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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.

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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.



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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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Are therapists getting a distorted view of domestic violence?

Counsellor Phill Turner gives a short talk to the Male Psychology Conference (June 2017, UCL). Phill describes his own personal journey of discovering that the way he was being trained to do counselling in domestic violence cases was being distorted by something called the Duluth Model of domestic violence.

Phill’s talk made an impact on many people at the conference.

See it here

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Masculinity ideals as healthy resources for men coping with depression

Masculinity ideals as healthy resources for men coping with depression

The following is quoted from the paper ‘Men’s Views on Depression: A Systematic
Review and Metasynthesis of Qualitative Research’, by Silvia Krumm Carmen Checchia Markus Koesters Reinhold Kilian Thomas Becker, Department of Psychiatry II, Ulm University at Bezirkskrankenhaus Guenzburg, Guenzburg , Germany. The reference is: Krumm, S., Checchia, C., Koesters, M., Kilian, R., & Becker, T. (2017). Men’s views on depression: a systematic review and metasynthesis of qualitative research. Psychopathology, 50(2), 107-124. Available online

Background: According to the concept of “male depression,” depression among men might be underdiagnosed and undertreated because of gender differences in symptoms and coping. There is evidence that men experience atypical depressive symptoms including irritability, aggression, substance abuse, and increased risk behavior. To date, a substantial number of qualitative studies on men’s views on depression has been conducted in the last few decades.
Methods: Based on a systematic review and metasynthesis of qualitative studies on men’s subjective perspectives on depression, we aim at a comprehensive understanding of men’s subjective views on depression with a specific focus on masculinity constructions.
Results: Based on 34 studies assessed as appropriate for the study, 2 overarching subthemes
could be identified: normative expectations regarding masculinity ideals and men’s subjective perspectives of depression as “weakness.” Men’s strategies include denial of “weakness” and “closing up.” Further themes include suicide, masculinity ideals as a healthy resource, and alternative masculinities.
Discussion/Conclusions: Traditional masculinity values might serve as barriers but also as facilitators to adaptive coping strategies in depressed men. More research is needed to study the dimensions and role of alternative masculinities in the context of depression” (Krumm et al 2017, p.107).

Masculinity Ideals as Healthy Resource
Some men seem to benefit from alignments with traditional masculinity ideals when coping with depression. Regaining control via information as well as relying on one’s own resources were assessed as helpful strategies in line with elements of masculine ideals such as control, strengths, and self-management [43] . Other men were found to overcome their problems by relying on typical masculine activities, e.g. “chopping firewood at one’s summer cottage, playing in a rock band, and motor biking” [38] . In contrast to seeing depression as loss of power, some men described it as a heroic struggle from which they emerged a stronger person and some men even assessed their depression in terms of heightened masculinity because of positive changes in their sexual functions [31] . This is in line with findings on men’s appraisals of “being one of the boys” and re-establishing control via independence from medication as signs of recovery [31] . In contrast to social discourses that restrain men from seeking help, some men assessed their treatment-seeking as active, rational, responsible, and independent action [25, 47, 50]” (Krumm et al 2017, p.120).

21. Oliffe JL, Robertson S, Kelly MT, Roy P, Ogrodniczuk JS: Connecting masculinity and depression among international male university students. Qual Health Res 2010; 20: 987–998.

25. Sierra Hernandez C: Understanding helpseeking among depressed men. Psychol Men Masc 2014; 13: 346–354.

38. Valkonen J, Hanninen V: Narratives of masculinities and depression. Men Masc 2012; 16: 160.

43. Skarsater I, Dencker K, Haggstrom L, FridlundB: A salutogenetic perspective on how
men cope with major depression in daily life, with the help of professional and lay support.
Int J Nurs Stud 2003; 40: 153–162.

47. O’Brien R, Hunt K, Hart G: “It’s caveman stuff, but that is to a certain extent how guys
still operate”: men’s accounts of masculinity and help seeking. Soc Sci Med 2005; 61: 503–516.

50. Johnson JL, Oliffe JL, Kelly MT, Galdas P, Ogrodniczuk JS: Men’s discourses of helpseeking in the context of depression. Sociol Health Illness 2012; 34: 345–361.

Open post

Can the church do more to support male victims of sexual abuse?

Blog by psychologist John Steley

(First published as ‘Men, boys and sexual abuse’, in the Church of England Newspaper Friday 8 December, 2017. Reproduced here by kind permission of C of E and John Steley).

WARNING: The issues discussed in this article relate to sexual abuse and may be distressing to some readers.

You have probably heard, as I have, that we live in a society where men have most of the power. Sexual abuse is understood to mean men abusing women, girls, or sometimes boys. This perception is constantly reinforced by the media and various other places.

But is life really that simple? I am not suggesting that men do not commit abuse. It is obvious that some do. Could the reality actually be more complex than we have come to believe?

This case study is shared with the consent of the person concerned:
William (not his real name) was a single man in his late 20s. He had a well-paid job. He was an active member of his church. He was well liked and respected. Some people wondered why William wasn’t married. Several young women in the church seemed to like him. What was the problem?

William had a secret. As a child he had been sexually abused by his mother. This experience had left him with a deep fear of women and of sex. As a result, although he was invariably polite to women, he never let one get too close.

Eventually William decided to do something about his situation. He mustered his courage and called a telephone helpline. William explained to the woman at the helpline as carefully and as accurately as he could what his mother had done.

‘It’s a problem,’ the woman replied, ‘men think they are meant to be strong. It’s all those macho attitudes you are taught as a child. Your masculinity is being threatened. You’re probably afraid that people will think you’re not really a man. If you think your mother abused you have you ever tried thinking about the good times you had with her?’

‘I am not the problem!’ William protested, ‘my mother abused me. She is the problem! Stop blaming the victim!’

‘We understand,’ came the response, ‘men do find it hard to be honest about themselves.’

William hung-up the phone feeling angry and bewildered. Why had it all gone so wrong?

Without realising it William had challenged a belief that is commonly held in the helping professions and beyond. That is, that women and girls are victims and that men are the abusers.

The helpline managers had not trained their staff to think any differently. In the view of the woman who
took his call William was a man – therefore the abuse, or whatever it was, had to be his fault.

Males can be sexually abused either by men or by women.This is now a known and recognised reality. If those in the helping professions do not recognise this they can unwittingly compound the abuse that the man or boy has already suffered.

Lucetta Thomas who is researching mother/ son sexual abuse at the University of Canberra in Australia
identifies a number of ‘strong, but invisible’ myths in regard to male victims of sexual abuse. These include:

Boys and men can’t be victims – they must have consented.
A mother would never do this; she was just being overly affectionate.
If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls;
boys are sex-focussed anyway.
The mother or son must have mental health issues (1).

Research into the effects of sexual abuse on males is still in its early stages. It should be noted however that psychologists Naomi Murphy and Sabeela Rehman have found, ‘In terms of our data at least 66 per cent of our population of men in a high secure prison have been sexually abused during childhood (54 per cent of this group have been abused by at least one woman – usually acting in isolation not in conjunction with someone else). This is probably an under-estimate. Most of this group have been abused on multiple occasions (2).

What then should the church be doing?

Probably the first and most important thing is simply to be aware that it can happen. This means everyone including clergy, other church staff – everyone. When talking about sexual abuse do not speak as if this can only happen to women or girls. If someone does speak about abuse in this way maybe gently but firmly correct them.If the person who delivers the sermon mentions abuse but leaves the congregation with the impression that this is only a crime committed by males against females take this up with him or her after the service.

Many churches appoint members to act as Child Advocates. Their role is to be there for children who have or are being abused. If only women are appointed to this role does it reflect a belief that only gi rls are abused? If boys can also suffer abuse, including sexual abuse (which is undoubtedly the case) should we not appoint both men and women to this role?

When organising the groups and activities in a church maybe we should ask ourselves, ‘Is there a place in our church where a man who has suffered sexual abuse can share this safely?’ If not, then maybe think about some all-male groups. Maybe encouraging men to form all-male prayer partnerships or triplets could help.

We also need to ask if there is a safe place for women who have been sexually abused by a woman to share this safely.

[Editor’s note from John Barry: there should also be a space for those men and women who have been abusers, but want to change their ways and make amends].

Whatever your church decides it is important that both masculinity and femininity are valued and respected. We are all created in God’s image – none of us any more or any less than anyone else.

2. Personal communication, Dr Naomi Murphy, Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, 22 November, 2017.

For further help
Survivors UK
Churches Child Protection Advisory Service

John Steley is a psychologist in private practice in London.

Open post

Book review of Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man

Did unsatisfactory male role models in childhood cause Grayson Perry’s descent into anti-male prejudice?

Book review of Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man
Allen Lane 2016
Penguin Books 2017

Book review by
Jennie Cummings-Knight

Witty and extremely well written, in an amusing racy style and artistically fashioned (as well as displaying some of Perry’s characteristic cartoon drawings), the occasional nuggets of wisdom (the male attraction to risk, for example) are unfortunately lost in a quagmire of anti-male sentiment. There are too many unsubstantiated comments about women – to the detriment of the male species: “…all the world’s problems can be boiled down to one thing – the behaviour of people with a Y chromosome” (p.3). [Edit by John Barry: a classic example of reductionism].

The author comes across as (refreshingly) typically male in many ways, such as in learning how to control his unruly “male member” when a teenager on bus journeys, and admitting a craving for typically male symbols like red sports cars. He also endearingly shows his “tender” side in dedicating the book to Alan Measles, his childhood Teddy. Perry also draws attention to male confusion in a changing society, and the need for a male “rite of passage”. He puts in a plea for good male role models, but thinks that we should be re-fashioning the male before this can truly happen. He also commends the “Men’s Sheds” movement (p. 115).

Whilst only giving a passing nod to the biological differences between male and female, Perry whole heartedly embraces the theory of gender socialisation, even whilst he admits to himself enjoying the (typically male) phenomenon of energizing through watching violence (and I would add, explosions!) in film. He claims that this was really just a way of being part of the “male club”, but as a woman living with three males I can confirm that my menfolk watch films that I can’t stomach, and similarly they don’t enjoy the TV programmes that I enjoy on psychological character studies. (more usually preferred by women). Despite his emphasis on gender socialisation, the author also at one point switches tack and starts talking about the (biological) effects of “raw evolution” (p.83) on male behaviour in defending their territory.

However, Perry’s real agenda in the book seems to be “stiletto licking” (as opposed to boot licking). His anxiety to support the prevailing anti-male narrative is very marked, and leads him to offer unreferenced information about domestic violence towards the female, whilst barely acknowledging female abuse of the male.[1,2] He talks about male “point scoring” (p.37) whilst apparently being oblivious to the female equivalent that is equally prevalent in society. The underlying issue of the power struggles between male and female and the games that we all participate in, are only mentioned in overtly sexual scenarios, where the power differential is acknowledged to be a turn on (p.128). Instead we hear once more about the alleged oppression of women by the “constraints” of gender (p.3).

The most interesting part of this book for me as a relationship therapist, was finding out what had been the background to the development of Perry’s transvestite leanings. Systematic ‘male bashing’ from his (sometimes violent) mother, an absentee father and a violent step father are some of the elements that interacted upon the young Perry and led him to taking refuge in his mother’s wardrobe (literally and figuratively). For the author, as he got older, the “electric charge of the female” (p.52) was especially in their clothes, which is why the (over-sexed?) young Perry began to get such a taste for cross dressing. He explains this process here: “One goes through one’s early years collecting experiences, influences and traumas, and at puberty one cashes them in at a counter marked sexual preferences and one is handed back an identity card or licence that pretty much fixes one’s sexuality”(p. 127).

The real danger in a book like this is a reinforcing of mistrust for the “default male” and the apparently infamous “patriarchal society” that we (according to him) still live in. Perry even naively asserts that with more women in power, we would have a “whole new culture of leadership, one not centred around noisy, bear-pit politics, but one of consensus, steady debate and empathy” (p.26) – forgetting the tendency for female-typical aggression that is often evident in places where the management is largely composed of women.[3,4] That the abuse of power happens when women are in authority is not acknowledged – even when we have current examples like the first female Commander of the Royal Navy (2014) having an affair with a subordinate.[5]

Perry writes with compassion and understanding in some respects – but ultimately he reveals how he has been seduced by the fashion for anti-male polemic – perhaps not surprising in view of the fact that his own leanings have always centred around the outward trappings of the essential female.

[4] Handbook on Wellbeing of Working Women, editor Connerley, Mary L, Springer 2016

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