymore”
      Some people try to discourage masculinity, but that’s not the fault of boys/men.

      “Fourth, lots of boys and men get hostile if you tell them to go into masculine competitive, money-making careers like business, law, &STEM.”
      What is your evidence for this?

      “Just because there are quotas doesn’t mean women are surpassing men in these fields. It is that men want to be in less competitive, girly jobs where they can be home to chill & spend time w/their kids. And they don’t want to work hard to compete w/women 4 these jobs cuz they r so used to just flying by being mediocre”
      What is your evidence for this?

      “Fifth, Dr. Barry is complaining that women get lower prison sentences than men. How manly of him to resent women for not suffering more than they already do [etc]”
      A transparent attempt at shaming a man into backing down from a valid point about gender. I have already given evidence to support my point – why don’t you address the evidence instead of using shaming tactics?

      “Dr. Barry continues: “Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.” OMG LOL
      Are you saying “OMG LOL” because you think empathy for men with mental health problems is a joke?

      “The whole world for a millennia has had, and still does have, empathy for men’s feelings, needs, & wants to the detriment of women.”
      If this was true, then how do you explain https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0205349 The gender empathy gap, which favours women, probably has evolutionary roots based on ‘male disposability’ https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/publication/1198970/1

      Like I said, I am not trying to change your mind, but please be aware that other people have valid opinions on this topic even if you disagree with their opinions and hearing their opinions makes you feel frustrated.

  5. Dr. Michael Mills
    Reply
    Michael Mills - January 12, 2019

    Lana, I’m afraid you really didn’t add much except to throw in a few ad hominems and gender tropes.

    I left APA decades ago exactly because of this type of conflation of what is scientifically correct and what is politically correct. The Division 51 guidelines noted above are primarily expressions of the latter. Basing policy or ‘guidelines’ on what is scientifically incorrect will virtually insure that interventions, however well intentioned, are bound to be sub-optimal, or fail outright.

  6. Reply
    Ormond Otvos - January 13, 2019

    Thanks to http://www.jordanbpeterson.com for referencing this article.
    Remediation for past decades of unwarranted male-bashing is overdue.
    Can’t we all just get along?

  7. John Barry
    Reply
    John Barry - January 13, 2019

    ‘Just getting along’ is a nice idea Ormond. The first step is for everyone to accept and value gender differences instead of trying to make a ‘one-size-fits-all’ world which fits only a minority of people.

    I think the concept of yin and yang is very relevant here, and something we can all learn from (e.g. Jennie’s recent blog https://malepsychology.org.uk/2019/01/09/the-yin-of-being-looked-at-and-the-yang-of-looking/ ). Let’s appreciate differences and learn how to get the most from people by encouraging their strengths in a positive direction, not trying to deny difference or harshly judge normal attributes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top