Open post

When words HURT

by Miles Groth, PhD

Physical injuries may heal, although their consequences may remain painful for decades. Emotional trauma, which is often a concomitant, may be far less obvious, especially among boys and men. Boys typically are socialized to avoid admitting they have been shocked, confused and enraged by physical and verbal attacks, especially over the long term, and especially when the attacks began during infancy or early childhood and are delivered by someone who is presumed to love them.

Recently (April 2018), I presented a paper in Frankfurt at a conference on interpersonal violence between males and females in intimate partner relationships. The congress was international, organized to draw to the attention of individuals engaged in research and treatment of domestic violence victims just how much male victims are overlooked by the services available.

The audience (and most people, I believe) were surprised to learn that about 40% of men have experienced such aggression, compared to about 60% of women. They rarely report it, however.

My contribution focused on what sort of therapy is most appropriate for such individuals. Briefly, I propose an existential approach—what I term daseintherapy—that would complement standard treatments including medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. The term ‘Dasein’ is not unknown among humanistic psychologists, but it requires definition here. ‘Dasein’ is German for ‘existence’—in its specialized usage applying only to human beings—and carries the additional meaning of a way of life about which the individual has knowledge, whether it is conscious to him or “not consciously known” (Freud’s famous unconscious). The term ‘Dasein’ highlights that actual experience and related behavior emerge against the background of a set of possibilities that characterize the unique situation of a person.

To be a man in contemporary Western culture—from the States, to Canada and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and most urban European settings—is to be in a unique situation in which ambiguity about gender and sex, sexuality, social roles, and personal responsibility is pervasive. Existential therapy—therapy of a person’s Dasein (existence) when the possibilities of being human are grounded in having a male body—is effective when a man has experienced emotionally wounding aggression because it aspires to be non-interventional. Even words, it turns out, no matter how kindly and gently they are offered by the therapist, are often experienced as challenging to males when they have been exposed to chronic aggression. Such men fail to hear what is said and expect what is said to them to be critical and even harmful.

If words themselves, which are the medium of psychotherapy, are “tuned out” as readily as a gesture directed against someone causes him to blink and raise a defensive hand because the gesture is expected to land as physical blow, the therapist must find a way to be there with the person that has one goal: to make way for the person to recover his own present. Anxiety is the sign of a yearning to be in the future; depression suggests not only sadness but also being stuck in a past that seems to be fossilized. To relocate himself in his present is the desideratum of working with boys and men who have been brutalized.

There is much to be said about the comparative lack of success with men in traditional modalities of psychotherapy, ranging from psychoanalytic psychotherapies to cognitive-behavioral therapies. Pharmacotherapy may be valuable for the short-term, but when the treatment is with words alone, the special experience of men—both in general, since they are encouraged to express themselves in violent ways, including contact sports, and in particular when they have been the recipient of emotionally and physical aggression with individuals who are close to them—requires that we consider an approach to counseling and psychotherapy with them that takes into consideration the socialization practices and expectations of what it is to be a boy or man in contemporary society.

 

About the author

Miles Groth, PhD. Professor, Department of Psychology, Wagner College, New York, US.  Founding Editor, New Male Studies (Australian Institute for Men’s Health and Studies) (emeritus)

Author, After Psychotherapy (New York: ENI Press, 2017)

 

You can vote now (7th May – 20th June) for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.

Details here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

 

 

Open post

Children’s colour blindness is not a black and white issue

by Dr Brenda Todd, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, City University of London.

Originally published on the BPS Developmental Psychology Section blog spot, 26/04/2018 [here]

 

In the average classroom, two or more children will look into a box of coloured pencils and only be able to recognise four of the colours. That is because one in 12 boys and one in 200 girls are red-green colour blind. In many cases their colour blindness will go undiagnosed for years, and they will be seen as ‘slow’ by teachers and teased by schoolmates.

According to a review of this topic by Chan et al (2014), colour blind children might become socially withdrawn, and fall into dysfunctional coping strategies (such as guessing colours, or avoiding subjects that require normal colour vision) that can last throughout the lifespan. These maladaptive coping strategies may be exacerbated in an educational system where routine screening for colour blindness isn’t carried out in schools, and where the needs of colour blind children are often neglected in lessons and exams.

There are many situations, cited by Chan et al, in which colour blind children experience embarrassing difficulties, for example:

Maths: problems understanding colour-coded graphs and charts

Biology: unable to accurately read stained slides under microscope, identify plant species,

carry out dissections accurately, understand coloured diagrams

Physics: experience difficulty with coloured wiring, use of prisms, coloured diagrams

Chemistry: unable to read litmus paper accurately, identify colours of different chemical solutions, identify metals by colour of flame produced when burned

Sports and play: cannot differentiate team colours

Art class: unable to appreciate how colours are mixed, unable to use colour appropriately

School meals: deemed ‘fussy eaters’ because the colour of some foods appear to be unpalatable

As colour blind boys and grow up, the condition and the psychological impact it can impose on them, has the potential to diminish their quality of life as well as limit their choice of career (Barry et al, 2017).

Given that colour blindness has so many dimensions of potential concern to a large number of individuals, families and schools, you might think that taking action on colour blindness is a black and white issue. But if so, why aren’t more developmental psychologists working in this field? Perhaps, as Seager et al (2016) suggest, we currently suffer from another type of blindness, ‘male gender blindness’, which means that we tend not to notice when boys are having difficulties as much as we notice problems for girls. Perhaps we think that boys are better able to cope or are less likely to appreciate being helped – or that they are simply being disruptive.

Whether you agree with this explanation or not, I believe we need to take a fresh perspective on topics in psychology that are sensitive to gender differences, and consider how such differences might affect the children and adults who experience them. A greater awareness of the potential difficulties, and a school-based strategy to address them early in life, can open up opportunities to improve outcomes. Hopefully, the creation of a Male Psychology Section of the BPS – the national ballot is taking place in May – will enable us to turn our attention to some of the concerns which particularly affect the development of boys and can have lifelong consequences for them. Some would say this Section is long overdue, given that we have had a Psychology of Women Section since 1988, and the APA have had a Division for men’s psychology since 1995.

 

You can vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.

Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

Biography

Dr Brenda Todd is Senior Lecturer in Psychology, City University of London. Brenda presented her research findings on gender differences in children’s toy preferences at the Male Psychology Conference in 2014, and has since published a meta-analysis and meta-regression on this topic [linked here]

References

Barry, J. A., Mollan, S., Burdon, M. A., Jenkins, M., & Denniston, A. K. (2017). Development and validation of a questionnaire assessing the quality of life impact of Colour Blindness (CBQoL). BMC ophthalmology, 17(1), 179.

Chan, X. B. V., Goh, S. M. S., & Tan, N. C. (2014). Subjects with colour vision deficiency in the community: what do primary care physicians need to know? Asia Pacific Family Medicine, 13(1), 10.

Seager MJ, Barry JA & Sullivan L (2016). Challenging male gender blindness: Why psychologists should be leading the way. Clinical Psychology Forum, 285, 35 – 40.

 

 

 

Open post

Prostate cancer and men’s wellbeing

by Dr Kenneth Gannon, Clinical Research Director, University of East London.

This year two reports appeared that demonstrate the impact of prostate cancer on men. Data from Prostate Cancer UK revealed that it has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, with almost 12,000 men dying from it every year.  Strikingly, more men now die from this disease than do women from breast cancer.  Separate data from the men’s health charity Orchid showed that over a third of prostate cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage and that over 40% of men with the disease experience delays in diagnosing it.  These figures apply to men generally, but there are also important differences between groups of men.  The most striking of these is the fact that African Caribbean men have almost a three-times greater risk of developing the disease than white men.  They also develop the disease, on average, at a younger age and in a more aggressive form.

Prostate cancer is clearly a very significant physical health issue for men, but it also poses major psychological challenges for them and those close to them.  These challenges occur at each stage of the cancer “journey”, from noticing symptoms to undergoing tests through receiving a diagnosis and undergoing treatment to life after treatment.

Prostate cancer is not always accompanied by clear and distinct symptoms and a number of studies have shown that men are, in any case, poorly informed about the prostate itself and the nature and risk of prostate cancer.  This means that they are unlikely to be prompted to consult their GP on the basis of clear and well-understood symptoms. The fact that there is no reliable and effective screening tool for prostate cancer, as there is for breast and bowel cancers, compounds this.  Men can request a blood test (called the PSA test), which detects the presence of a protein associated with prostate cancer.  However, current advice tends to recommend that GPs discuss the costs and benefits of this, largely with the aim of dissuading men  from having it, because positive results are not definitive and result in further unpleasant and potentially risky tests such as digital rectal examination and transrectal biopsies. Research indicates that these tests are especially aversive for some groups of men, such as Latinos and African Caribbean men, because of anxieties associating anal penetration with homosexuality.

If testing confirms the presence of prostate cancer men are faced with further difficult and fraught decisions.  There is currently no “gold standard” treatment available and what men are offered will depend on the speciality and preferences of the clinician they consult, in addition to objective considerations such as the rate of growth and the clinical stage of the tumor.  All treatments entail significant and distressing side effects.  Tumors that are confined to the prostate are usually treated with surgery and some form of radiation treatment.  These generally result in temporary and sometimes permanent erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence as well as other effects, including retrograde ejaculation and shortening of the penis.  Tumors that have spread beyond the prostate may be treated with drugs aimed at reducing the circulating levels of androgens.  These are associated with symptoms similar to the menopause in women along with weight gain and gynomastia.

These side effects have in common the fact that they affect characteristics that, in many cultures and certainly the developed West, are seen as key signifiers of masculinity.  For this reason psychologists have drawn attention to the ways in which dominant understandings of what it is to be a man (referred to as hegemonic masculinity) shape men’s response to diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.  It is certainly the case that very many men struggle to come to terms with the consequences of even successful treatments for prostate cancer.  Research has shown that concerns about urinary and sexual function are associated with greater levels of psychological distress. The side effects can be distressing for any man, but often particularly so for African Caribbean and African American men, in part  because they are often much younger than white men when they develop the disease and therefore live with the side effects for longer.  Interestingly, studies indicate that the female partners of men with prostate cancer report greater levels of distress than the men.

Having started with the bad news about mortality and missed diagnoses it is important to emphasise that the picture for prostate cancer is broadly positive.  Treatments continue to improve and survival rates are good. This means, however, that more and more men are living with the side effects described above and many of these men and their partners are in need of support.  Returning to the metaphor of a journey, there is a real need for psychological involvement at all stages, from diagnosis, through making decisions about treatment to living as a survivor.

You can vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.

Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

Biography

Dr Kenneth Gannon is the Clinical Research Director and Research Degree Leader at the University of East London. Ken presented his work at the 2015 Male Psychology Conference at University College London (UCL). His book chapter will appear in the forthcoming Handbook of Male Psychology: Theory and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan) in 2019. Contact k.n.gannon@uel.ac.uk

Reference
Prostate Cancer UK (2018). We call on UK to step up as new figures show prostate cancer now a bigger killer than breast cancer. Accessed online 7th May 2018 on the internet [here]

 

 

 

 

Open post

Discovering the Passion and Generativity that Drive Men’s Happiness

by Dr Paul Dobransky

Erik Erikson is cited as espousing that one’s source of happiness comes from “the capacity to work, and the capacity to love.”

Now we have empirical evidence that relationship quality and job satisfaction have a significant impact on men’s happiness, as demonstrated by the Harry’s Masculinity Reports on men in the UK and US.

We also know that when relationship quality and job satisfaction go wrong, this can lead to poor mental health and even suicide, not to mention collateral damage to the lives of spouses, children, and communities. Three quarters of all suicides in the UK in 2016 were by males, a majority by hanging, and in the US in 2016, seven of ten suicides are by white males, a majority by gunshot wound, the highest rate being in middle age, at a cost of 69 Billion Dollars, annually.

While men are well known to avoid mental health treatment, they appear to be suffering to the degree that any rational person would desperately seek help, not shun it.

Rather than living in silence, men might take more notice if there were more inspirational stories available to them that spoke directly to their unique experiences and troubles. The data and theory on men’s depression might intersect on the stage of such dramas, especially those with themes of “work” and “love.”

One word is a good candidate to define a link between these two drivers of men’s happiness, and that word is, “passion.”

We relish our “passion for life.” Our sense of “survival,” or “being alive.”

This word also draws our minds to high-quality work that we strive for: our “life’s passion,” or our “passion project.” Many men consider the process of progressive achievement in their work efforts to be more representative of their actual, true “self,” their “identity,” than their physical body is. Men are their “life’s work,” or “body of work.”

Yet people also say that they feel passionate when referring to romance, love, sex – as in the feelings we have for a deeply desired other.

It is then, passion – what is life-affirming about satisfying work and fulfilling love relationships – which is part of the cure for the depression and melancholy that rob so many of the feeling of being fully alive.

An example of two parables that inform us on the lives of men and their sense of passion are Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de St Exupery, and a reinterpretation of the story of The Pearl of Great Price from the Christian Bible.

The Little Prince is a tale of both the horrors of war and the rescue of the human spirit from it, through love and friendship. It centers us on the symbol of the Rose, which throughout art and history has represented passionate romantic devotion. The lessons of love learned from the Little Prince’s struggle with “his rose” teach men timeless and useful principles of romance, and its pitfalls.

If there were one practical maxim in the parable of the rose in The Little Prince, it would be:

“Love the one you’re with.” – that we cannot truly love “roses,” plural, but only “our rose.” A focus on the one, special other in our lives, causes us to grow more mature and resilient through the lessons learned with one, long-time love.

In so doing, men make inroads in subduing their own narcissism, overcoming their jealousy and competition with others, and growing the character maturity to become both a generative but also, self-respecting partner.

However, “love is not enough,” to sustain our happiness.

The tale of “The Pearl of Great Price,” from the Christian Bible – can be interpreted for men seizing an opportunity of both great cost and great reward – but also taking a leap of faith in one’s self, willing to “bet it all” on a “life’s passion.”

The passage says:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

At the time this parable was written, a pearl was considered the “deal of a lifetime” to a merchant – a man with a challenging career for that time period, only for those who could stomach the risk.

A pearl is also symbolic of great value acquired through strenuous effort, or even suffering – much as the irritation of an oyster by a single grain of sand, over many years, produces the scar tissue that becomes a pearl.

The parable warns that those who do not believe in the kingdom of heaven enough to bet their whole future on it are unworthy of the kingdom. Likewise, men who do not recognize an opportunity knocking – unique to them and their life’s passion – or who simply can’t, or won’t act upon it, may suffer the melancholic bitterness of failure.

One “pearl of wisdom” we can pull from it is:

“Go for it!” – seizing a clear opportunity, the moment it arises, with all you have in you.

The same lesson was once written by John Anster in his translation of the philosopher, Goethe:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; for in boldness, there is genius, power, and magic.”

Such inspiration helps men take personal agency in the definitive cure of their own mood problems, through stories of independent thought and achievement.

What if “passion” – vitality in the male experience of life, is precisely what “masculinity” is?

Such Jungian analysts as Jean Shinoda Bolen have written of “masculine archetypes” seen in world literature and myth. What if we could dig even deeper to find actual “masculine instincts” that can be systematically codified, and developed into repeatable, reliable, therapeutic models that help men more successfully overcome mood problems?

Men would seek out treatment, willingly, even eagerly, because they could shun the natural male shame and stigma of “getting help,” to instead embrace autonomy in healing.

Therapy then becomes a life-affirming discussion that speaks to their deepest sense of identity.

You can vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.

Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

_________________________

Dr Paul Dobransky is a psychiatrist from the US, specializing in the psychology of love, work, and character growth. He is author of the book, The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love, from Penguin/Plume. Dr Paul will be giving a talk on this topic at UCL on June 1st, where he will go into more depth with Q&A. Therapists and members of the public – men and women – are welcome to attend.

Dr Paul will be giving a lecture at UCL on Friday June 1st 6.30pm. This is a free event, and tickets can be booked [here]

References

http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Harrys-Masculnity-Report-2017.pdf

Gods in Everyman: Archetypes That Shape Men’s Lives, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, Harper Paperbacks, July 14, 2014 (new edition.)

 

 

 

Open post

Challenging the illusion that men don’t need help

Originally published in the BPS magazine The Psychologist 30th Jan 2017 here https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/challenging-illusion-men-dont-need-help

Written by John Barry, University College London,  Louise Liddon, University of Northumbria, Roger Kingerlee, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and Martin Seager, Central London Samaritans

‘So what’s your research about?’

‘Gender differences in preferences for therapy’.

‘Oh, you mean like how women want to talk about their feelings and men just want a quick solution?’

I couldn’t have been more gobsmacked if I had been talking to Derren Brown. This clinical psychologist had – without realising it – summarised the key finding of one of the two posters I was about to put up at the recent Division of Clinical Psychology conference in Liverpool. And the display of mind-reading kept going for the next two days. Between myself and my co-authors, Louise Liddon and Roger Kingerlee, we spoke with about 30 psychologists, and without exception they were able to relate our research findings to their clinical experience.

I have learned to see male psychology as the Cinderella (Cinder Fella?) of the psychology world. In fact it is likely that we collectively experience ‘male gender blindness,’ which makes it more difficult for us to see male suffering than female suffering. Like the rabbit/duck optical illusion, people typically see only one side of the picture unless prompted to see the other. But here I was, standing in a room full of psychologists saying, in effect, ‘hmmm… ok yeah, there is a duck there too’. It seemed that my research described something they were already vaguely aware of but hadn’t fully realised, and once they saw it they were fascinated.

So let’s rid ourselves of illusions: it’s not a question of whether it’s a rabbit or a duck – it’s both. And it’s not a question of whether we should focus on male or female issues – we need to focus on both, and be mindful of the variations inbetween. Until now, our collective lack of focus on the male part of the problem has allowed elephants in the room like the high male suicide rate and boys falling behind in education to continue unchallenged.

So the DCP conference was a refreshing change from the norm. And it wasn’t only the psychologists who took an interest, there was an unusual amount of media attention too, suggesting that the public are ahead of academia in appreciating that men and women are – shock horror – different in some ways. That’s not to say that men and women are completely different, but if men kill themselves at 3.5 times the rate women do, and seek therapy less than women do, then it could be that the differences are relevant for how we provide mental health services.

It will be interesting to see what happens in early April when BPS members receive the ballot paper to vote for a new section of the BPS dedicated to male psychology i.e. the study of psychological issues predominantly facing men and boys. Male psychology needs female participants and researchers, and ultimately the result of the vote should be a win-win for both sexes.

 

Vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.

Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

 

 

 

Open post

How involved are men in ‘involved fathering’?

by Dr Robin Hadley.

Over the past few decades fatherhood and fathering has received an increasing amount of attention from academics, practitioners, stakeholders, and in all forms of media and the public. Fathering types range from house-husbands, primary parent, social father to men who have limited or no contact with their children. In many societies the views of men’s parenting roles has moved on from the traditional ‘provider/disciplinarian’ to an ideal of ‘involved fatherhood’. In these societies, men are encouraged and expected to be both intimate and involved parents. The importance of paternal relationships on a child’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing has been thoroughly established.

Although there is a rise in the number of ‘stay-at-home-dads’ in the UK it is difficult to give an accurate figure on how many there are (Adams, 2015). However, there is growing recognition that the reality of ‘involved fathering’ is quite different from the ideal. Factors preventing father’s accomplishing their desired level of involvement include ‘…societal attitudes, issues relating to the development of their baby, economic barriers, a lack of support from healthcare practitioners and government policies…’ (Machin, 2015, p. 36). For example, the fathers’ in Machin study reported receiving support only during their child’s birth, suggesting a lack of support from NHS staff before and after the birth (Machin, 2015, p. 48).

Many men feel the government’s current policies only ‘paid lip service’ to the involvement of fathers (Machin, 2015, p. 54).  Similarly, a review found that men felt excluded and isolated from the processes of pregnancy and childbirth and the business of infant feeding, as demonstrated by the paucity of health promotion material aimed at men, and the  side-lining of men in antenatal classes (Earle and Hadley, 2018). It is interesting how the majority of those factors are socio-structural, and highlight the embeddedness of traditional masculine stereotypes within establishments such as the government and the NHS. For example, although paternal depression has a comparable effect as maternal depression – a decrease in positive and an increase negative behaviours (Wilson and Durbin, 2010) – there is comparatively little support.

Men who challenge prescriptive stereotypes, for example, gay men, house-husbands, and male primary school teachers, are often subject to discrimination, exclusion, isolation, mistrust, and stigmatisation by men and women (Letherby, 2012, Hadley, 2017). The practice of ‘hegemonic masculinities’ has been much discussed in sociological, and health research. Research has shown male patients that do not conform to masculine stereotypes can be viewed negatively by health professionals (Seymour-Smith et al., 2002, Robertson, 2007, Dolan, 2013). Healthcare practitioners have been recorded ‘othering’ male patients who do not conform to gender norms of invincibility and bravery (Watson, 2000, Dolan, 2013, Gough and Robertson, 2010, Hugill, 2012).

Men are typically seen to have an ambivalent attitude to health and to accessing health services (Williams, 2010, Robertson, 2007). Men’s health behaviours have been strongly linked with the hegemonic masculine ideal of stoicism and risk taking. The stereotypical constructions surrounding men and masculinity entail men being independent, virile, assertive, strong, emotionally restricted and robust. Although the ideal of ‘involved fathering’ is promoted, it is undermined by ambivalent structural support and societal practices. This highlights the relationship between individual agency and the institutionalisation of ideal gender norms. The impact of stereotypical gender norms delivered through healthcare raises the question ‘How much of the reason for men not accessing healthcare is due to the healthcare providers?’ Is it the case that it is healthcare that does not access men rather than men who do not access healthcare.

 

You can vote now for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.

Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

About the author
Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is presenting at the Male Psychology Conference his poster on how ‘anxious childhood attachment significantly predicts childlessness in later life’


References

Adams, J. (2015) ‘It’s official; stay at home dads do not exist’, dadbloguk.com. Available at: https://dadbloguk.com/its-official-stay-at-home-dads-do-not-exist/ 2018].

Dolan, A. ‘‘I never expected it to be me’: Men’s experiences of infertility’. Men, Infertility and Infertility Treatment Seminar. 29th November 2013, University of Warwick: ESRC.

Earle, S. and Hadley, R. A. (2018) ‘A systematic review of men’s views and experiences of infant feeding: implications for midwifery practice’, MIDRIS: Midwifery Digest, 28(1), pp. 91-97.

Gough, B. and Robertson, S. (2010) Men, Masculinities and Health: Critical Perspectives. Basingstoke: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.

Hadley, R. A. (2017) ‘“I’m missing out and I think I have something to give”: experiences of older involuntarily childless men’, Working with Older People, 0(0), pp. 1 – 11.

Hugill, K. (2012) ‘The ‘auto/biographical’ method and its potential to contribute to nursing research’, Nurse Researcher, 20(2), pp. 28-32.

Letherby, G. (2012) ‘”Infertility” and “Involuntary Childlessness”: Losses, Ambivalences and Resolutions’, in Earle, S., Komaromy, C. & Layne, L. (eds.) Understanding Reproductive Loss: Perspectives on Life, Death and Fertility. Farnham: Ashgate Publications Limited, pp. 9-21.

Machin, A. J. (2015) Mind the Gap: The expectation and reality of involved fatherhood.

Robertson, S. (2007) Understanding Men and Health: Masculinities, Identity and Well-being. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Seymour-Smith, S., Wetherell, M. and Phoenix, A. (2002) ‘‘My Wife Ordered Me to Come!’: A Discursive Analysis of Doctors’ and Nurses’ Accounts of Men’s Use of General Practitioners’, Journal of Health Psychology, 7(3), pp. 253-267.

Watson, J. (2000) Male Bodies: health, culture, and identity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Williams, R. (2010) ‘The Health Experiences of African-Caribbean and White Worling-Class Fathers’, in Gough, B. & Robertson, S. (eds.) Men, Masculinities and Health: Critical Perspectives. Basingstoke: Basingstoke, pp. 143-158.

Wilson, S. and Durbin, C. E. (2010) ‘Effects of paternal depression on fathers’ parenting behaviors: A meta-analytic review’, Clinical Psychology Review, 30(2), pp. 167-180.

 

 

 

Open post

New prince in a toxic climate

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!

Vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.
Details are here
http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

 

 

Open post

Is masculinity in crisis? Masculinity and mental health in the UK today

First published in The World Today as ‘Loosening the male stiff upper lip’, Dec & Jan 2017/18 edition, available here

 

Without a doubt, men are capable of doing bad things. Horrifying things. We fill newspapers each day with the bad things men do. Some of this bad behaviour may be associated with the failure of men to adapt to cultural shifts since the 1960s, which have redefined their role in society. Indeed, it is common for people to talk about a crisis in masculinity, and even more ominously, of ‘toxic masculinity’.

The study of masculinity in psychology began in the 1990s and developed a deficit model, focusing mainly on problems attributed to masculinity. For example, masculinity was said to impose on men a narrow set of values and views, which leads to problems such as misogyny and homophobia. The crisis in masculinity today is said to be about men struggling to find their place in a world that no longer values the traditional male role of the breadwinner and stoical defender of the family. In 2013, Diane Abbott, the current shadow home secretary, described how rapid social change has left today’s men in a cultural tornado of traditional values, pornography and male cosmetics. She suggested that the path forward is a combination of a more flexible view of masculinity, strengthening the bond between fathers and children, and improving educational and career outcomes for men, but without making this a required part of masculinity.

A few months ago I led a survey of 2,000 men born or resident in the British Isles (Barry & Daubney, 2017). We asked these men which core values were most important to them. We also asked them about the importance they place on values around various aspects of life – for example, work, romance, education − and we assessed how much their values were related to their mental wellbeing.I  that men rated qualities such as honesty and reliability over adventurousness and athleticism. The most important predictors of their wellbeing were job satisfaction and being in a stable relationship. Other predictors were valuing health as a way to live longer, personal authenticity and being like their father. These findings suggest that if there is a masculinity crisis, it is a crisis facing those men who don’t enjoy their work, don’t have a stable relationship, don’t value their health, don’t feel good about themselves and don’t want to be like their father.

We might conclude from my survey that we need more occupational psychologists to help men feel good about work, couples counsellors to help men achieve stable relationships, and so on. These might help, but we need to bear in mind the research telling us that when men have problems, they are less inclined than women to want to talk about their feelings as a way of coping (Matud, 2004). This reluctance to talk about feelings is often interpreted as a stubborn clinging to traditional male stoicism, but this interpretation is not particularly useful to psychologists, for two reasons. Firstly, we are failing to be ‘client-centred’ or empathic in the way that we would normally be, in that when it comes to men we generally fail to appreciate and meet the client’s needs for therapy, and instead we expect them to adapt to our idea of what therapy should be. Secondly, we are presuming that men should talk about their feelings in the same way that women tend to. Evidence, however, suggests that although men benefit from talking about their feelings, the approach required might be more indirect than with women.  For examle, men may prefer to open up about their feelings while engaging in other activities rather than talking as an end in itself, or have a different ‘port of entry’ to talking about feelings, such as by focusing on problem solving initially and talking about feelings later (Holloway et al, in review). Though we usually see men’s sexuality as a problem, recent research has found that men are more likely than women to use sex and pornography as ways of coping with stress. These are complex issues, but ones that we need to address if we are to support men’s mental health.

Given the high rates of suicide among men, and other signs of mental health issues − such as substance abuse and anti-social behaviour − any crisis of masculinity is not being alleviated by the inertia of the psychology profession when it comes to understanding the mental health needs of men. To paraphrase what the comedian Mo Gilligan said at the launch of the Harry’s Masculinity Report at Westminster in November this year: ‘If I’m feeling depressed and someone says to me “open up”, I just say “I’m fine” and shut down. But if my friends challenge me about my mood with a bit of banter, I open up.’ To say that men commit suicide because they stubbornly refuse to talk about their feelings sounds more like victim blaming than an intelligent attempt to understand men.

If men in Britain are in crisis, we are probably not helping by taking a negative view of masculinity, for example by labelling certain behaviours as ‘toxic masculinity’. From what we know about research into self-fulfilling prophecy, ‘giving a dog a bad name’ only makes behaviour worse (Sharma & Sharma, 2015). We don’t talk about toxic Islam or toxic Blackness for the obvious reason that such terms inevitably lend themselves to being extended unfairly from extreme cases to the entire group. On the other hand, learning to see the good things about masculinity may well allow for better mental health and behavioural outcomes for men.

Positive psychology is a relatively new field, and its application to masculinity has yet to be properly explored. I think that it is time that we followed the lead of psychologists such as Mark Kiselica and Matt Englar-Carlson in the United States, and experts in the Male Psychology Network in the UK, such as Martin Seager, and take a more positive view of masculinity (e.g. Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010). Recognizing the good things about men and masculinity doesn’t mean ignoring the bad things men do, or ignoring the problems facing other demographic groups. But if masculinity is in crisis, let’s show some compassion and be part of the solution.

 

You can vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.
Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

References

Abbott, D. (2013). Britain’s crisis of masculinity’. A Demos Twentieth Birthday Lecture, Magdalen House, London16www.demos.co.uk/files/DianeAbbottspeech16May2013.pdf

Barry, J. A. & Daubney, M. (2017). The Harry’s Masculinity Report. http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-Harrys-Masculnity-Report-2017.pdf

Holloway, K., Seager, M., & Barry, J. A. (in review). Are clinical psychologists and psychotherapists overlooking the gender-related needs of their clients?

Kiselica, M. S., & Englar-Carlson, M. (2010). Identifying, affirming, and building upon male strengths: The positive psychology/positive masculinity model of psychotherapy with boys and men. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(3), 276. http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-20923-002

Liddon, L., Kingerlee, R., & Barry, J. A. (2017). Gender differences in preferences for psychological treatment, coping strategies, and triggers to help‐seeking. British Journal of Clinical Psychology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjc.12147/full 

Matud, M. P. (2004). Gender differences in stress and coping styles. Personality and individual differences, 37(7), 1401-1415 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886904000200

Sharma, N., & Sharma, K. (2015). ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’: A Literature Review. International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies (IJIMS)2(3), 41-42.  http://www.ijims.com/uploads/785e9b598a2e5fcd04ef157.pdf

 

Biography of author

John Barry is one of the founders of the Male Psychology Network. After completing his PhD in psychological aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome, he joined University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health at the UCL Medical School in 2011. Since then he has published over 50 papers in various peer-reviewed journals, including in international-standard journals in gynaecology, cardiology and ophthalmology. Prompted by the considerable suicide rates among men and the establishment’s inertia in dealing with men’s mental health problems, in 2011 John led an independent research programme investigating the mental health needs of men and boys. John specialises in research methods (especially surveys and questionnaire development) and statistical analysis (e.g. meta-analysis, meta-regression), currently practices clinical hypnosis on a part-time basis and is an honorary lecturer with the Department of Psychology, University College London. Email john.barry@ucl.ac.uk

 

 

 

Open post

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

 

 

Open post

The boys are back in town… because they dropped out of university.

Dr John Barry & Professor Gijsbert Stoet

It is now well known that boys in school and at university do not do as well as girls. The same is seen around the world. Therefore, a recently educational UNESCO report (2018) argued that in order to achieve true gender equality, it is important not to forget about the boys! Here we ask what specific contributions psychologists can make to help boys succeed in education.

 

Some quick facts about boys and education first

The academic underperformance of boys cuts across all social strata and geographies (Curnock-Cook, 2016). It starts early and continues through all educational levels (Stoet & Yang, 2016). Apart from the loss of potential economic benefits of a better educated workforce (OECD, 2013), educational underachievement can have personal costs to individuals and to society, especially when underachievement turns into delinquency and crime (Shader, 2004).

Boys are roughly twice as likely as girls to have special educational needs (SENs) such as dyslexia (Department for Education, 2016) and four more times likely to suffer from stuttering (Halpern, 2012). The DoE figures for SEN do not include colour blindness, which is about 16 times more common in boys, and may interfere with educational achievement and career choice (Todd, 2018). Further, boys display far more frequently difficult behaviour at school, which can be related to underlying attentional problems, such as ADHD (DuPaul & Stoner, 2014).

Boys’ reading and writing skills are delayed and continue to be less good than those of girls throughout education. For example, in the last GCSE results found 12.7% of girls and 5.6% of boys got the highest grade (A) in English. Some educators suggest that boys should not be made to learn to read as early as girls, because early failure may be damaging to self-confidence (Curtis, 2007).

The educational disadvantages of boys increment over time. The result is that more boys than girls drop out from school, and far fewer boys ultimately participate in the A levels or go to university. In the UK in 2015, for every 10 boys who entered university, 13 girls did so too. On top of this discrepancy in entry figures, young men are more likely to drop out of university before finishing their degree. The earlier children drop out from school, the more serious the problems (Stearns & Glennie, 2006).

A key question is: what do boys do when they drop out of education? Do they go down the route of apprenticeships, or other potentially gainful paths? Until 2016/7, boys took up fewer apprenticeships than girls did.  In a rare glimmer of hope in the story of boys’ educational trajectory, this pattern changed slightly for the first time in 2016/7, when boys took up slightly more (52.5%) apprenticeships than girls did [see here]. Nonetheless, youth unemployment among 16-24 year olds is higher among boys than girls [see here].

 

What can psychologists do to help?

For a start, we need more research to discover the causes and cures for this issue. There are many open questions, but we do know that one of the problems is video gaming: extreme gaming is far more common among boys and interferes with study (Gentile et al., 2011). Therefore, psychologists should help parents and educators to effectively reduce the time students spend on gaming. It might help psychologists to know that boys may express distress and depression differently than girls, and males might use withdrawing to engage in online games as a way of masking depression or coping with it (Liddon et al, 2017).

Would more male teachers help? This is another topic of much discussion. Some suggest that male teachers might be better able to relate to boys and male-typical behaviours (e.g. boys’ restless energy), and boys might be more co-operative for a male teacher. That said, direct benefits of male teachers for boys and female teachers for girls have been disputed (for a review, see Stoet & Yang, 2016), making this another area where further research is needed.

Psychologists need to be aware that educational underachievement is not only distressing for boys, but it can lead to problems for their families and others. This is not only in terms of unemployment and crime, but there is even the problem that highly educated women may seek an equally well educated partner (Birger, 2015).

Some authors on the subject (e.g. Jóhannesson et al., 2009) appear to believe that the issue of boys underachievement is not important because there are more men in top positions in academia. This is not a reasonable argument, as others pointed out (e.g. Brown, 2016). After all a large group of boys should not lack support because a small group of males get the top jobs.

 

Conclusions

We suggest making solutions problem-specific rather than gender-specific. For example, additional resources to improve writing skills should focus on all children with writing problems. There are more such boys than girls, but we should not exclude girls with poor writing skills. This way,  whatever solutions we find to help boys will also help girls, because enough girls are faced with similar issues of dyslexia, online gaming addiction etc.

Regardless of who is helped, the situation is one that needs our attention, because, as an African proverb puts it: if we do not initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat. As psychologists, we have the skills and abilities to make a hugely positive difference to society. What we need more that that right now is the vision and willingness to apply ourselves to the problem.

 

About the authors

Dr John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network. http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/about-us/

Professor Gijsbert Stoet  studies sex differences in cognition, learning, and education at Leeds Beckett University http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/staff/professor-gijsbert-stoet/

  

Vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.
Details are here http://www.malepsychology.org.uk/male-psychology-network/vote-for-a-male-psychology-section/

 

References

Brown, B (2016). ‘Whose Lives Do Gender Equality Policies Improve?’ Presentation to UCL Women, 11th May 2016. Slides available on the world wide web https://www.slideshare.net/BelindaBrown10/slideshelf Accessed 25th April 2018

Curnock-Cook, M. (2016) in Hillman, N., & Robinson, N. (2016), Higher Education Policy Institute report.

Curtis, P. (2007). Under-sevens ‘too young to learn to read’. In The Guardian, 22nd November 2007. Retrieved from

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/nov/22/earlyyearseducation.schools

DuPaul, G.J. & Stoner, G. (2014). ADHD in the schools. Assessment and intervention strategies. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Halpern, D. F. (2012). Sex differences in cognitive abilities (4th ed.). New York: Psychology press.

Gentile, D. A., Choo, H., Liau, A., Sim, T., Li, D., Fung, D., & Khoo, A. (2011). Pathological video

game use among youths: a two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(2), e319- e329.

Shader, M. (2004). Risk Factors for Delinquency: An Overview. US Dept of Justice. Retrieved via

https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=207540.

Stearns, E., & Glennie, E.J. (2006). When and why dropouts leave school. Youth and Society, 38(1), 29-57.

Stoet, G. & Yang, J. (2016). The boy problem in education and a 10-point proposal to do something about it. New Male Studies, 5, 17-35.

Todd, B (2018). Children’s colour blindness is not a black and white issue. BPS Developmental Psychology Section Blog. Accessed online https://www1.bps.org.uk/networks-and-communities/member-microsite/developmental-psychology-section/blog 26th April 2018

UNESCO (2018). Achieving gender equality in education: don’t forget the boys. Global Education Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO.

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