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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


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]


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




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Challenging the illusion that men don’t need help

Originally published in the BPS magazine The Psychologist 30th Jan 2017 here

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





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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


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’


Adams, J. (2015) ‘It’s official; stay at home dads do not exist’, Available at: 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.




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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




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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



Abbott, D. (2013). Britain’s crisis of masculinity’. A Demos Twentieth Birthday Lecture, Magdalen House,

Barry, J. A. & Daubney, M. (2017). The Harry’s Masculinity Report.

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.

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 

Matud, M. P. (2004). Gender differences in stress and coping styles. Personality and individual differences, 37(7), 1401-1415

Sharma, N., & Sharma, K. (2015). ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’: A Literature Review. International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies (IJIMS)2(3), 41-42.


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




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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  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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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.



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.

Professor Gijsbert Stoet  studies sex differences in cognition, learning, and education at Leeds Beckett University


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



Brown, B (2016). ‘Whose Lives Do Gender Equality Policies Improve?’ Presentation to UCL Women, 11th May 2016. Slides available on the world wide web 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

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

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 26th April 2018

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

Open post

Sports & Exercise Psychology and Male Psychology: a winning combination

Dr. John Barry, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology, University College London

Dr. Phil Clarke, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Derby

Men commit suicide at over three times the rate that women do, but men are much less likely to seek therapy than women are (Kung et al, 2003). Men can be helped with talking therapies, but research suggests that they are less likely than women to talk about their feelings as a coping strategy (Tamres et al, 2003; Matud, 2004; Russ et al, 2015). Suicide and help-seeking can be seen as ‘male psychology’ issues, because they are aspects of psychology that are a bigger problem for men than women.

What has this got to do with Sports & Exercise Psychology? Potentially quite a lot. For a kick off, more men than women engage in sports (41% Vs 32%, according to Sport England, 2013), so for men who need help but are put off by the idea of talking to a therapist about their feelings, an easy way in to mental health support might be to do something they already feel ok about, like sport and exercise.  Sport and exercise might in itself be enough to help them, or it could be a gateway to other therapies.

Recent initiatives such as walking football, a slow-paced version of football aimed at participants over 50, has improved the mental health of many male participants through the social and physical benefits of partaking. There are now over 950 walking football teams in the UK since its creation in 2011 (Walking Football United, 2017). The mental health benefits of sport has encouraged professional football clubs to take a more active role in helping men battle depression and improve mental health, as seen in The Football Foundation’s collaboration with the Premier league and the Football Association (Football Foundation, 2017).

MIND (2013) have noted that men are twice as likely as women to have no one to rely on for emotional support, and so the allure of sport for men may be due to the emotional support received from playing football with others who are experiencing similar mental health issues. As such, using sports initiatives like the ones mentioned above can be a fantastic way for males to use sport and exercise to cope with daily stressors and improve their mental health.

All of this suggests that there is strong potential for a positive synergy between male psychology and Sports & Exercise Psychology. For example, findings in male psychology regarding sex differences in coping strategies, help-seeking, and preferences for therapy (Liddon et al, 2017) might be useful in designing Sports & Exercise interventions for men who are reluctant to access traditional talking therapies. In this and other ways, Sports & Exercise Psychology and Male Psychology might together do much to help men’s mental health.


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



Football Foundation (2017). Benefits of mental wellbeing. Focus, March issue, pp.2-18. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017

Kung, H. C., Pearson, J. L., & Liu, X. (2003). Risk factors for male and female suicide decedents ages 15–64 in the United States. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology38(8), 419-426.

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.

Matud, M. P. (2004). Gender differences in stress and coping styles. Personality and individual differences37(7), 1401-1415.

MIND (2013). Men are twice as likely as women to have no one to rely on for emotional support. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017

Tamres, L. K., Janicki, D., & Helgeson, V. S. (2002). Sex differences in coping behavior: A meta-analytic review and an examination of relative coping. Personality and social psychology review, 6(1), 2-30.

Sports England (2013). Active People Survey 5-7: Technical Report. Accessed on the internet 12th Oct 2017

Walking Football United (2017). Walking Football continued evolution. Accessed on the internet 28th Sept 2017


Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network.

Dr Philip Clarke is a lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Performance psychology at the University of Derby. Phil has an extensive background in providing psychological support for a number of clients and athletes across the sports performance spectrum with his work with the University of Derby’s Human Performance Unit. His PhD research concentrated on the YIPs phenomena in sport and following this continues to work regularly in performance sport. He once ran the length of Ireland to raise money for charity and uses his expertise of performing under pressure to help coaches and athletes develop skill sets that can positively influence performance.



Open post

One small step for the Male Psychology Network…

Last week the Male Psychology Network reached a modest landmark in it’s development: our 100th successful membership application.

Knowing from our research that men can often get mental health benefits outside the mental health services (e.g. Roper & Barry, 2016), and often prefer to fix problems than talk about feelings (Holloway, Seager & Barry, in review), we are proud to include in our membership people who are active in supporting men’s mental health in a wide variety of contexts, from prisons and family courts, to sports fields and barber shops.

We recognise that men’s mental health is a complex issue, and men find crucial support from various sources and in various ways. Our membership includes Professors of psychology, psychotherapists, volunteers in male-centred community wellbeing programmes, charity helpline volunteers, and experts from from all over the world.

If you are interested in the wellbeing of men and boys, and indeed other aspects of male psychology (e.g. masculinity, sex differences, relationships, crime, education etc) then the Male Psychology Network is exactly the place to put your skills and experience to use. Joining the Network might be just the first step for you on the road to becoming a member of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

From early May to early June, the BPS is having a national ballot on whether there should be a Male Psychology Section of the BPS. If more members of the BPS vote yes to this than vote no, then we will have an excellent platform from which to focus our talents on dealing with some of the most serious issues facing psychology, from male suicide (three times higher than female suicide) to educational underachievement in boys (falling behind girls since the late 1980s). However it is not at all certain that the BPS membership will vote for the creation of a Male Psychology Section; many psychologists realise the psychological reality of the lives of boys and men are nuanced, and I only hope that they call come out to vote in May.

We see the future as one where the Male Psychology Section works in co-operation with other Sections of the BPS in order to explore issues that have tended to be overlooked in psychology in recent decades. We want to see better outcomes for the wellbeing of men and boys, not just  a reduction in male suicide, incarceration and involvement in violent crimes, but also boys achieving more success in education and helping men deal with a range of issues that lead to shame and confusion about masculinity and their sexuality. We believe that psychologists, along with allies in other professions and occupations, can help to make this happen, leading to a truly positive revolution in the wellbeing of not only men and boys, but of society as a whole.

Interest in men’s mental health has increased steadily in the past decade, but this has happened almost exclusively in the community rather than in Psychology. Although the APA in the US has had a Division for Men and Masculinities since 1995, the UK has lagged far, far behind. It is time for the profession of Psychology to wake up to what most other people already know: the mental health and wellbeing of men and boys have been taken for granted for so long that we have failed to see that it has in fact become a massive public health issue. It’s time we started celebrating the good things about masculinity, and supporting the wellbeing of men and boys. Joining the Male Psychology Network is one small step in that direction.



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

Roper T, & Barry J A (2016). Is having a haircut good for your mental health? New Male Studies, 5(2).



John 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 Dept of Psychology, University College London. Email


Become a member of the Male Psychology Network


Vote for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS






Six reasons to vote for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS

This blog was originally published by the BPS website on 2nd March 2018

The member ballot for our proposed new sections is now scheduled to go out in April, and this blog post by Martin Seager (with the assistance of Dr John Barry) lays out six reasons to vote for a Male Psychology Section.

  1. Inclusivity. Men and boys make up half of the human spectrum, and if we are to promote human health and well-being in a fully informed way, psychologists must study the full spectrum of the human condition. A BPS Section will help to achieve this.
  2. Diversity. Gender is not just about equality but also diversity. Gender differences are as important as other differences within the human spectrum, such as age, ethnicity, disability, religious beliefs and culture.
  3. Humanity. Men, women and children live together in families, communities and societies across the world. If psychology is about understanding and promoting all the factors which  promote well-being for all, then psychologists will be better informed by studying male behaviour and the masculine side of human relationships and interactions. This can only be beneficial to society as a whole.
  4. Empathy. Men and boys also have problems and issues relating to their gender e.g. suicide, addiction, rough sleeping, low life expectancy, deaths at work, risk-taking, imprisonment, educational  underperformance… the list goes on. The BPS is an influential body that can improve public health, well-being, compassion and understanding in these areas. Having a male psychology section will help focus minds and energies, both within our profession and beyond.
  5. Science. Psychological science is about challenging untested assumptions and prejudices about human behaviour in all its forms, and replacing these with an evidence base of genuine understanding. This is as true in the field of Male Psychology as it is anywhere else, and a BPS Section would help promote better research and teaching on these issues both within the profession of psychology and outside it. Achieving better science around the male gender will achieve better outcomes for everyone.
  6. Leading Change. The BPS can set an example to our wider society by being a true pioneer and a beacon of science and humanity, recognising the full spectrum of humanity. This means developing a new evidence-base and new ways of responding to the problems that affect men and boys, and leading the way for other important institutions and bodies to follow suit. For the BPS, this could also mean the challenge of looking at why there is such a gender imbalance in the membership  of our profession – why are 80% of clinical psychologists female?  Why does psychology as a career or vocation appeal less interested to males? As yet there is also very little teaching on male gender issues within curricula approved by the BPS – a male psychology section would help to achieve a more comprehensive, informed and balanced training culture for psychology students and trainees.

In summary, we believe that a vote for a male psychology section would be a positive move in tune with the founding principles of the BPS itself.

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