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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.

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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.

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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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Parental alienation is illegal in some countries, but virtually unknown to psychologists in the UK

Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law by Stuart Hontree

Reviewed by Dr Becci Owens, Lecturer, CPsychol, FHEA, School of Psychology, The University of Sunderland, Shackleton House, SR2 7PT

Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law by Stuart Hontree (a pseudonym to prevent identification of the subjects of case studies) brings attention to the important issue of parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs almost exclusively as part of a child custody dispute, though child custody disputes do not inevitably lead to parental alienation. Parental alienation involves one parent (the alienator) systematically brainwashing and manipulating a child into showing unwarranted fear, mistrust, resentment and malice to the other parent (the targeted parent). This often extends into the child showing the same feelings and behaviours towards other members of the targeted parent’s family. Not only does parental alienation have clear repercussions for the targeted parent, whereby the alienator is able to exert extreme forms of control and influence over their life by their influence on the child, but there are dire consequences for the alienated child as well. An alienated child suffers from disrupted development due to the perception of being rejected by a parent and their extended family, as well as experiencing extreme control and manipulation from the alienating parent. This then increases the child’s exposure to, and experience of, stress and conflict in the developmental period. Alienated children often fare worse than non-alienated children of separated parents in terms of academic performance and life outcomes, and there is an increased likelihood of alienated children developing mental disorders. Parental alienation is therefore illegal in some countries, however it is still legal and prevalent in the UK.

The book provides a brief review of the literature pertaining to parental alienation, including the attachment system, as well as a history of parental alienation. The clinical disorders relevant to parental alienation that are included in the DSM are also described and are integrated with the notion of parental alienation, and the aspects of parental alienation these disorders do not cover are also discussed. The author then goes on to discuss factors that increase parental alienation in the alienator, and increase the susceptibility of parental alienation to the targeted parent and the child. The focus of the book then turns to describing the many different events that contribute to parental alienation, including gaslighting, followed by the many forms of support available for all parties involved. Finally, the discussion turns to the legal professionals and legal system, and how this affects the process of parental alienation and ultimately, the outcomes for the affected parties.

Throughout the history of research into parental alienation, there has been a reluctance from clinical specialists to regard it as a syndrome in its own right. It is difficult to make a case for diagnosing the child when the problem lies with the alienating parent. What is more pressing is the devastating consequences of this pathological form of parenting on vulnerable children as well as their extended family. The book does outline and discuss many of these psychological consequences of parental alienation in children, including child affected by parental relationship distress (where a child is affected by conflict between parents), separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and splitting, all of which are recognised in the DSM. This seems to support the reluctance of clinicians and related experts in not including parental alienation as an entry in the DSM in its own right. However, as the author discusses, the focus on the nuances of how parental alienation should or should not be defined has served as a distraction, which in turn has halted the progression of research in the area. The author outlines a cycle that has halted progress in the area as stemming from the inability for professionals involved to agree on a definition of parental alienation leading to a lack of further empirical research into parental alienation, which in turn leads to a reluctance in employing more robust research methods. More research into this area could explore the factors that contribute to a parent becoming an alienator, however the area instead has become stagnated, which only prolongs and contributes to the damaging effects of parental alienation for all parties involved.

Another factor that the author discusses as contributing to the stifling of progress in parental alienation research is the vested interests of the legal system in maintaining cases of parental alienation; specifically financial gains. The author provides a scathing critique of twenty-four case studies of parental alienation, which is a somewhat unique perspective the author brings. The author outlines two distinct strands relevant to the understanding of, and in making progress towards tackling parental alienation – the clinical and the legal implications. A large problem with advancing awareness of and reducing parental alienation seems to result from the difficulty in reconciling these two strands. We appear to be stuck in a cycle whereby relevant professionals in cases of parental alienation have different goals – increasing business in the courts versus increasing family harmony and mental wellbeing. These divergent goals mean that the legal and clinical strands of parental alienation cannot be easily reconciled, yet the consequence of this is the extreme psychological harm and reduced wellbeing experienced by alienated family members.

Parental alienation is not a well-known phenomenon, and the limited number of books in the area seem to reflect this. Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law provides a much-needed update to good quality older sources. Other relevant books currently available include a series by Amy Baker. These books are pitched at the level of a general audience and aim to provide help and support for the victims of parental alienation, including the targeted parent, the child, and adult children of parental alienation. Dr Craig Childress is a clinical psychologist with substantial experience in the area of parental alienation. He has also worked to raise awareness of the issue and has produced some books on the matter, yet these books are pitched at a higher academic level. The author of Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law is a psychology graduate (though is not a psychologist) with relevant legal expertise and experience of parental alienation. The book therefore seems to me to bridge the gap between these books currently available by providing a solid introduction to parental alienation as well as the relevant legal factors that contextualise parental alienation. The style of the book relies quite heavily on quotes from relevant case studies and other publications, which I feel brings some benefits, but also poses some problems. Whereas generally the book can appear under referenced, these quotes remind the reader of the legitimacy of the information included in the book and the argument the author presents. Conversely, it can make reading the book, following the development of the argument and integrating all of its components a little difficult as the quotes disjoint the flow.

Overall, the book provides a comprehensive introduction to parental alienation for an academic, non-specialist audience. In comparison to more specialist books currently available, it is well priced. Furthermore, it brings into focus the impact of the legal system on conceptualising, identifying, and the consequences of, parental alienation. Raising further awareness of parental alienation and its devastating impact on all parties involved can only be a positive step. However, by also highlighting and integrating the influence of the legal system in advancing awareness and tackling parental alienation, the book identifies a new challenge and avenue for professionals to explore. It is a very interesting read and certainly provides food for thought.

Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law by Stuart Hontree can be purchased here

About the reviewer

Dr Rebecca Owens is a Lecturer at the University of Sunderland. Her PhD examined sex differences in competitiveness from an evolutionary perspective, exploring whether or not competitiveness in men functions to secure mating opportunities and resources. Stemming from this, her current research interests include examining the impact of stereotypical sex roles on mental health and wellbeing, the role of body image in identity and wellbeing, and variation in mating preferences and strategies in modern environments.

It’s a myth that boys have beaten girls in A-level results

Gijsbert Stoet, Leeds Beckett University

Anyone who knows about the educational underachievement of boys compared to girls will have been surprised by the headlines about the 2017 A-level results. The Telegraph wrote that “boys are beating girls” and spoke of a “dramatic reversal”. The Belfast Telegraph also reported that “boys emerged as the winners in this summer’s results”, while the BBC’s article, with the headline “boys help to raise A-level grades” stated:

In A* and A grades, boys have moved ahead of girls, with 26.6% of boys getting these results compared with 26.1% of girls, reversing a 0.3% gap last year.
The change is significant because girls outperform boys at every stage of their education, and have been performing better at the top grades at A-levels for 17 years.

But despite all these celebratory headlines, having looked in detail at gender differences in the available data, it seems this isn’t actually the turning point for boys that was so widely reported at all. Let me explain.

The analysis

My analysis shows that the biggest trend in the A-level results data is that – just the same as previous years – far fewer grades have been awarded to boys (373,654) than to girls (454,701). In other words, boys only sat 45% of all A-levels – a percentage that is similar to the university enrolment gap.

To illustrate the significance of this, I put together a graph (below) which shows the number of A-levels awarded to boys and girls for each grade level. You see that roughly the same number of A* grades go to boys and girls. But that more girls than boys achieved an A grade or higher – and even more girls received a B grade or higher.

Number of grades awarded by grade level and gender. For example, boys received around 281,000 grades at C or above, compared to around 360,000 for girls.

The general under-representation of boys across grades is not the only problem. In 30 of the 39 subjects listed, the percentage of boys receiving a top grade was lower than that of girls. The reported overall lead of boys is mostly due to their better scores in chemistry (3.5 percentage points lead) and mathematics (1.8 percentage points lead). The other seven subjects where boys have the lead – were less popular subjects such as critical thinking (only 45 students took critical thinking), German, French, communications studies and computing – which are chosen by far fewer students and so the data have less of an effect on the total average.

Why girls do better

Girls have, generally speaking, better adjusted to the academic environment than boys, which is often why they do better in exams. Even so, at A-level, girls remain considerably under-represented in most STEM subjects – except chemistry and biology.

The uptake of mathematics by girls has stagnated at just under 40% for years. We know that girls may lack confidence in mathematics, despite possessing good ability. This has led some to suggest making the critically important subjects such as mathematics and English compulsory – although this introduces new challenges.

The big question is why far fewer boys than girls decide to take A-levels and go to university. A-levels are obviously not for everyone, but it is unclear why this applies more to boys than to girls. The same is true for the International Baccelaureate, with only 44% of boys achieving this qualification last year.

Analysis from this and previous years’ GCSE results also shows that boys continue to fall behind in nearly all subjects. So it is not completely surprising that more boys than girls try to find alternatives to A-levels. There aren’t any reliable data on where these boys are actually going, so what they are doing instead of A-levels is a bit of a mystery.

Boys are still behind

What all this shows is that it’s certainly not the case that “boys have moved ahead” of girls. The half a percentage point advantage in the top A and A* grades is meaningless in the broader context of boys’ severe under-representation across A-levels, and their falling behind in most subjects.

This under-representation is a continuation of poorer performance by boys across all educational stages before A-levels. We also have seen far more behavioural problems in boys than in girls, which may even lead to expulsion – this may play a part in the wider picture.

The ConversationThese issues need urgent attention, but this isn’t just a task for parents and schools alone. This is something that needs to be tackled across the board – with a whole society approach. But more than anything we just need to start taking this problem more seriously.

Gijsbert Stoet, Professor in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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