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Why fathers are important, especially for boys

by Dr Kevin Wright

Father’s Day is on 17th June this year. On average, people in the UK spend three times more on Mother’s Day than Father’s Day [see here] . It could be argued that this reflects how much the role of the father is valued compared to the role of the mother.

Are we undervaluing the role of the father? Well, research shows the father-child relationship is an important one, In fact it can be more influential than the mother-child relationship. This is especially true for the 8-12 year old child as they try to make sense of the outside world. At this age, the child – especially the male child – may see the father as representing that outside world. The child may see the father as more representing how to deal with the outside world than the mother so, for example, it has been found that children model their coping strategies more on the models they get from their fathers than that they see from their mothers.

A poor role model or emotional unavailability of the father, particularly to their sons, can have severe repercussions for development, especially if he is the oldest child having to deal with the arrival of a sibling. He may see this baby as usurping his position as the sole focus of attention of the mother. He may experience a grief reaction at the loss, part of which is to feel angry. This loss can be ameliorated if a father is physically and emotionally involved with the older child.

In the absence of positive male role models, sons often drift aimlessly and may end up in gangs.  This not only is a problem for society, but allows a boy to waste his life to criminality, mental illness, substance abuse and even suicide.

The solutions to these issues are no doubt complex, but a sensible start would be more investment in things like supportive parenting classes for fathers, more male teachers in primary schools, more male support workers (e.g. social workers, youth workers, psychologists and mentors), to provide a long-term way of working differently with boys and men.  At present there are no financial incentives for males to stay as in these careers in the long term, so experienced workers are lost to other careers. And there is little support for fathers to be more involved as carers of their children.

Parents, especially fathers, may need help to know how to support their children at school.  Schools need to enable fathers in this and not marginalise them in their parental roles.  Schools can help fathers by, for example, having parent/child classes to model how to encourage/value their children through their development.  Employment conditions need to be such that fathers can feel supported and encouraged to be carers of their children, particularly their sons, otherwise the cost to society is huge if the sons drift dangerously astray.

School support/counselling services should rethink ways to encourage boys to access emotional help. Boys may find it very challenging to talk about their feelings, but they might find it easier to express themselves through writing, or via technology/avatar programmes. It might make entering the process more appealing if ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’ could be rebranded as something more appealing to boys. Without a doubt, we need to be more imaginative in the ways that we address the issues facing boys.

Society needs to wake up to how important fathers are to their children. Fathers need to know their role is important and need to be helped to understand how to be involved with the care of their children from the moment they are born and need to be supported to fulfil their role in bring up their children. Often they don’t fully realise how important their involvement is for the positive emotional development of their children, particularly for their sons.

Recognising the importance of fathers in the wellbeing of boys would be a step in the right direction for us all, for to look after the boy is to look after the man.

About the author

Dr Kevin Wright is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist. He will be presenting his poster ‘A Boy’s Journey away from gang life to being a man. Critical stages of development & intervention’ at the <Male Psychology Conference, 22-23 June/p>


You can vote now (7th May 20th June) for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS.
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The Royal wedding, relationship stability, and wellbeing

by John Barry

Best wishes to the Royal couple on their wedding day. If Prince Harry is anything like the 2000 men in the British Isles who participated in our survey last year, then relationship stability will be one of the key factors in promoting his psychological wellbeing.

Our survey found that even after taking factors such as age and job satisfaction into account, men in enduring relationships had a more positive mindset. The survey also found that the more a man aspired to be like his father, the better his wellbeing. We speculate that his is because men who have a good concept of their father have probably come from a stable family background, and this childhood experience has helped create a happy adult.

One of the signs of how important relationships are is their relationship with recovery from substance abuse. Substance abuse is twice as common in men than women, and one of the key signs that people are on the road to recovery is when they get into a steady relationship.

Our advice is that if your relationship is making you unhappy, first do what you can to try to fix it whether that’s talking about it with your partner, or seeking couples therapy.

In any case, we at the Male Psychology Network wish the Royal couple all of our best wishes for a stable and happy future.

 

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The Science of Football Fandom

by Edward Love

Picture the scene: the lads are huddled around the TV swigging beers, eating crisps and taking good-natured swipes at the referee. The football is on and the home side is leading when, out of nowhere, the ref blows. Penalty for the opposition. The crisp bowl goes flying, leaving a trail of orange dust, and beer is spilled as John, Greg and Alan scream at the television.

By day they’re accountants and lawyers and bankers in shirts with stiff white collars, so why the sudden transformation? The science of football fandom gives us many of the answers – a field of study Dr Susan K. Whitbourne has spent years researching. “[When watching football with friends], you feel less responsible for your own actions and go along with whatever everyone else is doing. Your normal social inhibitions become loosened and all bets are off when the crowd around you acts in a disinhibited manner.”

The phenomenon is called “deindividuation”, and while violence can erupt from it, football doesn’t lead only to ills – far from it. Football can also give us a sense of community that extends beyond the stadium or the couch. “Identifying with your team, particularly your local team, enhances your mental health by allowing you to feel a sense of community and integration with the group,” Whitbourne says.

It is, however, a high-stakes game of Russian roulette – with our emotions in the firing the line. Wind the clock back to 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, and you discover that Bavarian men were three times more likely to have had heart problems when their team was playing.

So why do we take it so seriously?

Well, for one thing, winning means that our brains light up with excitement. We literally release chemicals that make us feel good. A win also means we’re validated in our support for our team. Cue the ego boost.

But another explanation might lie with the macaque monkey, which shares several traits with humans. The American Psychological Association reports that, in the 1990s, scientists discovered something amazing: “[I]ndividual neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys fired both when the monkeys grabbed an object and also when the monkeys watched another primate grab the same object.”

In other words, the macaque monkeys were experiencing what it was like to be in the shoes of their counterpart. Many scientists hold the belief that we humans have the same neurons in our brains, and that these messengers are firing all the time. A player in tears on the pitch after the match? We’ve felt those emotions before – despite not being on the pitch with them – and we feel our heart strings get that tug. A player singing the anthem with passion? We get up and sing just as loudly.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to watch human beings engaged in competitive, high-stakes action and not feel something; it’s hard not to put yourself in their shoes.   

The next time you wonder why John, Greg and Alan are getting so invested in the match, remember this: they probably can’t even help it. Turns out that a lot of us are suckers for competition, and during those 90 minutes, our brains are lighting up like a Christmas tree.

 

About the author

Edward Love is a writer and sports fanatic who consulted with Dr Susan K. Whitbourne to learn more about the science of football fandom.

 

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

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

 

References:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/heart-attacks-in-extra-time-watching-football-is-hazardous-to-your-health-a-532397.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865083/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168010214002314

 

 

 

 

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Preventing child sexual abuse

Written by Juliet Grayson

There were 64,667 police recorded sexual offences against children and young people from April 2016 to March 2017.  The Children’s Commissioner, in a report Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action, states “This enquiry estimates that [only] 1 in 8 victims of child sexual abuse come to the attention of statutory authorities.”  Multiplying 64,667 by 8 gives us an estimate that over 500,000 children are sexually abused each year. It costs £65,000 to imprison one sexual offender for a year if you include police time and court costs.   Yet for a fraction of the cost of this, some people can be successfully deterred from offending.

StopSO stands for the Specialist Treatment Organisation for Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offences.  It is the only UK wide organisation to offer a therapeutic service to those who fear they are going to commit a sexual offence, before they do so.  StopSO also offers therapy to people who have already offended.

StopSO has over 200 fully qualified and experienced ‘general’ therapists who have either already been given specialist training to work with this client group, or are in training.  Before they see clients StopSO provides therapists with a basic forensic Foundation Training (3 days).  StopSO also offers a Professional Certificate in Therapeutic Practice with Sex Offenders, which is a further 10 days.  Both these courses are Accredited by the College of Sex and Relationship Therapy.

StopSO fulfils three primary roles:

  1. It trains therapists in working with potential and actual sex offenders.
  2. It refers clients to therapists.
  3. It subsidises the cost of client therapy where clients are unable to pay, (when it has sufficient funds).

Thirty-eight per cent of StopSO’s clients are unknown to the authorities. This creates a huge opportunity to reduce the harm of sexual abuse to victims, their families and the families of the perpetrators. There is evidence that some sexually abused children themselves become sexual abusers, so perpetuating an horrific cycle of abuse that continues into future generations, (Jesperson et al, 2009). We need to act now, as other governments are doing in countries such as the Dunkelfeld Project in Germany, to stop sexual abuse through preventative therapy.

StopSO is the only UK wide organisation to work with sex offenders of all types, from those looking at illegal online images, voyeurs and exhibitionists, people who commit contact offences with children and adults.

StopSO has been asked for help by over 1500 people since 2012, 50% of which were during 2017. Most StopSO clients pay for their own therapy.  However 20% cannot afford the cost of counselling.   Often, when StopSO lacks funds, we have to turn away these clients, who are asking StopSO for help not to commit an offence.  So far StopSO has relied on personal donations and small grants from charitable trusts.  StopSO has received no money at all from the government. StopSO needs to expand, and take on more staff to meet the current and future demands.

Good quality academic research on the counselling of sexual offenders is only available for those who have already been convicted of an offence. The most recent meta study of this group by Schmucker et al, 2017, shows that counselling leads to an average 26.3% reduction in re-incarceration rates. If this success rate is used for StopSO’s client group, then it is plausible that in 2018, StopSO’s work could stop 231 men from offending. The cost of imprisoning these men for a year would be over £15 million.

Sometimes StopSO clients allow me to report their stories, provided I change their names. Let’s call one Chris. He was concerned about his sexual thoughts towards children. He was not sure where to go for help. Now in his twenties, he had been living with these thoughts for some ten years, since he was a teenager. He had never looked at illegal images of children. But he was starting to think about this more and more and wanted help to ensure that he didn’t act out. He went to see his GP. His GP was open with Chris that he had a duty to report him.

The GP did not know where to get help for Chris, but he Googled ‘sex offender help UK,’ and he found StopSO. Chris was referred for therapy, but he could not afford to pay for himself. Luckily, StopSO had been given a small grant to subsidise therapy for those who couldn’t afford to pay for themselves.

Meanwhile, the GP completed a safeguarding referral to the local authority. The local authority held a strategy meeting which was attended by the GP, social services, local safeguarding children’s board and the police. The strategy meeting took the decision that there were insufficient grounds for any further investigation or action to be carried out. This was because Chris didn’t have any contact with children and there was no evidence that any offence had been committed.

Chris told me, “I know of an individual, much younger than me, who sought help for his worrying thoughts about children. He also went to his GP, but it was a different local authority, and he ended up being formally investigated by the police because of it. He had an horrific experience. In the end they found that he was completely innocent. He had no illegal images on his computer or phone. He had no children in his immediate family or living near to him. The authorities eventually decided that he was telling the truth, and their investigations confirmed that there was no evidence that a crime had been committed, nor did it seem likely that a crime would be committed.”

Chris told me, “If I had known his story beforehand I would never have gone to see my GP at all. And, if I had known there was somewhere to get help, where I would have been treated confidentially, I would have sought support much, much sooner. I waited until I was suicidal to ask the GP for help. Finding StopSO was, for me, what made the difference at the end of the day. I got access to a therapist who knew what they were talking about, and it has enabled me to remain law-abiding. I never want to harm a child, despite my desires. I have strategies now to manage myself, and talking about it has made all the difference.”

Chris does no longer feels at risk of acting out inappropriately any more. He also knows he can come back to StopSO if he ever needs to.

About the author

Juliet Grayson is the Chair of StopSO: The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Perpetrators and Survivors of Sexual Offences

If you are having sexual thoughts about children, contact StopSO on www.stopso.org.uk/client-request-help or call  074743 299883 or email info@stopso.org.uk

StopSO’s patron is Simon Bailey, Norfolk’s Chief Constable and the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead on Child Protection.

If you want to donate to StopSO, you can do so here www.stopso.org.uk/donate-today

The section about ‘Chris’ was published originally in the Huffington Post on 18th September 2016 https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/juliet-grayson/he-is-a-paedophile-but-th_b_12046562.html

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

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When words HURT

by Miles Groth, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About the author

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Maths: problems understanding colour-coded graphs and charts

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

carry out dissections accurately, understand coloured diagrams

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

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

Sports and play: cannot differentiate team colours

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Biography

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

References

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Prostate cancer and men’s wellbeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Biography

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

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

 

 

 

 

Open post

Discovering the Passion and Generativity that Drive Men’s Happiness

by Dr Paul Dobransky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The passage says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

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

References

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

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

 

 

 

Open post

Challenging the illusion that men don’t need help

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

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

‘So what’s your research about?’

‘Gender differences in preferences for therapy’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

Open post

How involved are men in ‘involved fathering’?

by Dr Robin Hadley.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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