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How do men deal with traumatic brain injury?

by Dr Ruth MacQueen & Dr Paul Fisher

Picture: famous brain injury patient, Phineas Gage.



Men are twice as likely to experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as women.  This suggests that aspects of masculinity, such as choosing risky jobs and sports, play an important role in how people acquire their brain injury. Research also suggests that masculine identity has an impact on how people manage the experience of illness.  Adjustment to traumatic brain injury can involve changes in cognitive, behavioural, emotional and physical functioning. Given the potential disruptive consequences of TBI, the day-to-day lived experience of being in the world can be, and often is, altered for the individual.

Our chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health summarises research which explores masculine identity in relation to how men experience these adjustments.  Individuals who have had a TBI can experience a changed sense of personal identity (Levack, Kayes, & Fadyl, 2010) and changes to the self tend to be viewed negatively in comparison to the pre-injury self (Carrol & Coetzer, 2011).  Identity as a man can be threatened by the changes in interactions and activity which can lead to a loss of traditional male roles such as being a provider, being strong, protecting others, having physical strength, and self-reliance (Addis & Mahalik, 2003;  Connell, 2005).  Roles which men have, for example within their occupation and relationships can therefore be lost or changed and men may face challenges in coping with this loss and adapting to the changing roles.  Masculine identity is therefore an important consideration for neuropsychological therapy and rehabilitation particularly because part of the process of rehabilitation concerns helping individuals with their sense of self.

Some evidence suggests that adherence to masculine ideals can be negatively associated with rehabilitation outcomes in TBI (Meyers, 2012).  Barriers to engaging in rehabilitation services may include that working with professionals is viewed as requiring help and therefore suggests that the individual lacks strength or self-sufficiency to be able to cope (MacQueen, Fisher and Williams 2018). Viewing the self as being reliant on others can lead to experiences of shame and the perception of the self as weak.  This can mean that developing therapeutic relationships may conflict with ideals of independence (Good et al., 2006; Sullivan, 2011).

However, aspects of masculine identity may also promote wellbeing in the context of adjustment to TBI for men. For example, there is evidence which suggests that adherence to dominant masculine ideals such as higher success, power and competition are associated with the perception of fewer barriers to community functioning (Good et al., 2006).  Similarly, Schopp et al. (2006) found that there was a positive effect on functional outcomes for men who adhered to ideals such as winning and seeking status and the authors suggest that therefore drawing on these values can promote positive outcomes after TBI.

It is important that gender identities are considered as part of rehabilitation and providing a gender-sensitive service can begin during initial discussions when men are referred to a service and should be considered throughout rehabilitation. In addition, given the higher prevalence of mental health problems in the TBI population (Seel et al., 2003) it seems particularly important to work with individuals in reducing the stigma of mental health problems after brain injury.   Within the context of masculine identity, the application of positive psychology constructs may be particularly beneficial.  Positive psychology has been applied within acquired brain injury (ABI) rehabilitation and these initial studies indicate that the application of positive psychotherapy may promote wellbeing following ABI (Andrewes, Walker, & O’Neill, 2014; Cullen et al., 2016).   The concepts of growth, strength and resilience within positive psychotherapy may particularly encourage flexibility in identity which may facilitate adjustment for men.

The implications arising from the research in relation to issues around engagement and outcomes in neuropsychological therapy and rehabilitation are further considered within my chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health.

Dr. Ruth MacQueen completed the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of East Anglia in 2016. Her doctoral thesis employed a

qualitative methodology to research men’s experiences of masculine identity following traumatic brain injury. She has presented her research as a poster

publication at the Neurological Rehabilitation Specialist Interest Group of the World Federation for Rehabilitation conference and published in

Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. Since qualifying, Ruth has continued to work within neurorehabilitation in Bath, UK.


Dr. Paul Fisher is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Clinical Lecturer with significant experience working clinically with people with neurological

impairments across a range of settings and as an academic and researcher. Paul has worked in the UK and Singapore. He has a long-standing interest

in issues of identity and identity change and adjustment which he uses within his clinical work and has been a focus for his research using qualitative

research methods. Paul currently works at the University of East Anglia in the Department of Clinical Psychology and in Norfolk and Suffolk NHS

Foundation Trust.



Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. The American Psychologist, 58(1), 5–14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.5

Andrewes, H. E., Walker, V., & O’Neill, B. (2014). Exploring the use of positive psychology interventions in brain injury survivors with challenging behaviour. Brain Injury28(7), 965-971.

Carroll, E., & Coetzer, R. (2011). Identity, grief and self-awareness after traumatic brain injury. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 21(3), 289-305. doi: 10.1080/09602011.2011.555972

Connell, R. W. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859. doi:10.1177/0891243205278639

Cullen, B., Pownall, J., Cummings, J., Baylan, S., Broomfield, N., Haig, C., … & Evans, J. J. (2016). Positive PsychoTherapy in ABI Rehab (PoPsTAR): A pilot randomised controlled trial. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 1-17.  doi:10.1080/09602011.2015.1131722

Good, G. E., Schopp, L. H., Thomson, D., Hathaway, S., Sanford-Martens, T., Mazurek, M. O., & Mintz, L. B. (2006). Masculine roles and rehabilitation outcomes among men recovering from serious injuries. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7(3), 165.

Levack, W. M., Kayes, N. M., & Fadyl, J. K. (2010). Experience of recovery and outcome following traumatic brain injury: a metasynthesis of qualitative research. Disability and Rehabilitation 32(12), 986–999. doi:10.3109/09638281003775394

MacQueen, R., Fisher P., & Williams, D., (2018) A qualitative investigation of masculine identity after traumatic brain injury. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation doi: 10.1080/09602011.2018.1466714

Meyers, N. M. (2012). The effect of traditional masculine gender role adherence on community reintegration following traumatic brain injury in military veterans. (Doctoral Thesis) American University, Washington, D.C

Schopp, H., Good, E., Barker, B., Mazurek, O., & Hathaway, L. (2006). Masculine role adherence and outcomes among men with traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 20(11), 1155.

Seel, R. T., Kreutzer, J. S., Rosenthal, M., Hammond, F. M., Corrigan, J. D., & Black, K. (2003). Depression after traumatic brain injury: a National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research Model Systems multicenter investigation. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 84(2), 177-184.

Sullivan, C., Gray, M., Williams, G., Green, D., & Hession, C. (2014). The use of real life activities in rehabilitation: The experience of young men with traumatic brain injuries from regional, rural and remote areas in Australia. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 46(5), 424–429.





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Men are boxing their way back to mental fitness

An interview by Dr John Barry with boxing coach Paddy Benson of Birmingham’s Pat Benson Boxing Academy.

It’s a familiar story. A young rebellious man seems out of control, always getting into conflict and looking destined for prison. Somehow he finds out about the local boxing club. Maybe it’s his last chance, or maybe it’s just a challenge he won’t refuse. But one thing leads to another and he suddenly finds that he has got something that is more important in his life than getting into trouble. Somehow or other, boxing has saved him from wasting his life.

If the NHS clinical psychology or forensic psychology services could replicate this kind of success story they would quickly recognise it as a breakthrough treatment programme. In fact some people outside boxing are starting to recognise the mental health benefits of this activity, and it just so happens that an old-school boxing club in Birmingham is leading the way. When I found out a few months ago that something called the Mind-Fit programme had won a mental health prize, I tracked down Paddy Benson of the Pat Benson Boxing Academy as quick as I could to find out more:

Barry: Congratulations Paddy on getting a prize for your wellbeing programme. What are your thoughts on your programme, and on the impact of boxing on men’s mental health?

Benson: It started after we had a guy who was from a substance abuse background. He used to train a lot, but sometimes he would go missing. We knew when he went missing he was on a relapse. One day we started chatting with him, and he opened up and said he really valued the structure and routine of the boxing training, which is why he kept coming back. That’s what he was really looking for and that kept him on the right track, away from drugs. We realised that we hadn’t given him any special treatment, but the boxing environment and routine had helped him deal with drugs. In fact of course training is a natural high, a release of endorphins.

Within about 30 mins radius there are lots of charities where we are in Birmingham, so we talked to them and put together a basic mental health package. We think that men’s mental health is a taboo subject at present, but one that will explode soon.

We evolved this programme due to feedback. We try to get the best out of everyone. Our strategy is inclusive – it’s not just for the top half-percent of boxers to win national titles. The programme is one hour per week doing bags and pads in a traditional boxing club, and participants like being coached in this real environment.

We have some specialist mentor staff, we have a social group – basically getting men to talk – and the feedback has been fantastic. We’ve had a national sporting award, and started getting funding. This is social prescribing. These guys are going to their GP but don’t necessarily need a clinical psychologist. For some people who have been using drugs or homeless, just eating fresh fruit is a new thing. The routine is the main thing.

We have worked with Nottingham Trent for a case study, but more with Brunel. Street Games provided free mental health first aid. Some of the participants get back on the straight and narrow, become mentors themselves, and even go on to university.

Barry: Are other things like martial arts just as good, or is boxing special?

Benson: Getting fit and building trust is key. Anyone will feel better. And staying away from drugs. Maybe boxing is more old school so there is a special sort of traditional aura. Our trainers have been around. This does help build trust. It’s hard to explain, but over time participants start to talk. They even start to trust themselves more when they feel more confident and healthy.

Barry: Do you think gaining meaning in life is important?

Benson: Yes, if you have been homeless or on drugs you know you are on the wrong path. When they meet us they mostly right away want to get their lives back on track. Finding an identity and purpose in life is a real achievement. They also learn to help others and give something back.

[Interview ends].

Some of the findings of my research in male psychology are things that are fairly unsurprising to most people who haven’t been steeped in the ideology of gender studies. However in these strange days when traditional masculinity is misunderstood even by psychologists in the US and UK, finding ways to help men’s mental health can sometimes be best done outside of mainstream mental health services. Important understandings about gender aren’t yet part of the psychology syllabus, for example, that when distressed, women often want to talk about their feelings whereas men would rather fix their problems. With men more likely than women to kill themselves, but less likely to seek help from a therapist, it’s my prediction that rediscovering how men have, for generations, been taking care of their mental health might benefit modern psychology. Activities like boxing might not appeal to everyone, but a pilot study by Brunel found it worked for the 24 participants on Benson’s Mind-Fit programme. Without a doubt the merit of this approach is worth further investigation.


About Paddy Benson

Paddy Benson trains in the Pat Benson Boxing Academy, a club based Birmingham’s Irish Quarter – produced the likes of champion Matthew Macklin and is currently training future world class boxers. The Academy was created to honour legendary trainer from Mayo in Ireland, Pat Benson, after he was crowned BBC Unsung Hero 2010. Pat and his grandson Paddy, a University business graduate who has also boxed for England Youth, work together in the family run club. Paddy will be giving a short presentation at the Male Psychology Conference at University College London in June.


About John Barry

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis

for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. He is co-founder of the Male Psychology Network, and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the authors of the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health  DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

John has blogged previously on the mental health benefits of boxing.

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ADHD: see the positives and get the balance right

by Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma                            

According to the NHS, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. The ADHD Institute says that 50-65% of patients with ADHD in childhood will continue with their symptoms into adulthood.

The chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health focuses on the prevalence manifestation of ADHD in men. The neuro-developmental nature of ADHD means that it will occur from birth in men and contribute towards complexities and difficulties in men’s mental wellbeing.

Recognising the symptoms and difficulties early in life and forming a realistic approach to managing these through adapted cognitive behaviour therapy techniques and lifestyle management is the focus of this chapter. The chapter offers insights into the backdrop of ADHD from its early origins with the famous case of “Fidgety Phil,” through to more recent information from neuroscience.

Currently our understanding of ADHD helps us to identify the three main subtypes of ADHD in individuals. First there is the inattentive subtype with difficulties of concentration, focus and organization. Then there is the hyperactive/impulsive subtype with restlessness, fidgeting, disruptive behaviours and impulse management difficulties. Thirdly there is the combined type, where an individual struggles with all of the aforementioned symptoms. Identifying ADHD through more subtle traits when obvious hyperactivity/impulsivity is not present is a challenge in clinical work. Individuals who present with only inattention traits and moderate difficulties often remain in the revolving door of treatments and clinics, until such time as more clarity of traits becomes apparent.

Psychopharmacological interventions are focussed on managing the neurochemical and and brain activation issues. Medication helps in executive functions in individuals by improving focus, attention and overall activation.

Adapted cognitive behaviour therapy based on behavioural interventions – in particular organizational and activity scheduling, problem solving, working on sleep routines and implementation of graded steps – has been the key focus on treatment for ADHD.

Would the world be better off without the existence of ADHD symptoms and traits? Hardly. Strip away ADHD and we may take away our evolutionary pattern of neurodiversity. The hyperactivity and impulsivity when channeled in the right manner offers healthy risk taking, ability to perform high energy and intensity tasks and a mind that can think outside the box when a problem arises.

Hyperfocus aids individuals to attain higher performance and success when channeled into careers, passions, hobbies and inventions. For the deficits of the executive functions in the brain, sociability, emotional quotient and charm is aplenty. ADHD symptoms are part of the rich tapestry of human character and, in measure and in context, can be enriching for the individual and the world they are part of.


About the author

Bijal Chheda-Varma is a CPsychol Chartered Psychologist (BPS), Practitioner Psychologist (HCPC Reg.) and CBT Therapist Founder and Director, Foundation for Clinical Interventions, London. She is the founder and director of the Foundation for Clinical Interventions (FFCI) which specializes in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment/support for autism,Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and other neurodevelopmental and neurocognitive conditions. Dr. Chheda-Varma’s niche is in offering intensive, but goal-oriented and time-limited treatment and therapy. She uses evidence-based treatment models and CBT is her predominant therapy style in both individual and group therapy. She sees a wide spectrum of clinical and complex psychological conditions but specializes in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD and eating disorders. After beginning her career as a lead Psychologist within a rehabilitation unit for addictions, Dr. Chheda-Varma went on to be the lead clinician for the Nightingale Hospital’s CBT team from June 2013 until June 2014. Currently, she practises at the Nightingale Hospital, The Blue Door Practice alongside her own private clinic.

Dr Chheda-Varma is running a workshop on this topic at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL in June 2019. You can sign up for a place on the workshop here.

Dr Chheda-Varma’s chapter Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Case Study and Exploration of Causes and Interventions, is in the new The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, edited by Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1




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Follow the data, ignore socio-political agendas, and enjoy the scientific journey.

by Nathan Hook, PhD candidate.

[This was this first runner-up in the competition for a free ticket to the Male Psychology Conference.

The question Nathan Hook addressed was What first got you interested in the psychology of men and boys? ]


At an early phase in my life I was a pupil in a boys-only grammar school, and in the evenings went to a boys-only Scout group and a tabletop historical wargames group that attracted only had men and older boys interested in strategy. After a degree in a different subject at a conventional university, I was drawn to psychology and later in life was an Open University Psychology student. Due to the huge gender imbalance in psychology I was sometimes the sole male learner in a tutorial class. These very different learning environments with contrasting gender balance of learners highlighted to me different classroom behaviour styles – some people engage in learning by combative debate, challenging what is presented as a way to digest and absorb ideas actively.

When I conducted my student experiments at Open University summer schools, one simple addition I proposed regardless of what the experiment was – digit span recall of abstract symbols in my case – was to note the participant’s gender. This then gave the option to split the data on this and do a gender comparison test, as an easy way to add secondary analysis to undergraduate coursework. It was these experiences that lay the seeds for my interest in the psychology of men as a distinct group.

In my working life as a data analyst for Ofsted I came to see how boys are underachieving in assessments across education, from age five up to university admissions. Meanwhile my interest in male psychology flowered later in my academic life, as a part-time distance PhD student doing experiments in how readers/players identify with fictional characters. Starting with a hypothesis that people would identify more strongly with characters with the same identities as themselves, I designed an experiment to test if this was true for the identity of gender. This design meant I needed to split male and female participants to see if they identified more with their own-gender of character, but I wasn’t expecting a gender difference in results.

The surprise finding was that females did identify more with a female character than a male character (‘in-group bias’), but males had no such bias; I had unexpectedly discovered a gender difference. I expanded my literature review to and found a similar pattern of female own-gender bias but no male own-gender bias had been discovered experimentally in remembering faces, with a visual processing domain-specific explanation offered. Having found the same gender difference in a completely different field suggests there may be a deeper underlying mechanism.

I had never intended to look at gender differences when I started my PhD research, but I followed where the data led. My next step was to test for this gender difference in identification with a different identity, and I settled on religion as another strongly held identify for many people. This time I found evidence of an in-group bias for males, but no evidence of an in-group bias for females. Once again, a gender difference in identification.

My current conceptual model for explaining these results is that in-group bias occurs for identities people invest in. We all have characteristics we don’t meaningfully identify with; most people don’t strongly identify as ‘blue eyed’ or ‘brown eyed’ (unless pushed to by being in a blue eyes-brown eyes experiment). Males don’t invest so strongly in their gender identity so don’t display own-gender bias, but Christian males and males of ‘no religion’ do invest strongly enough in their religious identity so display religious in-group bias. I’m using ‘group’ in this context to mean ‘shared identity,’ not limited only to social grouping.

While there is a cognitive benefit in judgement not being clouded by in-group bias, not investing in gender identity would also imply less ability to generate self-esteem from enacting that easily accessible identity, leaving men at higher risk from depression (lack of self-esteem) when unable to fulfil their other identities. This might explain why depression and by extension suicide is more common in men – by not investing in gender, they lack one major relatively easy and secure source of self-esteem.

My interest in the psychology of men then comes not from being drawn to certain constructions or socio-political agenda, but from applying the scientific experimental model of formulating testable hypotheses and following the results where they led, foreshadowed by my earlier life experiences.


About the author

Nathan Hook is a British Social Psychologist who trained with The Open University, UK and is a current distance Ph.D. student at the University of Tampere, Finland. His research interests include role playing in games and how the psychology of players can be changed by ludic experience. Alongside this, he also designs and publishes board and card games, and has a published a series of game-like psychodrama scenarios under The Green Book series. He currently works for Ofsted, the education inspectorate for England. His chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, May the force of gender be with you: Identity, Identification and “Own-Gender Bias”,  is one of the most downloaded of the 32 chapters in this volume ( DOI10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1 ).



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What is the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys?

by Richard Elliott.

[This blog was the winning entry to our competition for a free ticket to Saturday of the Male Psychology Conference 2019. We posed the question ‘What do you see as the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys?’ and this was the winning response].

What is the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys? In a word, gynocentrism: the innate predisposition towards the protection and preservation of women and girls, the limiting and unique source of our species’ biological success.

Men are essential and equally unique, but vastly less limited as seed for the source. This renders them less valuable to the point that they are more readily disposable. When humans make their Sophie’s Choice, they save their daughters. Under the conditions of competing priorities, we are encoded with an algorithm that defaults to the preservation of the female or, under intense environmental pressure, perish.

This is amply illustrated in Asimov’s backstory to I Robot, where the maverick male cop was saved in statistical preference to a young girl by a non-human not programmed to make an evolutionary-scale calculation, but an immediate one. Without such a deep-running programme, Bowie’s Saviour Machine might send an equal number of men and women into the abyss to defend the tribe from predacious chaos, but with that ancient, instinctual, visceral wisdom factored in, it would only be strong young men sent to risk damage and death; its logic incontrovertible. And it has been this way for at least six million years, if not twenty or more.

Behind the apparent patriarchy lies another force. In one of the largest mammals on Earth, killer whales, this matriarchy is observable as the post-menopausal female, in the three dimensions of the deep, high and to the rear of the whale pod, navigating and supervising. In the centre swim the pups surrounded by their young mothers, and around them their parents with the males towards the edges. Front and centre, and darting all around, are the childless and virile young males, scarred from barracuda attack.

If one removes the abstract human notions of power, money and ownership, humans have a dual bi-sexual hierarchy, each hemisphere with its own modus operandi and specialization necessarily and inextricable bound together to drive the whole helix forward through time. Our nursing homes are full of elderly widows, the remaining survivors of their cohort.

The data are clear that it is testosterone in its many manifestations that shortens male life expectancy through a proclivity for high-risk, high reward, lower agreeableness strategies as juxtaposed against the risk-averse, higher-agreeableness, maternal, female strategy. The secondary relative value of male wellbeing is the stumbling block to improving it. Resources are finite; need is irrefutable; perceived need is infinite; there’s always room for improvement. In cases of acute illness and trauma, it demands a strict protocol ensuring the objective assessment of clinical need to determine which patient is a priority over which other. With chronic, sub-clinical need and lower-impact malaise, the vital signs are not so clear and are more subject to cultural, including political, pressure.

I spent some time with an ambulance operator, the survivor of a suicide attempt. He taught me that when you attend the scene of a multi-vehicle incident on a motorway, don’t pay immediate attention to those screaming for help. Instead, seek out the quiet ones slowly turning white. They are the ones in real trouble. And an acoustics engineer taught me that the brain compresses sound for processing by attenuating to the loudest sound at any given moment. On average, women experience more psychological distress and discomfort than men, and complain about it more verbally. The foundation of all social health and care policy, and of the predominate culture, therefore, is to attend more to the female scream. In competition for human, financial, healthcare and emotional support resources, women win.

This genetic preference expressed both personally and politically lies so deep it includes many males’ intrinsic sense of relative worthlessness, particularly without work, family or religion. It is embedded in the training centres of our social care, social science, and education and media institutions, and is fundamental to many our guiding myths and metanarratives.

This is not about apportioning blame, but an attempt to describe and explain. Until we learn to fully apply abstract human constructs like equality, fairness and equal value to the disbursement of our finite resources, empathies towards, and support efforts for, the male of the species, gynocentrism will remain the biggest challenge to improving the wellbeing of men and boys.


About the author

After an earlier career in engineering, Richard Elliott switched to psychology in the late 1980s graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and Sociology from Uni. of Bath in 1992 with a dissertation on research conducted in a forensic setting. From there he moved to Avon Probation, then NACRO, the NHS and local government where he worked as a clinical auditor and commission manager. Having taken an MA in Professional Writing with Uni of Falmouth, he is soon to embark on an MSc in Biological Anthropology at Canterbury. He’s long taken a keen interest in men’s issues and was the UK promoter of Cassie Jaye’s Red Pill documentary, funding the premiere in London and 7 other cinema screenings around the country.



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Book review. Updating timeless advice for fathers: Owen Connolly’s ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’

Review of Owen Connolly’s book ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’.

by Dr John Barry

In his book The Boy Crisis, Warren Farrell warned us about the dangers of ‘dad deprivation’. This is the phenomenon of boys who drop out of highschool, become unemployed, prone to imprisonment. Almost every mass shooter since Columbine has been a boy who grew up with minimal or no father involvement. So what has happened to fatherhood? Masculinity is often devalued (e.g. the recent controversial APA guidelines) and dads are portrayed as bumbling fools in the media.

Against this backdrop of boys who desperately need dads, and men who feel disenfranchised from the fathering role, what is a man to do? Well, consultant psychologist Owen Connolly may have some answers in his book ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’.

In a slim volume that avoids unecessary jargon, Connolly gives practical advice to men in a way that answers questions to the everyday problems of parenting. The giants on whose shoulders we stand are those generations of men who have lived before us, and through their struggles and survival have passed on instincts we can tune in to in order to sense that we are doing the right thing for our children. So a lot of the advice is about tuning into our own feelings and needs as well as those of our children and spouse. But it’s not all touchy – feely. For example, there is the Top 10 Discipline Tips which offers practical ways of dealing with your child when they are being unruly.

Connolly recognises that we all have strengths and weaknesses. He asks men to recognise this, and to play to their strengths. He understands that when men are distressed, they often want a practical step-by-step approach to solutions, so the simple Q&A format adopted in this book makes perfect sense, as is the practical advice.

An example of the Q&A format is the question: ‘Does a man’s childhood affect the way in which he will parent his own children?’ The advice given is: “When each of us reaches 16 or 17, we become our own person, and after that it’s important for all of us to have a look at our lives and value who we are and shed many of the labels that were put upon us. We have to start looking at the positive aspects of ourselves” (Connolly 2006, p. 14). This is based on the idea that if we don’t learn to love ourselves, our negativity will be a disadvantage to anyone around us. Such advice fits in very well with modern ideas around positive masculinity, and the book has many examples of timeless good advice.

The book has four sections: Men & Women, Parenting Small Children, The Teenager, and Parenting Today. There is also a workbook section at the back, with some questionnaires, as an aid to self-reflection and development. These add to the overall user-friendly feel of the book. Those who like an index at the back of the book and references supporting every single statement will feel a bit lost at times, but for those who simply want solid advice, such academic niceties are not needed.

One of the take-home messages of this book is ‘any man can be a father, but not everyone can be a dad’. The aim of this book is to help men to connect with parts of themselves that are beyond modern fads about masculinity, and understand how to be a dad.


Connolly, O. (2006). ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – from Father to Dad’. Dundrum: Nurture Press.

To purchase this book please email 


About Owen Connolly

Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice in Dublin. As well as “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – From Father to Dad”, he is co-author of the book “Parenting for the Millennium”, a best-selling book on childcare. He completed his training in the UK, Ireland, and the USA. He lectures in childcare and parenting, and is Chairman of the Nurture Institute of Further Education for Parents, a not-for-profit organisation which runs parenting courses and day-long seminars on fatherhood throughout the greater Dublin area.

Owen is running a workshop on the subject of ‘fatherhood and being a good dad’ at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL in June 2019.


Workshops at the Male Psychology Conference

Male Psychology Conference Workshops

To book your place on a workshop, first purchase your conference ticket here and then send an email stating which workshop(s) you would like to attend to

Places at each workshop are limited to a maximum of 15, and are allocated on a first-come first served basis.

The workshops run parallel to the presentations, and once you have joined a workshop you cannot go back to the presentations until the allocated time of the workshop has finished.


Summary (further details below)


10.50 – 11.40 am

Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma: ADHD management

2.30 – 3.30 pm

Owen Connelly: biofeedback for trauma

4.05 – 5.15 pm

Dr Amanda Kinsella and Alastair Pipkin: A new NHS men’s group


10.55 – 11.30 am

David Eggins: Domestic violence reduction

12.55 – 1.35 pm

Jennie Cummings-Knight: Sex differences in attraction

2.45 – 3.35 pm

Owen Connelly: Fatherhood


Full listing (in chronological order)

Friday 10.50 – 11.40 am

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Case Study and Exploration of Causes and Interventions.  

with Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma 


Workshop Aims and Learning Objectives:

The workshop is aimed at psychologists, CBT therapists or counsellors who work with ADHD. It aims to disseminate information on two key aspects of ADHD management. Firstly it provides a brief overview of ADHD which includes symptom manifestation, causes, prevalence and formulation through an evidenced based model (Brown). Secondly the workshop would focus on therapeutic interventions and techniques within the context of CBT that focus specifically on ADHD management. Both key themes will be presented via a case study which will help in illustrating how the information is applied.


Background of Topic:

The workshop is derived from a chapter focussing on ADHD particularly for men. The prevalence of ADHD in clinical settings particularly with co-morbid conditions is important to address. CBT interventions for ADHD often involve more behavioural work and hence require some adaptations in the therapy context.


Teaching Method:

The workshop will be disseminated via a powerpoint presentation. Flip chart use will be helpful to explain any further concepts which arise from questions or discussion.


Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma is the founder and director of the FFCI. She is a consultant Chartered Psychologist and CBT therapist who specializes in various strands of cognitive behavioural interventions. Bijal sees a wide spectrum of clinical and complex psychological conditions such as the bi-polar spectrum, eating disorders, obesity, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. Bijal specializes in the process of assessment and diagnosis of conditions based on psychometric and neuro-psychiatric tools. A central area of her expertise is in the complex assessment and treatment of Asperger’s, Autism, ADD/ADHD. She also provides psychometric testing for expert witness and formal diagnosis of psychiatric conditions. Bijal started her career as a lead psychologist at an inpatient second stage rehabilitation unit for addictions with complex patients. She then worked in the NHS until 2008 when she joined Florence Nightingale Hospital where she was the Lead clinician for the CBT team. As part of her work at the Nigtingale Hospital, she was seconded for a period of three years to The Practitioner Health Programme (treating sick doctors and dentists) where she provided CBT and neuropsychiatric evaluations.  She runs other private clinics at The Blue Door Practice, Fitzrovia and Wimpole street.



Friday 2.30 – 3.30 pm

Biofeedback for trauma

with Owen Connelly

Biofeedback is the use of instrumentation to mirror psychophysiological processes that the individual is not normally aware of, which may be brought under voluntary control. It helps you gain control over how you react to stress by teaching you skills to help quiet and balance your nervous system. The result is a state of calm and deep relaxation in your body and your mind. This leads to a feeling of empowerment and self-worth as you become successful in altering your body’s responses. Biofeedback training is like physical therapy insofar as it requires active participation and regular practice between training sessions. It is a self‐control technique through which individuals learn to voluntarily regulate what were once thought to be involuntary bodily processes. This treatment requires specific instruments to convert physiological signals into detailed visual and auditory cues, in addition to a specifically trained biofeedback practitioner to guide the therapy. Using a screen, individuals get feedback that helps them acquire control over their physiology. Just as looking into a mirror allows one to see and change expressions, etc., biofeedback allows you to ‘see inside’ your body, alongside a trained biofeedback practitioner who functions as a guide training you to use the feedback to regulate your physiology.

Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice in Stillorgan, Co. Dublin. He is co-author of the book “Parenting for the Millennium”, a best-selling book on childcare, and author of “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – From Father to Dad”, a parenting book for fathers. He completed his training in the UK, Ireland, and the USA. He lectures in childcare and parenting, and is Chairman of the Nurture Institute of Further Education for Parents, a not-for-profit organisation which runs parenting courses and day-long seminars on fatherhood throughout the greater Dublin area.



Friday 4.05 – 5.15 pm

Men are from Mars: A Relational, Recovery-Focused Group for Men in Secondary Care Adult Mental Health

with Dr Amanda Kinsella and Alastair Pipkin

Target Audience: Professionals interested in engaging with men in Secondary Care Adult Mental Health, other interested individuals

Brief Background to the Topic:

Men are under-represented in mental health services (Cheshire et al., 2016), yet they are three times more likely to take their own life (Samaritans, 2017). It is important to understand the process of under representation and how we can meet the needs of men. Research suggests the role of masculine narratives in the engagement process reports themes of disempowerment, shame, mistrust and ambivalence (Good & Robertson, 2012; White et al., 2015). Research and anecdotal evidence suggests a relational model of intervention facilitates meaningful engagement. Our recovery-focused group for men, MARS, aims to develop empowerment, respect and a working alliance with men, whilst promoting self-agency and suicide prevention strategies.

The focus is on enabling men within their recovery. We have piloted a recovery-focused, trans diagnostic group for men engaging with a Secondary Care Adult Mental Health Service using relational models of psychotherapy. Pilot outcome data has shown positive improvements for emotion regulation skills, readiness to change and engagement with services. A number of the men engaged in the initial pilot have now completed individual therapy, been discharged from service and are supporting the co-production of the group moving forwards. The present workshop will provide an experiential introduction to the theoretical underpinnings involved in our model, including discussion, example exercises and narratives directly from the men involved. It will aim to offer an insight into our relational approach, use of concepts of self-compassion and Mindfulness, as well as exploration of what the men who attended found valuable to them.

Learning Objectives:

Attendees will gain an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings to this integrative, trans-diagnostic group for men, appropriate for Secondary Care Mental Health settings. Attendees will gain some experiential insights into the exercises used. Attendees will also hear first-hand lived experience of the group regarding what the men engaging with the group have found important.

Teaching Methods:

A mixture of didactic, discussion, and guided experiential exercises. Participants will not be required to self-disclose during the workshop.

Duration of Workshop: 1 hour


Dr Amanda Kinsella is a Consultant Psychologist. She has dual roles within North West Boroughs Foundation Trust, both as a Senior Psychologist and Lead Investigator for the MARS Programme, and she runs a private practice. Amanda has extensive experience in secondary care and as a workshop leader. It was during this time that Amanda became aware that there was a gap in service delivery and inequality in how we support and engage men in their recovery. Her interest in suicide prevention and specialism in relational psychotherapy was the basis of her designing MARS. The model has been well received and her work was recognised by reaching the finals in Northwest Boroughs Innovation of the year category. Amanda recognises that this area of research is underrepresented and is an avid supporter of championing men’s mental health. She is continuing to strengthen the model and increase the evidence base. Amanda suggests that the need is most definitely there and we need to be doing more to promote and celebrate the difference between Men and Woman by developing innovative clinical programs that enable men in their recovery.

Alastair Pipkin is Trainee Clinical Psychologist at the University of Oxford. Alastair has previously workied in Early Intervention in Psychosis Services and CAMHS, and has interests in relational approaches and engagement in mental health care.




Saturday 10.55 – 11.30 am

Group work and support with domestic abusers:

Emotional Regulation: working with the guts of men in groups

with David Eggins, of Temper!   Domestic Violence Ltd, registered charity 1081139


Over 24 years we have completed 36 hours of therapeutically informed work with more than 1,000 men and more than 100 women, in mixed gender groups.

 Accredited groups, virtually all running to Duluth, of which there are now only between 10 and 12 programmes still accredited, nationwide, down from about 26, attempt to work to a one size fits all socio-educational programme.

 They have failed and continue to fail because they fail to engage with the individual men, and they address topics which do not engage with the individual man.

 More than 90% of men and 95% of many fewer women complete our work 100%. We have never had the finance available to conduct longitudinal research, but anecdotally, and in one case by clinical psychology report, our work helps bring about enormous change in most individuals.

 Currently there is a dearth of female abusers for our service, for which we have virtually no money available to advertise for female abusers, virtually all of whom are being sent by social services and virtually all other authorities involved onto the Freedom Programme- the main object of which appears to be to imbue all female abusers with a radical feminist mindset which says that they are all the victims of a patriarchal society.

 Of course our work is aimed at bringing about change in the abusive individuals repertoire of behaviours.

Global research indicates that the vast majority of domestic violence is so-called “situational couple violence”. Abusive/violent individuals obviously need to learn to manage much better the “situations” which precipitate them into violence and abusiveness.

 The requirements: themes sought for the conference

Positive, male-friendly interventions & services

Family structure & dynamics, and the impact on men and boys

Our work cuts across both of this year’s themes and all aspects

Family breakdown, domestic violence, parental alienation, the value of fathers etc

Positive, male-friendly interventions & services

Male-friendly helplines, support groups, therapies etc


What we would like to do:

We / I would like to present to the whole conference. We now additionally have video clips available of the ways we work.

Many of the ways we work have important insights for those delivering work with men; in many ways much of it flies in the face of many current, established practices.


Working constructively, intensively and effectively with mainly men in groups in domestic abuse scenarios

A piece of collaborative, interactive, therapeutically informed, experiential work aimed more at episodic memory as opposed to didactical work aimed primarily at semantic memory.

With the objectives of developing and practising;

new behaviours,

developing new skills,

heightening insights, and outsights

emotional awareness,

emotional regulation

plus all 3 varieties of empathy.


The establishment of trust vs the undermining of trust

“How to talk and listen and make good use of a group.”

Experiential exercises involving activity as opposed to purely sitting  – talking and listening and feeding back as opposed to “just listening”.

Eight Primary declarative emotions:  “emotions are verbs, not nouns” – Siegel.

Emotional regulation – against a background of eight primary declarative  emotions, through the lens of  and development of each individual’s autobiographical memory, plus simultaneously developing the latter.

Communication: intimacy,  the importance of non-sexual touch, in the group, also in intimate relationships, the recognition and unravelling of facial expression, prosody and other signs of emotional communication, gaze and its uses.




Saturday 12.55 – 1.35

Workshop title: “Lost in Translation”

Sight first, Feelings later: Evolutionary Patterns Played Out in Relationships: Psychology of Male Sexuality vs Female

with Jennie Cummings-Knight


Workshop overview

An exploration of male and female differences and preferences within sexuality, from the context of evolutionary patterns of behaviour and being, based on my chapter “The Gaze” in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology 2019.

An interactive forum to look honestly and imaginatively, in a non-threatening environment, at typical male and female sexual differences.  A non-politically correct opportunity to share what you really believe with others in an open forum.

Length:  1.5 hours (ideally) 45 min version also possible

4 x Film clips supplied by author


1/ This workshop will look at the evolutionary differences between male and female sexuality and how they are played out in our daily lives

2/ The male “gaze” contrasts with the female need to “be seen” and reflects two distinct mindsets that interlock but are inherently separate.

3/ Men and women “search” and “find” different things because they are “wired” to have different priorities.Put simply, the hunter’s gaze in the field is very different from the close up “looking for a credit card in your wallet” gaze.  As an example, this has given rise to expressions like “it’s a man look” when a man can’t find an object in a cupboard.  Many women on the other hand, have poor navigational skills when driving.

4/ These evolutionary “givens” are set against a backdrop of existential “thrownness” and a need to “make meaning”. They are arguably shifting within a climate where perceptions of gender are becoming more fluid, but established “norms” still apply for the typical heterosexual relationship.


Purpose of Workshop

This workshop offers an alternative view to the popular prevailing feminist agendas.  These are usually looking at ground that still needs to be gained, and arguably ignoring the “fallout” and losses that have taken place for both men and women whilst a rigid set of specific targets have been the focus of the feminist movement.

The workshop takes a fresh look at possibly unexpressed male sexual needs from the standpoint of a female therapist who believes that we live in a “post feminist” era in the UK and Western Europe.

It explores typical male and female differences and preferences, looking at both biological and sociological constructs of gender, without paying the customary ”lip service” to current trends and expectations.

Added value will be the chance to explore male sexual identity from the unusual perspective of a female leading the workshop and focussing on male needs.  In an arguably post-feminist society, male needs are sidelined and men are encouraged to become “more like women” rather than to be comfortable with and even to glory in their essential maleness and difference.


Target audience


This workshop is of interest to anyone who feels unable to express sexual needs without the fear of being “politically correct” in what is stated and how it is shared.  The workshop leader is a qualified Counsellor and practising Psychotherapist with a particular interest in male identity issues, and has been involved in research in Male Identity issues since 2005. NB See also articles published by Inside Man:

Learning outcomes and objectives

  1. A historical overview of male and female sexual differences and similarities
  1. Identify and celebrate differences between male and female
  2. Look briefly at fetishes and changing perceptions of sexuality through transgender issues

Practical Exercises: using film clips to stimulate discussion

Group Discussion looking at:
a) biological vs social constructs of gender

  1. b) individual experience vs stereotyping with regard to male and female sexual preferences and differences
  2. c) “Men need to look, Women need to be seen” (Cummings-Knight, 05.15) – Discussion around evolutionary patterns of male and female behaviour


Jennie Cummings-Knight (MA, MBACP, PGCE, FHEA) lives and works

in Cromer, Norfolk, in a private counselling practice.  She also writes articles, offers lectures and workshops at conferences, and contributes actively to online forum discussions. She was a contributor at The First World Congress of Existential Psychotherapy in London, May 2015 and has contributed to the Male Psychology conferences in the years 2015, 2016 and 2018.

She has a particular interest in Male Psychological issues to do with Identity and Existential  Givens.  She celebrates the differences between male and female.

Find her at




Saturday 2.45 – 3.35 pm


with Owen Connelly

This workshop is based on consultant psychologist Owen Connolly’s unique book “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: From Father to Dad”. Owen has been running a one-day version of this workshop for over a decade.

The book has helped many fathers find, and thrive in, their unique place in the lives of their children. In a generation where the view of masculinity and fatherhood has changed in many ways, this book provides practical advice to men seeking to be good Dads by addressing the questions that are often buried in their hearts.

Owen examines the way in which our ancestors and our past affect the way we live and parent today. The easy to read question and answer format makes the content easily accessible and handy to dip in and out of during the busyness of family life.

The workshop reflects the content of the book, which is divided into four main sections: Men & Women, Parenting Small Children, The Teenager, and Parenting Today. Every section has at least 8 questions in it that cover the range of those most frequently asked and, in Owen’s opinion, most important to address.

Read a review of the book “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ here

To purchase the book please email




To book your place on a workshop, first purchase your conference ticket here and then send an email stating which workshop(s) you would like to attend to

Places at each workshop are limited to a maximum of 15, and are allocated on a first-come first served basis.

The workshops run parallel to the presentations, and once you have joined a workshop you cannot go back to the presentations until the allocated time of the workshop has finished.



Open post

When did Psychology start adopting a negative view of masculinity?

by Tom Golden.

The popular discourse on men and masculinity has become toxic in the past few decades, and it looks like the profession of psychology has not been immune.

There are many places where one can easily observe this, but none quite as blatant as in the ways that psychologists have labeled the “norms” for men and women.  I ran into the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI; Mahalik, 2003) and was shocked to see this misandry starkly presented. I wrote an article criticizing this inventory and a part of the criticism was looking at the history of labels psychologists had used in describing men and their norms.  I was shocked to see that the CMNI labels used for men were things such as violence, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and being a playboy.  As I noted in my article, these four “norms” seemed to pass harsh judgment on men and boys. Moreover, they seemed much more like cartoonish stereotypes than norms, and begged the question: do they even belong in a science of human behaviour?

My doubts about the validity of the description nudged me to pull together examples of terms that had been used as norms for men previously in psychology.  and the CMNI.  The chart below offers examples of the terms that have been used to describe masculine norms during the period of 1974 to 1986, and Mahalik’s (2003) CMNI for comparison:

Notice that the norms that were used prior to the 1990s seem to be neutral. Examples included competency, level headed, independence, aggressive, forceful, suppressing emotion, willing to take a stand, assertive, and self-contained.  All of these could be seen as being close to neutral with some like “level headed” or “self-confident” seeming even a bit complimentary.  Someone could have some of any of these qualities, like some aggressiveness, some forcefulness or some assertiveness and depending on the situation would be considered okay.  Now think of having some violence.  Nope, you can’t even have a little bit of that before you are judged harshly.  Same thing with power over women, playboy or disdain for homosexuals.  A little bit of any of those and you are sunk.  These four categories from the CMNI seem quite different from all of those from 1970-1986.

It seemed obvious to me that anti-male ideas were leaking into psychological journals.  Those four “norms” had no clear research showing that they were common among men.  They simply seemed to appear.  I contacted the researcher and asked about his reasons for including those four norms and he didn’t have much of an explanation. Very odd and what I thought at the time was this was simply a psychological version of male bashing.

Still I wondered if maybe I was a bit too critical.  I found that the same researcher had done an inventory for women, the CFNI or Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory.  I thought that maybe the harsh treatment of men in the CMNI might be a shift in the times and that a similar harshness would be played out in the female version of the inventory. Would they talk about relational aggression?  Queen bee? Hypergamy? Gossip? I found the CFNI and the feminine norms.  The chart below will show you those norms and list the CMNI along with the CFNI.

Needless to say, that earlier wondering was put to rest.  The female norms were sweet and nice while the male norms were harsh and unforgiving.

At the time I was looking into this I was a member of the APA Division 51 (the study of men and masculinity) mailing list.  I brought this idea up to the list and it was immediately dismissed as ridiculous.  Among the hundreds on that list, not one would admit that the norms for men were anti-male and not one would admit that the female norms were very different from the males.  They either couldn’t see it or they couldn’t admit it.

The redefinition of masculinity is one small indication of the confused state of our psychological world today, but here is a novel idea for you to think about:

Men are good!


Further information on this topic

Read the full article which is part 5 in a five part series on bias against boys and men in psychological research. It goes into much greater detail. Or have a look at a short video on this topic.


About the author

Tom Golden is a counsellor and author of several acclaimed books. He gained note for his first book  Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing which is seminal in the psychology of men’s grief.  It was acclaimed by notable psychologists and psychotherapists such as Kubler-Ross, Hope Edelman, Robert Bly and others. Tom has also written The Way Men Heal and recently a book for mothers called Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: Understanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom conducts workshops in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia, having been named the “1999 International Grief Educator” by the Australian Centre for Grief Education.  His work and his web site (which was the first interactive site (1995) on the internet to serve grieving people) have been featured in the NY Times, Washington Post, as well as on CNN, CBS Evening News, ESPN and the NFL Channel. He served as the Vice Chair of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health and maintains a private practice in Gatihersburg Md.

Open post

Finding honey in the shitstorm: personal crisis, faith, and mental health.

by author and journalist, Neil Lyndon.

Recent research has suggested that men who have some religious faith are less likely to suffer depression and less likely to commit suicide.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that religious observance is, for men, a significant predictor of having mental positivity. Moreover, people who have religious faith are not put off taking their lives simply because they think it’s immoral; it seems to be more that they find resilience in their belief and from a sense of community.

Those findings came as no surprise to me. As one who suffered frequently from depression and anxiety for decades and was sometimes perilously close to suicide, I can positively affirm that the regular religious observances of the second half of my life (praying and meditating twice a day, going to church every Sunday) have immeasurably helped to heal me of that foul curse. Moreover, my religious routines have unquestionably helped to free me from lifelong addictions to self-polluting poisons and compulsive, damaging habits. Those benefits genuinely feel miraculous. I reverently give thanks for them every day.

The story of my religious odyssey crosses many way-points that are common to my generation.

Born in 1946, I was baptised into the Church of England. My parents were not churchgoers but I became a devout little boy who sang in the church choir and – like Bertie Wooster – won Religious Knowledge prizes at school. For some years, I felt called to become a priest until around the age of 13, when a moment of blinding revelation came to me in school prayers. “I don’t believe a word of this pious twaddle,” I realised, “and I am certain that the teachers who are ritualistically doling it out don’t believe a word themselves.” That epiphany – very much like the experiences recorded by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – led me, like them, to atheism and Marxism. By the age of 16, I was carrying a membership card for the Young Communist League, though I never actually signed it.

Also, around that same time, while still at school, I first consulted a GP for depression and anxiety and was prescribed anti-depressants. She knew that my father was serving a long term in prison for serious crimes and she knew that my family life at home was chaotic, making it extraordinarily difficult for me to find my way through exams to university. And already, by that age, I was habitually drinking, smoking, taking daredevil risks, living in financial chaos and messing around with half a dozen girls at a time. Drugs followed automatically.

That was to be largely the story of my early 20s until – propelled out of control by LSD, marijuana, speed, drink and some touches of heroin – I crashed into a suicidal breakdown when I was 24. A carving knife in my own hand had been pointed at my heart before a friend dragged me to the local mental hospital where – thanks to the NHS – I began my first sessions of counselling and psychotherapy and started to take trycyclic antidepressants.

While making disordered efforts to heal myself – running, swimming and progressively quitting drugs – I began, to my profound perplexity, to experience undeniable, Wordsworthian intimations of the divine – in music, in nature, in landscape and in love. As a hardened atheist, I was at a loss to come to terms with these apprehensions of a spiritual dimension beyond the materialistic and the worldly. The birth of my first child, when I was 36, introduced me to the miracle of unconditional love – that certainty that you would give your own life for another person in a heartbeat if necessary – which itself appeared to open a doorway to the divine, though I had no clue where it might take me.

In my later thirties, I lived and worked for five years in California, where spirituality flows out of the taps. Still ensnared in the toxic coils of addiction to drink, tobacco and promiscuous sex, I sought help in expensive therapy and with Alcoholics Anonymous. My counsellor was the first person I ever met to suggest that the poetic stories of the Bible might be interpreted allegorically and that the father in heaven, the virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection could all be seen as figurative expressions, enabling us to domesticate and anthropomorphise the incomprehensible divinity of the universe. Made sense to me.

A bookshop round the corner from my office in Los Angeles was packed with spiritual texts – many of which are now on my shelves at home. They introduced me to Unitarian, Jewish, Gnostic, pantheist, Buddhist and Taoist perspectives on divinity which roughly synthesised in my mind (much in the way, I later discovered, they had synthesised in Wagner’s thoughts). These diverse scraps of understanding were nailed into place with a resounding clang when, standing in an aisle of that shop one afternoon, I opened a Bible at random and came across the words of John, who said “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” That simple declaration rooted me to the spot in that shop and has rooted my life ever since

It then followed, in my early forties, that I found my way back to my spiritual home, the Church of England – not least because that devout little choirboy knew the Anglican liturgy in his bones. Because the CoE was and remains theologically derelict, I felt free to interpret its hymns, psalms, prayers and rituals in my own terms, rather than according to the precepts of an unchallengeable authority. No Pope; no heresy. By coincidence, I was confirmed in the CoE and declared my faith in a father in heaven (“metaphorically speaking”, as I would mutter under my breath) within days of the death of my own father on earth. No doubt Professor Dawkins would smirk knowingly and question the coincidence. My LA counsellor, however, would unreservedly have approved.

That confirmation took place 30 years ago next month. During those decades my religious adherence has grown ever stronger and my religious observances ever more regular and nourishing, despite a succession of Job-like trials in the 1990s.

In 1992, after building a comprehensive intellectual case for 20 years, I published No More Sex War: the Failures of Feminism – the world’s first critique of that ideology from an egalitarian, non-sexist point of view.

That book and its author were then subjected to more sustained philistine abuse than any work and any writer in our own time. Socially and professionally ostracised, I lost my income, my home and most of my friends – while the shitstorm also provided cover for the legalised abduction of my only child by his alcoholic mother.

During the 1990s, I also buried a baby who was afflicted with one of the world’s rarest malformations; was nearly killed in an accident of surreal horror; endured the breakdown of a cherished relationship in a tawdry triangle that could have been scripted for The Archers; and then became sole parent to a teenager who had run away from his hopelessly unfit mother.

Somebody who takes the Bible to be the literal truth might suppose that God was testing me (and who knows? as a beekeeper and a gardener, I do sometimes admit the possibility that a supernatural power may stand in a similar relationship to our world as I occupy in relation to my plants and insects). I would rather say that my religious devotions strengthened me to endure those trials.

However, my perception of divinity was never that of an intervening, providential Father Christmas figure who would sort out your mortgage and fix the holes in your roof if you uttered the correct magical spells and incantations. Instead, my daily prayers and meditations and weekly attendance at church are all devoted towards the same purpose as a musician might achieve by playing Bach every day. The reward for these exercises is to secure a perspective and a place in the universe – both as a being who is no more than a blade of grass or a bee and as one who, like all humans, shares in divinity through our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

That happy perspective does prove to be a sure defence against depression and suicidal feelings, to which I have been largely immune for almost 20 years. During those decades – when I have been entirely free of anti-depressant medicines – I created not just a new life but new life. I built a house; created a garden out of an acre of rough pasture; married a good woman and fathered two daughters whom we brought up as equal parents in the family set-up I had sought since I was in my twenties.

In my old age, I also – praise God Almighty – became free at last (Free At Last! Hallelujah!) of all addictions and all debt. Secure in marriage, family and faith, I now face my end with gratitude and in good heart.

As a state of mind and a state of being, we can probably agree that this is rather more desirable than facing your end at your own hand, sobbing uncontrollably in misery and despair, with a carving knife pointed at your heart.


About the author

Neil Lyndon is best known for his book No More Sex War (Sinclair-Stevenson 1992), described as “the world’s first egalitarian, progressive, non-sexist critique of feminism in its own terms”. Neil has also written articles for The Sunday Times, The Times, The Independent, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.




Open post

A guide to counselling male military personnel and veterans

By Professor Duncan Shields and Professor Marvin Westwood

[Author’s note: Marv Westwood has gained a huge amount of respect from the MPN following his conference presentations at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL since 2016. Follow this lead, Duncan Shields captivated our attention with his presentation on therapy for veterans in 2018. If we want to consult with experts from overseas on ‘combat stress’, we look immediately to Marv and Duncan. In the brief blog below they outline their chapter in the recently published Palgrave Handbookof Male Psychology and Mental Health].

The nature of military operations requires that men learn to suppress certain emotional responses (fear, disgust, etc.) in order to stay engaged in difficult or dangerous circumstances until the job has been completed. To prepare personnel for such service, values and behaviours associated with a traditional hyper-masculine gender role are reinforced for members in a stoic warrior culture of the military.

This enculturation, although useful under operational conditions, can inadvertently reinforce help seeking avoidance and fear of stigmatization for military personnel coping with operational stress injuries or other mental health challenges.  The need to maintain the appearance of stoic competence may make it more difficult for these clients to enter counselling.

Making counselling culturally safe for military clients calls for clinicians to embrace the strengths inherent in traditional masculine gender roles and military cultural norms, while helping clients break free of the code of silent stoicism that isolates them when they are in pain.  Therapists are in an ideal position to help Veteran clients rewrite the rules of military masculinity, to recognize the “battle for the heart and mind” through therapy is valid, courageous and a sign of strength. 

In order to sensitize professionals for practice with this population, our chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health presents case examples to contrast military masculine gender role norms, with how mental health challenges are framed as disorder.  It further considers how traditional masculine role narratives may influence the experience of mental health challenges, as well as treatment uptake and engagement. Our handbook chapter is intended to expand a practitioner’s cultural competencies by examining the role of gender in informing therapeutic work with military-connected clients.

Of prominence is that hyper-masculine gender norms are typically embedded within military institutions, and while adherence to these norms can contribute to combat and military success, they conversely make clinical work challenging.

Veterans may possess values and beliefs that run contrary to typical therapeutic models that rely on emotional self-disclosure and self-reflection. Thus, even though practitioners may be well-intentioned and seek to address the burdens veterans can assume with respect to their experiences, there may be an immediate realization that traditional therapeutic approaches are not well-suited, and fail to work. Consequently, help-seeking veterans remain more likely to drop-out or to not engage with the usual therapeutic process.

Different approaches and interventions are needed in order to address this issue, and developing an effective model for practitioners to navigate these challenges ensures veterans seeking support receive adequate and appropriate therapeutic help.

By capitalizing on adopted characteristics, such as the courage to engage in therapeutic work and mastery of one’s emotional experiences, practitioners can begin to engage and to promote change for veteran clients.

It is evident that working with military-connected clients requires cultural sensitivities, which can subsequently be applied to individual or group counselling contexts.


About the authors

Duncan M. Shields, PhD, RCC. Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Medicine, The Men’s Initiative: Military and First Responder Resiliency Project. Duncan is a clinician and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia.  His work focuses on culturally relevant initiatives to assist first responder and military personnel maintain or regain well-being while coping with operational stress and trauma. He is co-founder of The Men’s Initiative that mobilizes men in projects that benefit families, communities and the world, and developed a First Responder Resiliency Program that catalyzes a more inclusive and supportive work culture. Dr. Shields previously served as an infantry reservist where he developed a lifelong appreciation for the contribution of those in uniform.

Marvin Westwood, Professor Emeritus, Counselling Psychology Program, University of British Columbia.Professor Westwood’s major areas of teaching and research focus on development, teaching and delivery of group-based approaches for counselling clients, and men’s psychological health. How counselling and psychotherapy approaches can be adapted to be congruent with the “cultures of masculinity” is a core interest area.  He developed the UBC Veterans Transition Program to help promote recovery from war related stress injuries for which he received both the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals in 2005 and 2013. In 2012 he established the Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma, and is currently Senior Advisor to the Centre.


The new chapter outlined above is:

Shields, D., and Westwood, M. (2019). Counselling Male Military Personnel and Veterans: Addressing Challenges and Enhancing Engagement, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1



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