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You can’t help men by attacking masculinity

by Dr John Barry

You might not have noticed it, but in many countries November 19th was International Men’s Day.  The UN has four international days for women, but for the UN November 19th is World Toilet Day.

It seems to be the fashion today to attribute many of the world’s ills to men. Although some people directly attack men, often the attack is presented as a way of helping men by rescuing them from masculinity.

The term ‘toxic masculinity’ is often seen in the media, but the evidence that toxic masculinity explains men’s bad behaviour is based on the circular argument that 1/ violence and sexism are part of the definition of masculinity, and 2/ violent and sexist men are proof that masculinity is toxic. However the reality is that 1/ masculinity does not need to be defined by violence or sexism and 2/ psychologists know that violence and sexism are usually rooted in trauma, not masculinity. In fact, some of the very worst examples of violent sex offending are caused by men having been sexually abuse in childhood, often by female caregivers.

It is surely difficult to empathise with violent and sexist men, but we know that there are evidence-based ways of dealing with them. Professional psychologists have an ethical obligation to use treatments that are evidence-based, not faddish programmes offering to help men overcome their burdonsome masculine traits.

The forerunner of such programmes is the Duluth Model, a psychoeducational perpetrator program based on the notion that all domestic violence is caused by patriarchy, which causes men to exert control over women through violence. A meta-analysis found that Duluth, and interventions using similar ideas, showed only about half the benefit of other programmes, such as relationship enhancement. This, and the failure of the Duluth model to even recognise that at least a third of victims of domestic violence are male, should persuade us against using models based on flawed ideas about men and masculinity. Unfortunately this lesson has not been learned, as demonstrated in pages 124-8 of the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF). Attempts to change masculinity have been compared with conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gay people of their sexuality. Conversion therapy has recently been condemned by the BPS, yet attacks on masculinity go unquestioned.

Some people might say they want to change masculinity rather than change men, but this is based on the mistaken belief that masculinity is merely learned, and independent of biology. However there are obviously biological aspects to masculinity. Using Martin Seager’s dimensions of masculinity to demonstrate this, being a Fighter & Winner is supported by men’s physiology, such as greater muscle power and upper body strength. Having Mastery & Control of one’s feelings is supported by the tendency of testosterone to reduce fear and increase stress resilience, and being a Provider & Protector is seen in the fact that for men wellbeing is strongly linked to job satisfaction. The tremendous value of these attributes should not be forgotten, especially in 2018, the centenary of the end of World War I, a time when so many men were the protectors of civilisation.

There are undoubtedly many positive things about masculinity, and stigmatising masculinity is likely to make men feel ashamed and alienated. If negative views are internalised they could even become a self-fulfilling prophesy, putting boys on a mission to live up to the toxic label imposed on them.

Psychologists need to lead the way in offering evidence-based solutions to men’s mental health problems, and should not stand idle when 50% of the world’s population is being stigmatised in the media and elsewhere.


About the author

John is one of the founders of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. After completing his PhD in psychological aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome, he joined University College London’s Institutefor Women’s Health at the UCL Medical School in 2011. Since then he has published over 60 papers in various peer-reviewed journals, including in international-standard journals in gynaecology, cardiology and ophthalmology. Prompted by the considerable suicide rates among men and the establishment’s inertia in dealing with men’s mental health problems, in 2011 John led an independent research programme investigating the mental health needs of men and boys. John specialises in research methods (especially surveys and questionnaire development) and statistical analysis (e.g. meta-analysis, meta-regression), currently practices clinical hypnosis on a part-time basis and is an honorary lecturer with the Dept of Psychology, University College London.  John is an advisor to the Royal Foundation for issues around men’s mental health.






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The new The Harry’s Masculinity Report (USA) gives lots of reasons to celebrate International Men’s Day.

by Dr John Barry

We hear a lot of negativity about men and masculinity these days, and that can’t be good for men’s mental health. The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has become so commonplace that the Oxford English Dictionary declared ‘toxic’ the ‘word of the year’.

Most of the negativity comes from the media, but gender studies, sociology, and even some people in psychology have decided that the root of men’s problems is in their masculinity. Although perhaps well meaning, efforts to help men by blaming masculinity are inevitably inferior to efforts to help men by trying to understand men by using some empathy. Empathy and the scientific method are staples of psychology, but all to often seem to be forgotten when it comes to understanding men’s mental health.

That is why the Harry’s Masculinity Report USA, launched today, is such a welcome step in the right direction. Harry’s, a firm best known in the US for selling barber’s products, have sought to understand the core values of their target audience – men.

With input from the Harry’s team I designed a questionnaire, used last year by 2000 men in the British Isles, to gain insights into what factors promote mental wellbeing in men in the USA. From our sample of 5000 men, we found that – like the UK sample – men are happiest when they are in fulfilling work and a stable relationship. They value ideals such as honesty over athleticism. Interestingly, some of the happiest men are those in active military service, and some of the least happy were those who identified as non-binary rather than male.

The findings of this report, which are published on International Men’s Day here should be a wake-up call to anybody who thinks that masculinity is something that needs to be changed. I would suggest that rather than devalue masculinity and try to change it – as psychologists used to do with homosexuality – we should start to see the positives in masculinity, and explore the ways in which masculinity can benefit men’s mental health.

My call to psychologists is: let’s start treating men with the empathy that we would extend to any other client group. Let’s stop the imaginative theorising about the ways in which men and masculinity are flawed, and start to open our eyes to the positives about men and masculinity. It’s my belief that taking a positive approach to masculinity will not only benefit men, but benefit women, children, and society.


The report is available to download here from 19th Nov 2018

About the author

John Barry is co-founder, with Martin Seager, of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. John and Martin are giving two talks on the week of International Men’s Day, both of which are free and open to the public. Details are here

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What men need for a good nights sleep

by Sara Westgreen


Sleep is different for men and women

Sleep needs, circadian rhythms, and performing well on sleep deprivation are not the same among men and women. Learn about the unique needs men have for sleeping well.

Women tend to fall asleep earlier than men. That’s because in women, circadian rhythms run earlier than men. And women have shorter circadian cycles than men, with some women running internal clocks with a full cycle under 24 hours. Women naturally need to go to sleep earlier than men, and men may have trouble falling asleep earlier. Men tend to have an easier time sleeping in, assuming they have time to do so.

Overall, men tend to sleep less than women. A study of gendered sleep time found that women get 507.6 minutes of sleep per day compared to 496.4 minutes of sleep for men. However, women are more likely to report interrupted sleep. Men are less likely to nap than women and more likely to go to bed after midnight.

Men can handle sleep deprivation better than women. Although both men and women need adequate sleep each night, women struggle more when sleep deprived, experiencing more difficulties with depression and irritability when they’re short on sleep than men do. However, both men and women experience a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions when sleep deprived.

Men are also less likely to suffer from sleep disorders. Typically, women are more likely than men to experience sleep disorders that result in daytime sleepiness. But male snoring can be severe — severe enough to force bed partners to sleep in a different room.

Men experience more deep sleep than women, with more NREM stage 1 and stage 2 sleep, and tend to dream more. Men may experience more aggressive dreams than women.


What men need for a good nights sleep

As men and women sleep differently, men have different needs for getting healthy sleep. Use these tips that can be helpful for men who need better sleep.

  • Set a later wake up time. Women have an earlier circadian rhythm than men and will start to feel sleepy and need to go to bed earlier than men. With a later bedtime, men also need a later wake time to get sufficient sleep each night.
  • Get more time to sleep. Although men can handle sleep deprivation better than women, that’s not to say they should. Men tend to sleep less than women, possibly due to their later bedtime. But the average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep each night to get enough rest and maintain good health.
  • Be consistent with sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each night and day can help you stay on schedule and sleep better. It’s a good idea to sleep and wake up within about an hour of your usual time each night and day, even on weekends and on vacation.
  • Go through a bedtime routine. Bedtime routines aren’t just for kids, they’re for everyone. A bedtime routine signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep once you start going through the motions of getting to bed. It can be simple, such as dimming the lights, putting away electronics, and putting on pajamas.
  • Avoid sleep pitfalls. Men may go to sleep later, but it’s not a good idea to push your bedtime further than it should be. Screen time, caffeine, even exercise and late night snacks can interfere with getting to bed on time. Avoid screen exposure at least one hour before bed and don’t drink coffee after 3 p.m. Make late night snacks light, and finish exercising at least three hours before bed. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, consider using a natural sleep aid.
  • Make your bedroom dark and quiet. Men need deep sleep, which means avoiding sleep interruptions. Darkness and quiet can help you stay asleep so you can get the deep sleep you need for a restful night.

Men and women may sleep differently, but everyone needs a good night of sleep to feel well and be healthy. Make sleep a priority and cater to your unique sleep needs.


About the author

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for a sleep science hub. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.



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5 ways woodworking might help with PTSD recovery

By Robert Johnson

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause many functional problems. People might lose their jobs, partners, or families. Some use drugs to self-medicate, but the bad feelings and strange behaviors can’t be cured by psychoactive substances. However with the help of the right therapy, engrained habits can change.

For someone suffering from PTSD, changing engrained habits can sound about as easy as  landing a rocket onto the Moon. Nevertheless,  the first giant leap is relatively simple: to find something that will occupy the overactive mind. Simple routine change can make life easier, and finding a hobby or any type of occupation will help you to relax.

In my experience, woodworking has proved an interesting and therapeutic way to direct the brain. These are the five reasons I think woodworking is good for wellbeing.


1/ You get your concentration back

Making a frame or a new piece for your kitchen is something that needs your full attention. Think about it like this: you need to consider proportions, ways to cut the wood, how to use the machines, how to make a final product look as it should, finishing, painting etc. While drawing a sketch of a wood product and processing the wood, your attention is 100% there. It is hard to keep it there all the time, but continuing to try over and over is something that will definitely improve your concentration, and as a consequence your overall wellbeing.


2/ You create meaning 

Imagine you make one piece of wood; a pen holder for instance. You can use it or give it as a present to someone you love. This is something that gives real meaning to the piece, to the person who made it and to the person who receives it.. People doing woodworking are giving a new meaning to a piece of wood, to themselves and to the person that will use that piece.


3/ You follow the cycle and enjoy every part of it

Up and down, back and forth. Rules always follow; it is the same here. The process of woodworking will start with an unshaped piece, the move to planning, choosing adequate equipment, the work itself and finishing. Every part is important in the process and it should be followed by a dedication and interaction. While interacting, we should try to enjoy it. Try to see a splinter as wood decoration for your floor. Every splinter and every shaving helps your piece to shape and transform to its purpose.


4/ You remove a rough edge on a piece (and in your life)

It takes dedication to remove the rough edge on a wooden piece and make it smooth. How many edges need to be removed in order to make a wooden cup? Good question, but the answer is always: we remove as many edges as we need to make a perfect cup. The same is in life. Rough edges of anger, bad feelings, situations, people, and traumas need to be softened. Imagine you want to make your life into that wooden cup. Make every removed edge on your piece a small removal of your inner edges.


5/ You learn how to lose. You learn how to win.

In a woodshop, you are sometimes a winner and sometimes a loser; as you are in life. But, in your small wood world, you are dealing with it alone. No one can know that you won, nor lost. This is something that can help you accept that there are ups and downs all the time and that we need to move on, deal with every new down and grow with every new up. For PTSD, accepting the fact that we were not able to make the piece we wished will make us feel more relieved about the fact that we are not able to cope with the trauma in the way we wished. But we can try, and try again, realizing that sometimes the process is more important and rewarding than the product.


About the author

Robert is a woodworking enthusiast whose passion for power tools is expressed through writing. He is the founder, owner, and main author of, a blog site dedicated to his personal reviews of different types and specific models of saws. Through the years, his interest in woodworking expanded beyond tools, which started his quest to write about woodworking projects and fascinating stories of woodworkers as well.

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Psychology should benefit all prisoners, not just female prisoners

This blog was first published as a letter in The Psychologist, November 2018 issue


Chris Millar makes the case for a more compassionate and psychologically informed treatment of prisoners (‘Careers’, August 2018). We fully support this but would suggest that this is applied equally to male prisoners, because all of the reasons Millar gives for supporting women also apply to men.

Even where the figures appear to apply more to women (e.g. ‘53 per cent [of women] report emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared with 27 per cent of men’), it is very likely that there is underreporting by male prisoners of such abuse. In addition to societal pressures making it more difficult for men to discuss experiences of victimisation, men are often not asked by staff about abuse to the same degree that women are. However, appropriate investigation can be revealing, for example, Murphy (2018) found that 66 per cent of male sex offenders with personality disorders have a history of childhood sexual abuse, 72 per cent have a history of physical abuse and 80 per cent have a history of neglect.

Having compassion for male offenders is more of a challenge than for female offenders, because men often express their trauma in violence and aggression that is directed at others. Regardless, psychologists should rise to this challenge and see male offenders as equally deserving of psychological healthcare as female offenders. Society has much to gain by the successful treatment of men’s mental health issues.


Dr Naomi Murphy
HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire

Dr John Barry
University College London


Murphy, N. (2018). Embracing vulnerability in the midst of danger: Therapy in a high secure prison. Existential Analysis 29(2), 174–188.



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Is our attitude to men based on substandard research?

Professor Guy Madison & Therese Söderlund

Much of our attitude towards men comes from high profile feminist and Gender Studies scholars in academia. There is a strong association between the theorizing amongst such academics and the ideologies expressed in public debate. In fact, it is often the same individuals who write op-eds, scholarly papers, and pamphlets, and engage in political activism. It is only the type of platform that varies. Much of the ideas about male privilege, quotas, “rape culture”, and the patriarchy, for example, began in academic departments. But what is the scientific quality of publications from the world of gender studies?

We were compelled to investigate the quality of gender studies publications after some alluring lectures given at Umeå University, arguing that Gender Studies (GS) outperforms the old-fashioned, bigoted, and boring positivist methods. GS, it was argued, is an alternative and superior kind of science.

This aroused our interest, so we compiled a database of all GS publications we could find in a certain time frame, written by scholars active in Sweden. This Swedish Gender Studies List (SGSL) contains 12,414 cases, and has to date been used in three studies, all published in the journal Scientometrics (Söderlund & Madison, 2015; 2017; Madison & Söderlund, 2018). As they are already reported in detail, we provide only a brief summary of selected results here.

  • The 2015 study found that the annual growth rate of GS publications was greater than for research in general. In the period 2000 to 2010, GS publications from Sweden increased ~12% per year and ~7% internationally, while other research both in Sweden and internationally grew ~3-7%.
  • GS articles are substantially more often book chapters, dissertations, and conference contributions, and less often peer-reviewed journal articles (~20% of GS and 70% on non-GS publications).
  • Overall, non-GS articles had 2-3 times more citations than GS articles, and ~90% have 3 citations or more compared to only ~28% of GS articles.
  • 50% of GS journals were not even indexed in Thomson’s Journal Citation Reports, and the bulk of the remaining journals’  had an impact factor of less than half that of the average for non-GS journals (~1.0, as compared to ~2.0).
  • The 2016 and 2018 studies were based on ~2,800 statements culled from 36 journal articles with more and less gender perspective, and found significantly higher proportions of biased and normative statements in GS articles, and lower proportions of statements about biology/genetics and individual/group differences, than in non-GS articles. Consistent with this, non-GS articles had significantly lower proportions of statements about environment/culture and societal institutions.
  • The 2018 study found that GS texts were more abstract, less empirical, and focussed to a greater extent on societal factors. The proportion of statement of fact was 82% for GS articles but 48% for non-GS articles. Correlations were mentioned as a relationship between variables in 10% of GS statements and 37% of non-GS statements, but there was no difference in the proportion of causal relations (~5% for both GS and non-SG).
  • GS articles had less mention of limitations and earlier theories, results, and research in general, and had less support for their statements in terms of arguments or references.
  • In conclusion, GS articles appear to focus on communicating examples of different experiences and viewpoints of certain groups of people, rather than comprehensive models of the real world.

It is quite unusual that scholars comment on each other’s articles in print, but our 2015 article was challenged by ten pages listing alleged errors, asserting that it “falls well short of adequate good practice”, that we “distort” the conceptual framework, are “unreflecting”, and “lack…understanding” and ”…knowledge” (Lundgren, Shildrick, & Lawrence, 2015). We were, however, unable to find any argument as to how the many but relatively minor concerns listed might, separately or taken together, challenge the main result that more gender perspective was associated with lower scientific quality. The implication was not lost upon us that only gender studies scholars can be trusted to criticize gender studies publications (Madison & Söderlund, 2016).

From an epistemological perspective it is interesting and potentially illuminating that GS scholars find it worthwhile to launch arrows that so clearly miss the mark. The data are in. We are just saying what they look like. A comment to our 2018 article was just published (Lykke, 2018), again with a long list of grievances about definitions of concepts and our lack of competence. In essence, however, both comments argue that the differences we document are expected, and are therefore not valid critique. Maybe so, but that does not refute our argument that this field could achieve a greater impact if those differences were reduced.

Surely, it stands to reason that any communication would be more useful as a source of knowledge and guide for action and change if its scientific quality were higher? Is it not obvious that such quality is associated with more, rather than less, data, reliability, validity, non-bias, self-criticism, and most other quality indicators addressed in our studies, the very same indicators that scientific journals in general apply as criteria for peer-review? (Although perhaps not all journals:

We welcome the debate, and look forward to hear representatives of GS develop their arguments for why these criteria are undesirable for, or do not apply to, their field.

About the authors

Guy Madison is a professor of Psychology at Umeå University (since 2011) and holds a PhD from Uppsala University (2001). He has authored some 150 scientific papers, including five book chapters and about 100 peer-reviewed journal articles across diverse fields of study. His main areas of research are human timing modelling, music psychology, intelligence, personality, and individual differences, to a large extent employing an evolutionary perspective and behavioural genetic methods. He mainly teaches behavioural genetics and advanced level scientific methodology. See his publications and research projects at ResearchGate, Loop, or

Therese Söderlund has Master’s degrees in Psychology and in Worklife and Health, and Bachelor’s degrees in Swedish and English. She has been employed as a researcher and project assistant at the Department of Psychology at Umeå University since 2009.



Lundgren, S., Shildrick, M., & Lawrence, D. (2015). Rethinking bibliometric data concerning gender studies: a response to Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 105, 1389-1398.

Lykke, N. (2018). Can’t bibliometric analysts do better? How quality assessment without field expertise does not work. Scientometrics, 117, 655-666.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2016). Can gender studies be studied? Reply to comments on Söderlund and Madison. Scientometrics, 108, 329-335.

Madison, G. & Söderlund, T. (2018). Comparisons of content and scientific quality indicators across populations of peer-reviewed journal articles with more or less gender perspective: Gender studies can do better. Scientometrics, 115, 1161-1183.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2015). Characteristics of gender studies publications: a bibliometric analysis based on a Swedish population database. Scientometrics, 105, 1347-1387.

Söderlund, T. & Madison, G. (2017). Objectivity and realms of explanation in academic journal articles concerning sex/gender: a comparison of Gender studies and the other social sciences. Scientometrics, 112, 1093-1109.




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What was missing from the BBC Panorama exploration of domestic violence

by Dr Elizabeth A. Bates

Any mainstream and popular TV programme that highlights the issue of domestic violence is welcome.   Domestic violence is a significant social issue that has significant physical and mental health impacts for the men, women and children involved. That being said, when programmes highlight the issue but continue to perpetuate stereotypes and myths about the gendered nature of domestic violence, then it is likely to have some adverse effects.

BBC’s Panorama on Monday night raised the question about whether violent men can change, and explored the use and effectiveness of perpetrator programmes in changing behaviour. It was thought provoking and interesting, but to me, there were some significant omissions of information that would have contributed to the discussion.

As highlighted in the programme, there are issues with our understanding of how effective perpetrator programmes can be in changing behaviour. These issues include a lack of long-term follow ups, a lack of independent evaluations and a lack of evidence informed practice (see Bates, Graham-Kevan, Bolam & Thornton, 2017 for a full discussion). Within the Panorama programme one non-gendered perpetrator programme was presented, but there was a noticeable lack of discussion on the current theoretical models that underpin the majority of other perpetrator programmes that are accredited and funded within the UK.

The Duluth model was established in the United States in 1981 as an intervention with a curriculum developed by activists within the battered women’s movement and five battered women (Pence & Paymar, 1993). They believed that domestic violence was caused by men’s patriarchal ideology and beliefs about male privilege, as well as women’s lack of power and equality.  Research has been consistent in demonstrating the widespread use of this model whilst also indicating a lack of effectiveness of this programme. It is still influential in policy and practice within the UK, US and Canada, despite a wealth of literature that demonstrates its lack of success in changing behaviour, and its ignorance to other factors that are predictive of domestic violence perpetration (e.g., adverse childhood experiences), as well as the prevalence of bidirectional/mutual abuse.

The lack of evidence-based practice in the area of domestic violence is almost unique. The Duluth model has a noticeable “immunity” from needing to answer to any external empirical evaluation (Corvo, Dutton & Chen, 2008; p.112).  Over ten years ago, Dutton (2006) reviewed both the model’s lack of efficacy and the wealth of evidence contradicting its feminist foundations, concluding that its continued use is impeding effective treatment and judicial responses.  Despite the weight of evidence, the Duluth model continues to be influential now.

Whilst in the opening scenes of the Panorama programme the narrator is heard talking about the number of women and men who experience domestic violence, this is the only real mention of the issue of male victims, and there is indeed no discussion of violence by women at all.   The impact of not including female perpetrators and male victims in this narrative is two-fold; it impacts firstly on men who are experiencing abuse, and creates more barriers to their help-seeking. Men often do not disclose their own victimisation, and in part this could be seen to be impacted by more general issues men have help-seeking related to the construction of the male gender role. However beyond that, other issues that impact help-seeking include the fact that men often assume they simply cannot be victims of domestic violence, because they don’t have a concept of men as being victims of violence from women. In awareness raising campaigns, in the media, and in general societal narratives, domestic violence is discussed as overwhelmingly an issue of men’s violence towards women, creating the image that only women are victims. Services and support organisations often are perceived to be either not appropriate for men or commonly not available. Furthermore, where men have disclosed their victimisation they have often experienced humiliation through being laughed at, blamed and accused of causing the violence, accused of being the perpetrator, or told to “man up” and handle it.  Perceptions of the general public are important and impactful; the stigma associated with being a male victim of domestic violence can be really damaging.  ManKind made a video to highlight just how different people’s perceptions are, by comparing the reactions to a male and female victim – see the video here.

A second issue with not including female perpetrators in this narrative is that it negatively impacts on women who are violent and are left with few options for getting help and support in changing their behaviour.  The academic literature demonstrates there are significant similarities in the factors that predict men’s and women’s violence, and these can include trauma and adverse childhood experiences, attachment issues, personality traits and disorders and many other issues.  BBC’s Panorama failed to highlight that there are abusive women who do not currently have access to intervention that could help their behaviour change.  In part this could be attributed to the fact these women do not come into contact with the criminal justice system because men often don’t report women’s violence, women’s violence is not always taken seriously, or the rigid dichotomy of having to assign perpetrator and victim labels in situations where there is bidirectional violence.

Moving away from a one-size-fits-all, gendered approach would not only allow intervention to be matched to risk and need, but it would create opportunities to develop evidence-based programmes that can be used with all perpetrators including men and women in opposite-sex relationships and members of the LGBTQ+ population.  With the increased evidence base detailing both women’s perpetration and the prevalence of bidirectional IPV, there is a need to work with perpetrator and victim groups across the gender and sexuality spectrums to ensure we are developing interventions that are inclusive and effective.  This must then be reflected in the narrative we construct in the media, in order to start the process of change in how we recognise and support those impacted by domestic violence. The Panorama programme last night reflects a lost opportunity to make a positive step forward in addressing our outdated stereotypes about domestic violence.

About the author

Dr Elizabeth Bates is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Cumbria and a Chartered Psychologist. Her research explores men’s experiences of domestic violence including barriers to help-seeking and post-separation recovery. Dr Bates is also a trustee with the male victims charity ManKind Initiative.

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Workplace mental health schemes must address men’s needs

by Dr Joe MacDonagh

Anything that moves us toward a greater understanding of mental health is to be welcomed. Recently, the Heads Together organisation has partnered with a number of other groups to develop the Mental Health at Work site (

There are many resources on this site and it is a good start towards what Heads Together call “Changing the conversation and tackling the stigma around mental health”. We know that job satisfaction is a major factor in men’s wellbeing (Barry and Daubney, 2017), but how much do programmes such as  the Mental Health at Work site take men’s needs into account, especially the mental health needs of working class men?

We know that not all programmes aimed at supporting mental health at work are equally effective for men and women. For example, Wright and McLeod (2016) found that when counselling was provided in an EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), only women continued to benefit in the long term, suggesting that men and women may differently experience and benefit from mental health interventions.

Men tend to be the workers in heavy industry and jobs requiring the most hard physical labour, and women are more likely to gravitate to more people-orientated work. How might the gender difference in job choice be relevant to mental health? Mental health problems can lead to poor performance, absenteeism, workers being fired and even workplace accidents and deaths. As I outlined at the 2018 Male Psychology Conference in University College London, workplace deaths are highly skewed towards men (MacDonagh, 2018). This is partly attributable to men doing more dangerous jobs, but it is perhaps also attributable to EAPs not successfully addressing men’s particular perspectives and needs in regards their mental health (Wright and McLeod, 2016).

Men often invest a great deal of themselves in their work, and in the importance of doing a good job. While perhaps there may be a need to balance this with family responsibilities, we should consider that it might be best if workplace mental health programmes respond to the way men actually are, not how we think they should be. Unemployment is more predictive of suicide risk in men than women, which suggests that extra care should be taken in EAPs for men who have concerns about unemployment. As we know, suicide figures are grossly distorted towards men, usually putting them at about 75% of all people dying by suicide.

Men can be relatively poor at reaching out for help, but services provided for them need be presented – in terms of marketing channels used – and operated according to how men typically talk, behave and act. If we want to reduce the number of direct and indirect workplace deaths, which may be due to poor risk decision-making caused by mental illness, stress and untreated physical ailments, then we have to provide programmes which attend to the particular needs of men, and women too. More research is needed on how to achieve more effective gender sensitivity in  EAPs.

Since in general men tend to prefer a solution-focused step by step approach and women tend to prefer to talk about their feelings (Holloway et al, 2018), this should inform the real-life and hypothesised examples provided, both in text and in acted out role play examples in online videos. It is important to provide something concrete, particularly for men, so that those who have not had mental health problems previously can see, and thus understand, what it is like to experience those problems. Finally, there could be more video testimonies of both men and women (the more high profile the better, as people respond positively to well regarded celebrity or high status role models) talking about how they came through their mental health problems and how they maintain their mental health now.

While I found much good material on the Mental Health at Work site, I felt that it could be even better if it was more designed to take gender differences in mental health and functioning at work into account. The steps towards recognising their problem (e.g. through online self-administered tests), case studies (going from experience through diagnosis to recovery) and to how to access mental health services, can all be improved by adapting future versions of the Mental Health at Work site to the different needs often seen in men and women.


About the author

Dr Joe MacDonagh is a Chartered Psychologist, a Chartered Scientist and is a former President of the Psychological Society of Ireland – the professional body for psychologists in Ireland. He is also a former Chair of the Irish Academy of Management and is currently Honorary Secretary of the History and Philosophy of Psychology section of the British Psychological Society.



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

Holloway K, Seager M, Barry JA (2018). Are clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors overlooking the needs of their male clients? Clinical Psychology Forum, July 2018.

MacDonagh, J. (2018). Is there a workplace “mental ill health gap”?: Examining men’s occupational mental health status. 5th annual Male Psychology Conference, University College London.

Wright, K.J.R. & McLeod, J. (2016). Gender difference in the long-term outcome of brief therapy for employees. New Male Studies: An International Journal, 5, 2, 88-110

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The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) takes a dim view of the male gender

by Martin Seager, Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

Many psychologists question the wisdom of the DSM diagnostic system, and would like to see it replaced or modified to something more ‘human’. The fact that the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) is an alternative model makes it immediately appealing to some, but closer inspection reveals that the PTMF contains within it a highly questionable view of the male gender.

The PTMF is a vast document of 400 pages with the grand aim of replacing a psychiatric categorisation system for mental health with an equivalent psycho-social system. It is written using a narrow band of evidence by a small clique of clinical psychologists who don’t speak for many others even among our own profession. One problem with the PTMF is that it is emotionally driven by a (perhaps understandable) resentment of psychiatric culture.

However taking an anti-psychiatric stance can too easily become an anti-biology / pro social constructionist stance, therefore becoming naive in relation to the biological and embodied aspects of the human condition. In essence we are splitting mind from body and simply swapping biological determinism for social determinism.  Leaving out the “bio” in “bio-psycho-social” is no better than leaving out the “psycho-social”.

In no area of human science is naïve social constructionism more dangerous and misleading than in the field of human sex and gender.  Through such a constructionist lens, the evolution of human beings as a mammalian species becomes totally and arrogantly disregarded. Biological sex is presumed to have no direct bearing on psychological gender. Body and mind are naively split.

In the PTMF there are 3 pages devoted to men and masculinity. Nestled in a 400 page document, these 3 pages might be easily overlooked, but they represent a sad indictment of current post-feminist attitudes to the male gender based on untested political theories and prejudices rather than empirical bio-psycho-social science and empathic humanity. For a profession that claims to be rooted in values of science and compassion for human suffering, these unexamined and lazy prejudices towards the male gender represent a complete failure to meet core standards. In essence, the PTMF takes a judgmental and a negative stance towards the male gender. All psychologists, therapists and counsellors should know that being “judgmental” or “negative” is the worst starting point for helping any group of people and can only undermine empathy and scientific understanding.

The primary presumption made by the PTMF is that being of the male gender somehow confers a “dominant” status. This vague notion of male power is simply accepted without proper definition, self-reflection or question. In a framework that is all about “power” and “threat”, the implication here then is clear that men are presumed to be more “powerful and threatening” than women. Nowhere, however, in a supposedly serious scientific document, is the concept of power adequately defined or measured. The idea of female power within certain domains of life (e.g. over children, education and family life) is considered a form of oppression, and the equivalent idea of male vulnerability or disadvantage (e.g. suicide, deaths at work, reduced life expectancy) register little sympathy. Substantial evidence (e.g. relating to dangerous situations in war and peace time) showing that men are generally protective of women and children (to the point of self-sacrifice) is completely ignored. Ignoring male protective behaviour or reframing it as “dominant” represents a failure of science. Equally, ignoring the evidence of high levels of female domestic and interpersonal violence towards males or downplaying it as “defensive” can hardly be considered a serious and objective scientific approach.

The PTMF notes the relationship between male gender and suicide but does not even consider this as possible evidence against its own theory of male dominance. Instead the tragic male suicide statistics are twisted to fit the assumption. According to the PTMF, men must be killing themselves because of their own “hegemonic” masculinity which entails a pathological need for power and control.  Rather than re-designing research and therapy to be more male-friendly, therefore, the implication of the PTMF is that men need to change their masculinity to express their emotions differently to fit the gender neutral or perhaps “feminised” therapies that already exist. The PTMF also notes the link between unemployment and male suicide but again the implication is not that we must help men with employment issues (thus showing empathy) but that men must learn to be less dependent on work as part of their masculine identity (thus showing judgmentalism).

All in all, the PTMF is unashamedly biased and a recipe for misunderstanding and negatively judging the male gender. For a document that claims to represent a breakthrough in anti-psychiatric and empathic psychological thinking this is rather ironic. This document offers no proper evidence or balance. It offers nothing practical that will help vulnerable men and boys and a lot that will reinforce or exacerbate their problems through prejudice and bad science.


About the author

Martin is a consultant clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, currently working with “Change, Grow, Live”. He is a lecturer, author, campaigner, and broadcaster. He worked in the NHS for 30 years, becoming head of psychological services in two mental health Trusts. He has advised government and has regularly broadcast with the BBC on mental health issues.  He is co-founder of the Male Psychology Network, and was the original proponent of the Male Psychology Section of the BPS. He was branch consultant to the Central London Samaritans for over 10 years and has also been an adviser to the College of Medicine.


[Reference. The material about masculinity is in pages 124-8 of the long version of the Power Threat Meaning Framework ]







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Are men being discriminated against in the science workplace?

by Dr John Barry

Many people today presume that women are discriminated against in the workplace in various ways. This is not surprising given the steady stream of information from the gender equality industry appearing to support this view. However the reality today is that gender equality schemes that promote women’s careers in science related jobs, and other fields, are the norm.

For example, when it started in the UK in 2005, Athena SWAN was concerned only with promoting the careers of women in science, technology and engineering careers (STE). It then went on to include mathematics (STEM), medicine (STEMM) and now covers the entire range of academic subjects, and is extending internationally. With this in mind it seems a bit harsh that “a senior scientist at CERN has been suspended after suggesting female physicists were given jobs based on their gender”.

The reality is that, at least in recent years, women have never had it so good when it comes to getting jobs in the STEM workplace. What is the evidence for this? Well, there is the excellent paper produced by Ceci and colleagues at Cornell University. Published in the highest ranking psychology journal that I know of (impact factor of 19.228), it is 67 pages exploring a whole range of questions about the position of women in academia – from explanations for innate abilities based on prenatal testosterone levels, to whether better male networks explain male’s higher rate of publication. They conclude that: “…invitations to interview for tenure-track positions in math-intensive fields—as well as actual employment offers—reveal that female PhD applicants fare at least as well as their male counterparts in math-intensive fields” (Ceci et al 2014, p.75). Just take a look at Table 1 (main picture above), and compare the percentage of women who applied for STEM jobs to the percentage who were offered the job.

There might be strongly voiced reasons as to why women should have schemes that promote their careers in STEM, but if we know that women’s careers are being put first because of their gender, then why suspend a man who points this out? It reminds me of The Clash lyric:

“You have the right to free speech, as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it”. 

What kind of world have we created when people cannot state the obvious without being punished for it?


About the author

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




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