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Tribute to Prof Geoff Dench RIP, author of ‘Transforming Men’

The following is an extract from the start of Will Collins’ article ‘Of Frogs And Men’ in The Illustrated Empathy Gap website on 9th July 2018. The full article is available here


In 1996, Professor Geoff Dench – who died two weeks ago – published a book “Transforming Men”. Apparently he did not choose the title himself. Dench used the fairy story “The Frog Prince” as an allegory for the state of gender relations in the West. There is a curious consilience with the present here, and Jordan Peterson comes into it. But first, Dench’s argument – and starting with the story itself…

A young princess, still very much a child, who spends all of her time playing, ventures outside the palace grounds and enters the wild forest beyond. Her golden ball, which she values more than anything else, falls into a pool (or well) and sinks from view, leaving her heartbroken.

To her surprise a frog appears and speaks to her, offering to retrieve her ball for her if she promises to be his friend. In her childish grief for the lost ball, and carelessly disregarding the future, she agrees. So the frog restores her ball to her.

The princess returns to the palace, where she is later embarrassed by the frog who has followed her, and who now insists on her keeping the promise of friendship. She is reluctant, but her father, the King, insists that she honour her commitment.

So the frog is allowed to participate in the civilised activities of the palace, such as eating at the table and sharing the princess’s food. After contact has become more intimate, variously expressed as the princess kissing the frog, or allowing him to sleep on her pillow (with the result, in some versions, that she begins to feel more friendly towards him), the frog turns into a prince.

He declares that this is in fact his original and true form, and that by befriending him the princess has removed him from the spell of an evil witch. They marry – for the princess has now matured – and go off in a gold coach to live at the prince’s own castle.

In what way did Dench interpret this fairy story as an allegory for gender relations? Dench was a social anthropologist and naturally comes at the matter from that perspective. For Dench the key anthropological problem for a society to solve is how to make constructive use of men. Think primates: the males are a law unto themselves. Or, better, a lawlessness. They make little contribution to the troop (see, however, the comment from Joseph, below). There is, of course, no pair bonding amongst primates; no paternal resourcing. Arguably, the anthropological inventions of family and society are key to the evolutionary success of Homo sapiens. Not that Dench would express it in that way.

But he certainly argued strongly for the crucial importance of family. And families include fathers, and fathers mean patriarchy. Aargh! But Dench did not understand patriarchy in the feminist sense – namely a conspiracy by men to oppress and exploit women. For Dench, patriarchy was a piece of theatre, a subterfuge expressly designed to tie men into familial relationships whose purpose was twofold: to extract benefit from men whilst minimising the threat of men reverting to a feral state. From this perspective, patriarchy is closer to an exploitation of men by women rather than the reverse. This aligns with my own view as expressed in The Empathy Gap, though Dench would not have taken my evolutionary approach to it.

So, to the interpretation of the story. A frog is a feral male – or a free male, if you will: a male who is not a patriarch, a family man. A Prince is a male bound into society – and society (or the ‘moral economy’) is predominantly female. As a boy, and a member of a family, a male starts as a Prince. As he becomes mature, however, he becomes independent and loses his initial status as a Prince. He is no longer accepted by female society and has become a frog. Most adolescent males know what it is to be a frog. It is specifically female society which rejects the young man, so, in the myth, it is a witch – the analogue of female society – which casts the spell which turns him into a frog.

To re-enter society – to become once again a Prince – the frog must avail himself a second time of female magic. To this end he must perform some service of great value to a Princess. That done, the Princess becomes locked into an obligation which – it is notable – the King, the existing Patriarch, enforces. The externally enforced obligation is essential, because the Princess is initially repulsed by the frog.

The allegory makes explicit female power over men: to turn them into frogs or frogs into Princes. The presumption of the story is that any frog must prefer to become a Prince. But the twist for our times is that a frog may prefer to remain a frog, despite the dangers of the forest. Being a Prince sounds grand, but actually means duty and obligation, in contrast to the freedom of the forest. And as for the modern Princess, she is no longer so keen on transforming frogs, and her Patriarch, the King, has been usurped by his wife, the Queen, who does not enforce the old rules. As Dench writes,

Girls no longer want to be dependent, even nominally; and boys are losing hope of being turned into princes. It is time to re-write the story as a fin-de-millenium lament, or even a horror story. In it the princess refuses to accept the loathsome frog as a partner after all. Her power to perform good magic is thereby wasted; and the original spell of the witch, far from being broken, remains unchecked and grows in strength. Soon the princess’s father, the king, abdicates and turns back into a monstrous and malevolent frog himself, and starts abusing the inhabitants of the palace. Bereft of leadership, the kingdom slips into feuding and chaos, its citizens selfish and unruly; and the forest of individual desire starts to encroach upon the formerly meticulous and orderly palace gardens.”

Patriarchy was only ever a piece of theatre, a con, and the status of Prince in part illusion and in part reward. Surely the Witch and the Princess were playing for the same team, working the prince-frog-prince scam. In which case, was the “Prince”, who was never truly a prince, never really a frog either? Or is my cynicism merely my froggy tendencies triumphing over my princely tendencies?

In a curious recent resonance of frogs, enter Pepe. And enter Kek – in ancient Egyptian mythology the deification of the concept of primordial darkness. Enter Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Pageau, on whom the relevance of The Frog Prince is not lost, as made explicit in their discussion of the metaphysics of Pepe. In The Frog Prince the choice of frog as the creature into which the Prince is turned is appropriate because, herpetophiles aside, frogs are generally perceived as physically repulsive, especially to beautiful, self-regarding Princesses. But there is something deeper here. The frog is a mythological archetype. Being amphibian, the frog mediates between two states of being. Water represents chaos, and frogs being at home in water, are the emissaries of chaos. The explosion of popularity of the Pepe meme saw the ubiquitous frog deployed to represent absolutely anything. Being the emissary of the primordial, Pepe naturally inclines to the glorification of misrule. As Jonathan Pageau has explained, the universal applicability of the Pepe meme is because, as a manifestation of chaos, it can instantiate anything. Chaos is at the same time nothing and everything. A frog is empowered to pull a specific instantiation out of the infinite potential of chaos, such as a golden ball from water.



Dench, G. (1998). Transforming men: Changing patterns of dependency and dominance in gender relations. Transaction Publishers.
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The Christian psychologist: Some thoughts on anger and justice

by John Steley, psychologist.

Image: The Merchants Chased from the Temple painted by James Tissot


What do people think of when they hear the word ‘Christian’? Some may react with cynicism but for others it may evoke thoughts of a caring attitude, sympathy and a listening ear for those who need it.

I do not disagree that Christians are called to care for those I need. This includes the call to listen when necessary. (Although most of my training took place in secular state universities I was always mindful of the theologian Paul Tillich’s dictum that ‘The first duty of love is to listen.’) But is there more to it than that? I think there is.

The Christian scriptures call us to care, but they also include a demand for justice. In the Old Testament, prophets like Amos were scathing in their denunciation of the injustices of their day. In the New Testament the news of the birth of Christ was first of all given, not to the rulers or the elite, but to a group of shepherds – people at the very bottom of the social heap. (A point that often seems to be missed in sanitised nativity plays.)

So, when I meet a client my first job is to listen. What is this person’s story? Why has he or she come to see me? What do they want me to do? What does he or she really need?

It may be that reflective counselling, psychological insights and a plan to change behaviour may be enough. These things are of benefit to many people. But I must also ask myself, does this person need justice? Has he or she sought justice and had it denied?

The Bible is also clear that while injustice can come from ‘below’, for example the mugger or the thief, it can also come from ‘above’. How many times have we heard complaints from people who have faced indifference, incompetence or outright hostility from those who are paid to address their needs?

In cases such as this my Christian commitment compels me to say that simply listening, offering insights and helping the person to cope are not enough. At best this would be inadequate. At worst it colludes with the abusers.

When a person has suffered abuse he or she must recognise that their anger is normal and good. (As a Christian I believe it is God -given.) They must then decide what to do with it. Expressing anger ‘safely’ by talking, screaming or writing may be helpful to the person concerned but it does little to address the injustice itself. How many people have a lingering sense of justice not having been done years after the event?

What many people need is a plan to use their anger constructively to face the abuser or the abusive system. This may mean joining, or if necessary forming, a group of like-minded people. It may mean developing skills such as approaching politicians, writing press releases and using social media. It may also mean digging in for a long fight.

However long the battle takes, anger used in these ways can help the person concerned. It can also be a benefit to others and to the community as a whole. I sometimes point out to people that some of this nation’s greatest reformers were essentially very angry people. (Think of Florence Nightingale or William Booth.)

So as a Christian psychologist I want to be sensitive and listen as I believe Jesus did. But that same Jesus armed himself with a whip and threw the corrupt money changers out of the Temple. I have not done that myself but I see in that act an important principle – and a challenge.


About the author

John Steley is a psychologist in private practice in London





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Review of the Male Psychology Conference, UCL, 2018

by William Collins

This review was originally published on The Illustrated Empathy Gap blog on 24th June 2018 and the views are the author’s (Will Collins).

If you have a review that you’d like to send us, please send it to

Photos are courtesy of Michael Walton, for the Male Psychology Network.


John Barry and Martin Seager are to be congratulated for organising another excellent male psychology conference in this series, now the 4th I have attended. Each year the attendance increases (by my informal reckoning, at least) and the range of speakers widens, including speakers from abroad.

Picture: IT maestro Jordan Holbrook, John Barry, Audaye Elesedy, and Martin Seager.


Martin opened by reminding us of the expected values. Martin alluded to the distinction between men being expected to change to accommodate society’s demands and society needing to accommodate men’s needs. I look forward to hearing more about “from empathy gap to gender distortion matrix” in due course. I was rather disconcerted by “equity of outcome”. It sounded rather like an attempt to appease. With the macro-demographic micro-replication monster currently chewing its way through the economy, I don’t think we should be feeding it.

The first day of the conference was on the dark side, or downside, of masculinity – much of which related to offenders. The second day concentrated on more positive aspects of masculinity. The following are merely rough unpolished notes.


Naomi Murphy, lead forensic psychologist at HMP Whitemoor, built on last year’s excellent presentation: working with serious violent and sexual offenders. Data: 54% had a history of being sexually abused as children by women, generally acting alone, 73% physical abuse, 81% neglect, 64% from ‘broken’ families, 59% parental antipathy. She reminded us that her staff were almost all women in their 20s and 30s. Yet the prisoner-psychologist dynamic was one in which it was the men who were fearful.

Picture: Dr Naomi Murphy, first keynote on day 1 of the conference.


Joel Beckman updated us on CALM (which differs from Samaritans in being a male-specific suicide help line service). They receive 7000 calls or web chats per month, the service currently growing at 40% per year. They have 24 staff, with 10 staff on duty in parallel each evening/night. They claim to have prevented 427 suicides in 2017 (172 so far in 2018). The evidencing of this was challenged in questioning and the basis of the claim explained. Apparently, construction is the occupation with the greatest number of suicides. (I’d not heard that before, but care is needed – what’s the per capita rate? Construction employs huge numbers). Not only CALM’s staff levels, but also their very expensive, high profile advertising campaigns, testify to the funding pull of CALM, of which some of us can only be envious. In private conversations afterwards, with other parties, there was some frustration that CALM are so resistant to using the influence they have established in the political sphere.

Picture: Joel Beckman,  Operations Director at the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)


Paula Hall (psychotherapist) discussed sex addiction. The definition includes porn, leading to the common phenomenon, on this definition, of sex addicted virgins. There are many 30 year old virgins, she told us. (I couldn’t help observing how odd it is, but somehow fitting in these benighted times, that being a virgin no longer disqualifies you from being a sexual deviant). 30% of survey respondents admitting sex addiction are women – though users of psychology services for sex addiction are almost all men.

Picture: Paula Hall


Andrew Briggs (NHS psychotherapist) talked to the impact of fatherlessness on boys offending, including sexual offending, using a specific case study. His thesis was that (this particular) rape was enacted as an escape from the control of his self-confessed controlling mother. He went as far as to claim the boy’s offending would not have occurred had the father remained in the family. Rather too confident a prediction of a counterfactual, I thought. [Edit by John Barry: Briggs’ suggestion is based on decades of clinical experience, which would somewhat justify his confidence].

Picture: Andrew Briggs


Nathan Roberts talked about the work of Band of Brothers who work with prolific youth offenders, running a rites-of-passage ritual. Ethos: hurt people hurt people. The saddest thing about these sorts of enterprises is that they have been made necessary. For me they speak to how society has abandoned young men.

Picture: Nathan Roberts


Vincent McGovern made some brief remarks about the work of FNF (for which see elsewhere in this blog).

Picture: Vincent McGovern of Families Need Fathers, Central London Branch.

Ashley-Christopher Fallon talked about the forensic mental health services in Solihull. 89% male, 10% high security, 48% medium security. Peak in ages 30s & 40s. Ethnicity: 25% black, 19% Asian, 6% Arab, 41% white. 20% personality disorders (maybe more if florid mental ill health masks it). Offences roughly (reading off histogram) 36% violence, 27% drugs, 18% sexual. Two-thirds referred by health services, one-third from prisons. (When referral is from prison, the time in a secure mental facility does not count as part of the sentence). Fallon, in common with other speakers, mentioned that staff generally don’t want to know about prisoners’ offending history – and this has the effect of perpetuating shame rather than providing a way forward. Gender blindness to male issues is a problem. One of the main conclusions was the need to develop a male-gender strategy in this context.

Picture: Martin Seager, Dr Ashley-Christopher Fallon (second keynote on day 1 of the conference), and filmmaker Rafi Ramirez.


Mark Brooks talked about the work of Mankind Initiative, a domestic violence help line service for men. Only women apply for jobs on their phone-line; of 25 people attending a recent DV training course, Mark was the only man. Mankind took 1,671 calls in 2017 (75% by the man in question, 25% by women calling on behalf of a male victim). 97,000 page hits per 6 months. 52% of male callers had never talked to anyone of their problem before. 71% would not call if the calls were not anonymous. Average call 33 minutes. Average age 43. 56% of men have children in the house. Emotional abuse 95%; physical abuse 64%; psychological abuse 38%; coercive control 13%. Mark reminded us of the invisibility of male victims and how ‘the system’ conspires to facilitate this invisibility by re-packaging male victims within the Violence-Against-Women-and-Girls statistics. Quote “the only thing toxic about toxic masculinity are those who use it to demonise an entire gender” (applause).He called out Grayson Perry and Robert Webb as particular offenders. Mankind have proposed that there should be a separate DV strategy for men and boys. They were instrumental in the Crown Prosecution Service making a commitment to male victims of sexual and domestic abuse for the first time last September.

Picture: Mark Brooks, Chairman of the Mankind Initiative.


Rahmanara Chowdhury talked about domestic violence in Muslim communities. This centred around detailed interviews with 6 Imams. I expect this is rather a difficult subject for a Muslim woman to approach. But I felt the message was failing to hit the target. The message focussed on the identity struggle of young Muslim males (“a baseball cap coming apart at the seams” to quote one Imam), relating to the tension between traditional authentic Islamic teachings and the conflict with western culture. The ‘Muslim = terrorist’ thing and Islamophobia were mentioned, but I felt there was buck passing going on. Nevertheless there was an acceptance that traditional teachings needed modernisation. A pointed question related to the condoning of DV in the Koran, which the speaker claimed was an incorrect reading of the text. The audience became uncomfortable at this line of questioning.

Stuart Hontree (author of the book Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law) gave a brief talk on Alienation, including its neuroscience and the diagnostic elements within the DSM (V61.29). (See Stuart’s comment below for further details of the status of Alienation as a  diagnosis).

David Eggins told us of the work of Temper DV, reminding us of the stranglehold that Respect has on the Accreditation of DV perpetrator programmes – which effectively locks-in Duluth-type methodologies despite their known lack of efficacy. (See here and here for chapter and verse on DV perpetrator programmes).

Picture: David Eggins, being filmed for a BBC documentary.


Ianto Doyle & Luke Harney: Journeyman – a rites-of-passage programme for teenage boys. Unlike Band of Brothers, this programme is not (necessarily) for boys with an offending history. No doubt their heart is in the right place, but I’m sceptical about things that end in face paint. And I see these programmes being an attempt to make up for a society in which fatherlessness is endemic and society is increasingly failing (refusing?) to provide a positive identity for biological males. However well meant and well conceived, this is a Band-Aid on a fractured skull. Better than doing f***-all, though.

Shazia Hussain talked to male prisoners’ experience of psychotherapy. Of the 9 men in the study, 6 had paranoid schizophrenia; 8 had an average of 4.5 years of therapy. I felt slightly uncomfortable that the men were merely convenient ‘captive specimens’. Rather than the line of questioning adopted, relating to feelings and opinions, I wondered about simple factual things like family background, literacy, etc.

Matt Englar-Carlson (California State) talked about positive psychology / positive masculinity (PPPM). He told us (and this rings true) that all men tend to think that they are the least masculine man in their group. (To me that suggests an understood standard against which one judges oneself to be failing – but I demur from the view that this standard is quite so crude as the macho image sometimes claimed). The professor continued: Psychology has tended to concentrate upon pathology, on the dark side of masculinity. But it is important to understand what psychological health is for men – otherwise it is inevitable that all you see is pathology and toxicity.

Positive masculinity means empathically connecting with men and working with male strengths rather than working to reform masculine characteristics – as if masculinity itself were a pathology. Performance of traditional masculine norms is not inherently problematic. Positive masculinity emphasises the noble aspects of masculinity. Englar-Carlson emphasised the key role of shame in male psychology, an emotion of far greater importance in men than in women. The purpose of PPPM is to reduce shame, and to assist men in being proud to be men. (That didn’t used to be necessary, did it? What happened?).

He asked us “what kind of man do you want to be?” Right now there are lots of lonely men. Men over 30 find it hard to make friends. In psychologically healthy families, boys are raised to care for and protect others, and to be self-reliant. Perhaps we need to reframe what “provider” means: grit, perseverance, dedication, leadership, humour, leading an heroic life.

Englar-Carlson gave a formal definition of positive masculinity, which I thought was poor: “Endorsing those thoughts and feelings, behaviours and attributes which are socially constructed as masculine and expected of men and promote inter-personal and intra-personal well being and social good”. He was criticised in questioning on the “socially constructed” part – rightly so, in my opinion. Pity, much of what he had to say was – appropriately – very positive. I thought the main shortcoming of his perspective was a failure to acknowledge the practical and institutionalised difficulties which now face men: not least, being a non-resident father. You can hardly demonstrate these positive characteristics when there is a court order against you making contact with your family.

Picture: Professor Matt Englar-Carlson of California State University, and keynote on day 2 of the conference.


Glen Poole (Men’s Health Forum, Australia, via Skype) talked about his work in Australia to promote awareness of the causes of men’s suicide. Men do talk, we were told, it’s just that society doesn’t know how to listen. People need to listen to men with respect and without judgment. The cause of suicide in men tends to be an accumulation of external problems, both practical and social. The reason why it may appear that men don’t seek help is that they don’t necessarily seek help in the context of suicidality. They seek help with practical problems – those problems which may eventually drive them to suicide. Separated fathers are especially vulnerable, he told us. Within the first six months of separation, 50% of fathers are suicidal. This is all wrapped up with social isolation. More generally, men suicide because they feel they are a burden on others, The stereotype that “men don’t need help” is a stereotype which affects society as a whole, not a specific pathology of men themselves. It is society which denies men help.

Picture: Glen Poole, live by Skype from Australia.


Martin Daubney and John Barry presented the finding’s of their “Harry’s” survey which focussed on men’s positive masculinity: what is important for men, what factors contribute most to their positive mental outlook? I refer you to the report for details. Job satisfaction was a massively dominant factor. They authors showed us that martial state was significant. Being single was a downer as regards men’s happiness. (I should have asked if this finding had been controlled for socioeconomic status. Marriage is so strongly correlated with financial status that this finding may have masked “I’m unhappy because I’m poor and have a shit job”.). Health appeared to be positively correlated with competitiveness.

Picture: Martin Daubney, co-founder of the Coalition for Men & Boys.


Gabriel Abotsie, Roger Kingerlee, Luke Woodley (Norfolk & Suffolk NHS): The Men’s Wellbeing Project. Luke (ex-serviceman) reported frustration with being misunderstood by existing practices. Most programmes are feminised; calls for specialist men’s services. This programme (2017-19) was targeted at men and at playing to men’s psychologies. Mensnet site with links to membership. Was pleased to heard men’s therapy referred to as “shoulder to shoulder”. Strong plays on sport and ex-servicemen. Scheme currently confined to Norfolk & Suffolk, but others in audience expressed interest.

Joe Rafferty (CEO Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust). Good to see someone of CEO status presenting. Mersey have announced a target of zero suicides  of patients in their care. Key aspect of changed policy is ‘no restrictive practices’. I think this means being free to innovate without fear of blame. In my parlance, I believe they have introduced a no-blame culture – which is essential if you want to know what went wrong when something does. Otherwise there is always a cover-up as people try to evade the blame. Rafferty claimed a really dramatic fall in disciplinary actions  not surprisingly. Rather than a Risk Assessment the key now was regarded as being a Safety Plan. This seemed to go down well with informed members of the audience. Surveying people before & after training indicated a dramatic reduction in how many people regarded suicide as (a) selfish, and, (b) inevitable.

Svend Aage Madsen (Copenhagen University Hospital) presented evidence of men as sufferers from post-natal depression (stop sniggering at the back!). 7% of men and 10% of women suffer PND according to the Edinburgh or Gotland scales. The latter is a male specific scale and identifies more male sufferers than the Edinburgh scale.

Picture: Dr Svend Aage Madsen, Head of Research at Copenhagen University Hospital, Head of “The Fatherhood Research Programme”, Denmark, and Head of Men’s Health Forum, Denmark.


Derek McDonnell  – Mojo training for men in distress in N.Ireland. Isolation / emasculation / shame of help seeking. Unemployment rates are very high, and this is likely the root cause of the plentiful candidates. 90% retention of men on the course (unusually high), 83% reduced depression, 70% assistance restarting education.  “Co-production” seems to be the buzz word (active involvement of service users, or ex-service users, in directing the service development or delivery).

Barry Cripps: An old timer in the psychology scene – kept referring to Hans Eysenck, Durkheim and the Existentialists. Bit heavy given that he was addressing men’s psychology in sports. Entertaining, though. Claimed that psychological benefit of sports relates to agency, being in control, raising level of “hardiness” (interesting choice of word) and meaningfulness (which he related to individualism). Hmm.

Picture: Dr Barry Cripps.


Duncan Shields (University of British Columbia) discussed his work with “first responders” (firefighters, 25 men, 5 women). Bemoaned the fact that these people had received no training in recognising the very obvious mental health risks of being perpetually exposed to stress. The dangers of excess stoicism and inability to ‘turn off’. They claimed a 4 day course had dramatic positive effects on PTSD and depression symptoms. A bit touchy-feely for me in parts, but who am I to say what works. (American terminology OSI = Operational Stress Injury, rather than PTSD).

Picture: Professor Duncan Shields.


Hazel Lewis, Michelle Lowe: Post-traumatic growth in male survivors of sexual abuse. I was expecting Bob Balfour to speak (he was there), but he didn’t. Michelle talked about her PhD work, which related only to sexually abused male children (i.e., not adult males). She interviewed 12 participants. Lots of anecdotes. I think the conclusion was that “post-traumatic growth” is possible. I think this essentially means that you can recover. To be honest I was flagging at this point. (See the comment from Bob Balfour below).

Anyhow, all told a well organised and interesting couple of days, and an opportunity to meet up with friends whom I don’t see as often as I’d like, what with living out here in bucolic bliss rather than in the throbbing metropolis.

Well done to John & Martin for organising – noting that the significance of the event is far greater than just the presentations themselves.

We await the outcome of the vote for a male section to be formally recognised by the BPS (British Psychological Society).



About the author of this article

William Collins is a highly respected blogger on the subject of men’s issues.





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Internet dating: rated #1 for men, but for women… meh. Why the difference?

by Hasna Haidar


Many of the things we enjoy in life we enjoy online. Playing, laughing, learning new things, connecting with friends and building new relationships.

It’s the same for both the sexes; we seek a combination of simple and complex pleasures: the hedonic, instant highs of consumerism through online shopping, the mood boosting properties of listening to music and watching funny YouTube videos, and the longer-term pleasures of interaction and relationship building over social media.

As for what yields the most “happiness”, however, it can be highly subjective. Exploring the nature of internet happiness, Carphone Warehouse carried out a survey of 2,002 UK adults (mean + SD age 47 + 17 years old) in November 2017, asking them to rank the online activities that make them most happy.

Overall, activities associated with entertainment and shopping (which offer more hedonic pleasures, gratifying the basic urges of the primal brain) had the biggest impact on our happiness across the sexes. However, when male and female results were separated, there were stark differences.


Men enjoy online dating above all

While the most gratifying online activity among women was “winning an eBay bid”, men stated that “online dating” gave them the most pleasure. Interestingly, among women, meeting a potential partner online didn’t even make the top ten. For women, online dating came in twentieth place, behind ordering a takeaway and managing money online[i].


Top 10 activities that make men happiest online Top 10 activities that make women happiest online
1. Online dating sites (79%) 1. Achieving the winning bid on eBay (80%)
2. Obsessing over a new music video on YouTube and replaying it 100 times over (79%) 2. Instant messaging with friends and family (80%)
3. Achieving the winning bid on eBay (76%) 3. Discovering online discount codes for your favourite retailers and saving lots of money (79%)
4. Finding the perfect meme/gif and sharing it with everyone (74%) 4. Looking things up that interest you (78%)
5. Looking things up that interest you (73%) 5. Discovering the best deal through price comparison sites: from booking hotels to finding a great insurance deal (77%)
6. Getting a message from an old school friend on Facebook who you haven’t heard from in years (73%) 6. Discovering cheap fun days out from websites like Groupon (74%)
7. Discovering online discount codes for your favourite retailers and saving lots of money (73%) 7. Finding the perfect meme/gif and sharing it with everyone (71%)
8. Browsing new bands/tracks through Spotify (71%) 8. Browsing new bands/tracks through Spotify (71%)
9. Discovering the best deal through price comparisons: from booking hotels to finding a great insurance deal (70%) 9. Obsessing over a new music video on YouTube and replaying it 100 times over (70%)
10. Reading funny tweets about a TV program you’re watching (70%) 10. Getting your comment retweeted or liked by someone you love or admire (69%)


Why do men enjoy online dating more than women?

While the study didn’t delve into the thinking behind the respondents’ choices, one reason men might enjoy online dating significantly more than women could be down to the way the different sexes approach dating.

For example, men and women don’t use Tinder in the same manner. A 2016 study into user activity on Tinder showed that men tend to cast their net a little wider, in the beginning at least. They’re more likely to ‘swipe right’ than women and tend to filter their preferences after establishing a match rather than before.

Why do men take this blanket approach? A January 2016 literature review might have uncovered the answers. The review looked at the gender differences in online dating[ii] and found that men “exhibit a positive attitude” towards it, seeing it as an efficient way to meet people. Their interest is in being as productive as possible, even when it comes to something as personal as dating, which could explain their catch-all behaviour.


Short-term goals

The researchers also found that men preferred “short-term romantic relationships with a low level of commitment” within the environment of online dating, while women used the sites to find friends or a potential marriage partner. They also found that men are more active users of online dating sites than women – although it should be noted that the researchers attributed this gender imbalance to the fact that men outnumber women in most IT contexts anyway.

While men are prolific users of online dating sites, and prefer to pursue short-term opportunities within them, The Harry’s Masculinity Report[iii] found that men felt mentally more positive if they were in a steady, long-term relationship, concluding that “relationship stability is an important anchor for many men”. It would seem that while men do value enduring relationships, online dating is not where they ultimately go to find them.


Old-school beliefs

Even in modern-day dating, old-school stereotypes [Editor: or perhaps ‘archetypes’] prevail. When it comes to the ideal type of person they’d like to commence a relationship with, both sexes look for one that can provide the biggest chance of success and fulfilment. For men, this means prioritising physical attractiveness and, specifically, a youthful look (with the logic that female fertility is affected by age, and therefore older women reduce the chance of children). For women, this means prioritising socio-economic status and older men (with the logic that older men are more financially stable and therefore more able to provide for a family).

In their quest to secure a partner – whether in the short-term or in the long-term – both sexes are known to adjust their profiles (even to the point of fabrication) to cater for what the opposite sex might be looking for. Men emphasise their personal interests and assets, overstate their height and misrepresent their online dating goal (aligning their short-term goal closer towards women’s longer-term goal), while women enhance their photos and underreport their weight and age.


Winning online dating

Interestingly, while the sheer number of men on the sites might suggest men gain more romantic success compared to women, the review was inconclusive. Some studies suggested women fared better; others said men were better off; and some felt both sexes were equally successful. In the world of online dating, it turns out the chips are stacked in no particular way at all.


So why do men rate online dating far higher than women do?

When you consider the short-term, commitment-free approach men take to using online dating sites, it’s clear they’re giving themselves a deliberately pressure-free experience. In comparison, the quest for finding a viable long-term partner means women have more at stake.

It would seem that, when it comes to online happiness, everything hinges on mindset.


About the author

Hasna Haidar is a digital researcher and writer, exploring the impact of online activity on happiness and wellbeing.



[i] Managing money online rather than in person or over the phone







Open post

Gender is an obvious factor in addiction and so many other psychological problems, so why is there a gender neutral approach to mental health and psychological therapies?

by Martin Seager, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Male Psychology Network

I have been working as a psychologist in the addictions field for over two years now and have previously been a psychologist both in the NHS and the voluntary sector for a total of more than 30 years. It seems obvious to me that gender pays a big part in so many psychological problems and issues. Addiction is one obvious example. Approximately 75% of people who use addiction services are male and we must also remember that men are generally less likely to seek help than women so this figure may be an underestimate.

Turning to drugs and alcohol is usually an escape from a life that is hard to cope with, often beginning with trauma, abuse or neglect in childhood.  Emotional damage from the early years can lead to feelings of low self-worth and a need to get away from a hated self and to reduce the pain of living or to create a buzz or a high feeling that is usually missing. Men and women on average deal with their emotions differently. This is not a mere stereotype as the same pattern is found the world over.  Women are more likely to use close relationships to share and process emotions whereas men are more likely to process their feelings through action. This means that on average men will be more likely to do something physical with their pain and alcohol or drugs provides one such option. Of course, the ultimate escape is suicide where men also account for about 75% of cases.

For these same reasons, a depressed or unhappy emotional state is not so easily recognised in men even though the signs are not too hard to read if we are prepared to look in a gender-specific way. But services the land over are gender neutral as if emotional states and behaviours have no gendered qualities or characteristics. With perhaps a few exceptions, we have one size fits all diagnoses and offer one size fits all therapies for men and women as if they were no different. The evidence (e.g. Morison et al, 2014) however suggests that traditional counselling and therapy services are more suited on average to female clients. Within addiction services, as with general mental health services, we deliver counselling and CBT in gender neutral ways and we don’t do enough to offer other options that might help men besides standard drugs or talking therapies. Most of the addiction services that I am aware of do not even have a gender-specific policy on reaching men. Gender specific policies still mainly refer to women only. In some services men’s groups are provided but more often than not men and women are lumped together in mixed groups.

Our own research (e.g. Liddon et al, 2017) shows that although there are many similarities, men and women do show some potentially important differences in preferences for aspects of therapy, coping with stress, and help-seeking. The evidence is also clear that where services are adapted to men (e.g. those provided by the male-suicide charity CALM) they work much better. This is hardly surprising. Men are no different to other groups in needing to be understood and empathised with on their own terms.

All this makes it doubly important that we should succeed in achieving a male psychology section of the British Psychological Society. If psychologists can’t see the difference between men and women, what hope is there for the rest of us?


About the author

Martin Seager is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network. He is Chairing the Male Psychology Conference at UCL this Friday and Saturday (22-23 June 2018)



Liddon, L, Kingerlee, R and Barry, J (2018) British Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 57, Issue 1 pp 42-58

Morison, L, Trigeorgis, C & John, M (2014) “Are mental health services inherently feminised?” The Psychologist, Vol 27. No 4 pp 414-6

Open post

How can we help men to be more willing to access therapy? Insights from working with prisoners.

by Dr Naomi Murphy.

Within the UK, three times as many men kill themselves as women[1].  Within the Republic of Ireland, this ratio rises to 5:1.  Concern about male suicide, along with male over-representation in other behavioural statistics that are associated with distress (substance misuse and violence for instance) has led researchers and mental health professionals to consider whether therapy as it is currently provided is accessible to men.

Some observe that therapy is unappealing to men. Discussions of gender differences in relation to therapy suggest men find feeling-focused therapy “too woolly”, prefer structured approaches such as CBT and benefit from an approach that is made less intense by “talking whilst doing”, offering gradual exposure to emotions and with an emphasis on strength and empowerment (e.g. Seidler et al, 2017[2]).

Within prison, treatment is most typically highly structured, manualised, offending behaviour programmes (OBPs).  The Fens Service (HMP Whitemoor since 2000) was established for men considered to be challenging to the prison system and perceived as unable to benefit from standard OBPs.  The typical service user has received a life sentence for violent or sexually violent crimes and has to some degree been labelled as “untreatable” or “treatment-resistant”.  This may be because he has completed OBP treatment and is perceived as making no gains but, more commonly, he has been ejected from treatment for failing to attend regularly or turning up and being disruptive.  Not infrequently, he has been unable to access treatment because his daily behaviour has proved so challenging to manage that he has been located within special accommodation that makes treatment more inaccessible.  Despite this, once within the Fens Service, the average man attends 95% of the individual sessions and 88% of the group sessions available to him over the 5 year course of treatment.

Treatment is as voluntary as it can ever be when one is detained in custody.  There are no immediate consequences to failing to attend a session but staff attitudes towards a D.N.A. (did not attend) may be helpful.  DNA is seen as an inevitable part of beginning an emotionally intimate relationship and the struggle to establish intimacy given the context within which these men were generally raised included brutal physical and sexual abuse by multiple perpetrators in ‘care-giving’ roles, profound neglect and loss which becomes an explicit focus of discussion.

Seiger & Barry (2014[3]) highlight the importance for men of being “a fighter and winner….a provider and protector… and retaining mastery and control at all times”.  Seidler et al draw the apparently logical conclusion that therapy must maintain these needs by teaching men skills and being task focused to enable the men to perhaps avoid feeling vulnerable.  The approach that we utilise at Whitemoor is to normalise vulnerability as part of the human condition and to alleviate them of the burden or “shame” of asking for help by pragmatically acknowledging the hurt child that we know each of them is trying to heal.  The bravery required to do this work is spoken of frequently and staff speak openly of their own emotional responses during therapy which inevitably includes feeling frightened, hated or saddened but demonstrates these feelings are not only universal but are not to be feared.

Would these prisoners have gone to therapy more readily had they been offered the ‘graded exposure’ approach suggested by authors such as Seager, Barry and Seidler? This is a moot point at present because neither approach to facilitating help-seeking has been subject to formal research. There might also be contextual and individual differences that make it difficult to compare help-seeking in the general public to help-seeking in a secure prison environment.

One thing we know is that once in treatment, the prisoners at Whitemoor have a good chance of making clinically significant improvements, so it would be very useful to know which method – graded exposure or normalising vulnerability – is more effective in encouraging prisoners to enter therapy.

About the author

Dr Naomi Murphy, currently Clinical Director of the Fens Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Service at HMP Whitemoor, is a Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist with a long-standing interest in the psychological needs of male offenders. She will be giving a keynote speech on Fri 22nd at the Male Psychology Conference at University College London

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



[1] Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2017

[2] Seidler, Z., Rice, S., Oliffe, J., Fogarty, A. & Dhillon, H. (2017) Men in and out of treatment for depression: Strategies for improved engagement. Australian Psychologist

[3] Seager, M. & Barry, J. (2014)





Open post

We probably need you, but do we want you?

by Anonymous Author

Whilst attending interviews this year, hopeful to be chosen for a place to be trained as a clinical psychologist in our NHS, I managed to talk to many other hopeful candidates. After the textbook icebreaking questions, once they knew how far I travelled to get there and if I had anymore interviews lined up, the next question was usually about my gender. “How does it feel to be the only man here?” or “I have never worked with a male clinical psychologist”. Of course there was no offence to be taken, to me it was harmless, but one comment struck me:

“I would love to be male in this process, it’s such an advantage”.

I felt a bit awkward; I did not want to be selected purely because of my gender. But was it true? Was I at an advantage because I was male? Just as with some of these candidates, every psychologist I have worked with to date has also been female. I knew it was well documented that clinical psychology is a female-majority profession (e.g. Caswell and Baker, 2008; Willyard, 2011), and I knew concern was growing about the lack of males in clinical psychology (e.g. Barry, 2016). I also remembered reading when applying on the clearing house for postgraduate clinical psychology training courses website ( the statement: ‘We welcome applications from people from ethnic minority backgrounds, people with disabilities and men as these groups are currently under-represented in the profession’. But did this mean, compared to the female who made this comment, my chances of getting a place were higher as a male?

No. In fact, they might not have even been equal. What I have recently discovered is that overall, male applicants are statistically and systematically less likely to be accepted onto clinical psychology doctorate courses than females.

The clearing house website has published equal opportunities data since 2005 (, stating numbers and percentages of the applicant demographic compared to the accepted demographic. Let’s take for instance 2015. In total, 633 males applied and 84 were accepted onto a course. For females, 2,922 applied and 498 were accepted. Of course, there are going to be more female clinical psychologists, after all, there are far fewer males applying. However, what deeply concerns me is when we look at these numbers in relative percentages.

Those 633 males applying made up 18% of the total applicants for courses, and the 2,922 made up the other 82%. Yet, those 84 males that were accepted only made up 14% of total acceptances, with the 498 female acceptances making up the other 86%. Seemingly then, in 2015, females had a statistically higher chance of being accepted onto training than males. In fact, every male had roughly a 13% chance of selection, while females had roughly a 17% chance.

Hoping this was just a one off, I decided to look at other years. The pattern, however, was almost systematic. Apart from 2011, the relative percentage of males accepted onto courses were lower than the relative percentage of male applicants in every single year after 2005, when data started to be collected.

I think it is fair to say that the NHS could benefit with more male clinical psychologists. It makes sense that men and boys entering NHS psychological services can request to see a male psychologist; after all, we all reasonably expect to be able to request to see a same-sex GP when we have personal or private physical health issues. More male psychologists could also inform a more gender-inclusive service, which is critical when we consider that 75% of suicides are male. It is even more critical when we consider that 25% of these males seek help from a health professional in the week leading to their suicide (Mental Health Taskforce Strategy, 2016). There are obvious questions as to whether the NHS is meeting their needs effectively; in 2015, over 88 males on average committed suicide each week (Samaritans, 2017), meaning suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK (Mental Health Foundation, 2018).

Many ideas have been offered to try and explain the shortage of male clinical psychologists, such as men are more reluctant to pursue the profession because of its association with ‘caring’ aspects of human nature, that fewer males undertake an undergraduate degree in psychology, and commonly that there are far fewer applicants for doctoral training (e.g. Bradley, 2013; BPS, 2004; Morison et al., 2014). The explanation is far simpler. There are enough males applying; enough to fill over 50% of places in any given year. They are just not given the chance to be accepted; at least not as fair a chance as females.

I do not have enough experience or knowledge of doctorate course selection procedures to evaluate them, though, I do speculate that male applicants typically have lower academic achievement than their female counterparts. I also wonder if male personal statements are less warm-hearted and reflective, and whether males come across less compassionately at interviews.

It makes sense that the top scoring candidates get accepted; presumably they would make higher-quality clinical psychologists. However, the entry requirements from the clearing house for postgraduate clinical psychology training courses website states you ideally need at least a 2:1 in a degree that confers graduate basis for chartered membership (GBC) and an unspecified amount of clinically relevant experience. It would be reasonable to assume that all, if not the majority, of male applicants have met all of these entry requirements before paying £23 to submit an application. Therefore, it is reasonable to say, some university selection procedures, which are not controlled directly by the NHS, Government or the clearing house, are disadvantaging male applicants.

Of course, to look at this through the lens of gender is a one-dimensional and narrowminded view. I may come across bias; I may even come across supporting the comment made to me at my interview, that males should have an advantage in the process. I absolutely do not believe this. The best clinical psychologists I have met are female. Instead, I think the profession needs to look into this issue further and think of its implications if it were to continue. More diversity in the profession will only better meet the needs of our diverse range of service users. But things could get worse yet; less success could be further pushing males away from the profession. In the last three years of data published (2013-2016), the number of females applying each year has fallen 2%, however, for males this has fallen a staggering 8%, from an already relatively small number applying anyway in 2013.

Given clinical psychology training is funded by public taxpayers’ money, directed from our NHS, is it fair to say males should have at least an equal chance of getting onto such programmes as females? If the relative percentages were equal in the years where less males were accepted since 2005 (i.e. 18% of applicants being male lead to 18% of acceptances being male), we might have over 130 additional male clinical psychologists working in our NHS today.


About the author

The author has asked for his identity to be witheld.


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



Barry, J. (2016) ‘More male psychologists?’. The Psychologist, (29): 412-419.

Bradley, J. (2013) ‘Where are all the men?’. [Letter to the editor]

British Psychological Society (2004) Widening access within undergraduate psychology education and its implications for professional psychology: Gender; disability and ethnic diversity. Leicester: BPS.

Caswell, R. and Baker, M. (2008) ‘Men in a female-majority profession: Perspectives of male trainees in clinical psychology’. Clinical Psychology Forum, (214).

Mental Health Foundation (2018) Suicide. Accessed from: [01.06.2018].

Mental Health Taskforce Strategy (2016) The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.

Morison, L., Trigeorgis, C. and John, M. (2014) ‘Are mental health services inherently feminised?’. The Psychologist, (29): 414-417.

Willyard, C. (2011) ‘Men: A growing minority?’. gradPSYCH, 9 (1): 40.

Open post

Good fathers are good for everyone

by Dr John Barry

As you might expect, the Male Psychology Network is interested in the role of the father in the family. Given that our blog spot was recently ranked 3rd for psychology in the UK, I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the blogs from the past year and see what they tell us about fathers and fatherhood.

The overall message is that fathers have an important role in the family. If they get it right, there are benefits for all concerned, but if something goes wrong, it can be damaging for all concerned.

An example of things going wrong with the fathering was seen in Jennie Cummings-Knight’s review of Grayson Perry’s book ‘The Descent of Man’: “an absentee father and a violent step father are some of the elements that interacted upon the young Perry and led him to taking refuge in his mother’s wardrobe (literally and figuratively)”

One is left wondering whether the various attacks that Perry launches on men and masculinity are a result of unsatisfactory male role models in his childhood. This is echoed in Dr Kevin Wright’s blog: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”  Child psychotherapist Andrew Briggs observed that father absence is implicated in self-harm, ADHD, and predatory sexual behaviour

Being an absent father is sometimes a choice men make, but all too often it is imposed upon them. Sometimes the children in separated families are turned against the father in a heartbreaking way, as described in the review by Dr Becci Owens of the book by Stuart Hontree The degree to which the distress caused by family breakdown and lack of access to children can lead to suicide is not known due to lack of definite statistics, but is the subject of forthcoming research by the Male Psychology Network.

Inevitably of course some men will make a mess of the father role largely due to their own faults. The Male Psychology Network has no illusions about the possibility of men getting things wrong, as reflected in our support for developments in forensic psychology, including  preventing child sexual abuse We take a proactive approach to improving men’s mental health, which we believe will reduce criminality and related social problems.

The other side of the coin is that good fathers are good for everyone. This is suggested by the finding of the Harry’s Masculinity report (by Dr John Barry and Martin Seager) that the more a man aspires to be like his father, the better his mental health It seems to be especially important to the stable development of boys, says Belinda Brown, to grow up with a male role model demonstrating positive aspects of masculinity

Although some people are hostile to the traditional role of the father, alternatives roles for fathers haven’t been overwhelmingly popular so far, as highlighted by Dr Rob Hadley

Some people will have had fathers who fell well short of ideal, but that doesn’t mean the role of the father (or masculinity, or men in general) is inherently wrong. No matter what your views are of the traditional role of the father, it’s a good idea to make Father’s Day a day when you make an extra effort to extend some human warmth to the man without whom you would not be here today.


About the author

Dr John Barry is a chartered psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network

Several of the authors mentioned in this blog (in bold) are presenting their work at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL on 22nd – 23rd June

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







Open post

Male psychology: holistic, compassionate, future-facing

by Dr John Barry

Originally published on the BPS blog spot 23 October 2017


It’s staggering to consider how many men kill themselves every day (around 13 according to recent figures), but perhaps just as staggering is how few psychologists realise this is a field where they can have a positive impact.

Most psychologists don’t realise that although three quarters of suicides are by men, suicidal men are less likely to seek professional help than suicidal women (Kung et al, 2003).

Male psychology is any issue that predominantly impacts men and boys, or is understudied in men and boys. This means that you may already be working in male psychology without having realized it.

Here are some examples:

  • Clinical psychology: suicides and substance abuse are higher in men
  • Educational psychology: boys have been falling behind girls since the 1980s
  • Neuropsychology: most serious brain injury patients are male
  • Developmental psychology: autism spectrum disorder is more common in males
  • Forensic psychology: most prisoners are male
  • Military psychology: most combat-related PTSD is in men
  • Sports psychology: men engage more in sports than women do

There are other fields too, and if we depicted all of these as a Venn diagram, male psychology would be the common denominator.

Developments in one field (e.g. improving boys’ education) might have a positive impact on other fields (e.g. clinical and forensic psychology). Thus male psychology does not take anything away from other areas, it adds to them by facilitating the application of what we have learned about men in one field to other fields.

If you are starting to realise that you are working in a male psychology field, then here are three reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Male psychology is holistic
    It not only spans all of psychology, but is about a diversity of gender and sexuality. It accepts that there are many ways to be a man, without putting men into categories. It is about understanding women as well as men e.g. ‘women in our survey said X; men in our survey said Y’. Women can work in male psychology too, in fact currently about a third of Male Psychology Network members are women. Male psychology unites people, it’s not about dividing people or hunkering down in an academic silo.
  2. Male Psychology is compassionate
    It provides a necessary balance to our normal tendency to overlook problems facing men and boys. It is normal for us to automatically favour women over men (Rudman & Goodwin, 2004). The roots of this ‘empathy gap’ are probably rooted in evolution, with men expected to provide protection, not receive it (Barry, 2016). When men are acting out emotional problems through antisocial behavior rather than talking to someone, our empathy for men, understandably, is reduced.  And it is precisely because we have so little time for men with difficult psychological/behavioural problems that male psychology is such a challenge.
  3. Male psychology looks to the future rather than the past
    The past has been replete with men trying to fulfill a role that was dangerous or damaging to them e.g. trying to be a hero, working in dangerous and damaging jobs, keeping their emotions under tight control.  We are looking to a future where men can feel good about their role in more fulfilling and harmonious ways, and express themselves in more positive ways.

For these reasons, male psychology brings a positive synergy and adds value to many areas in psychology. Although psychologists are already addressing male psychology issues in many fields of psychology, we would all benefit by working in a more holistic way, recognising the common element that unites these areas and can facilitate learning between them.

My challenge to you is to recognize the element of male psychology that already exists in the work that you do, and discover how this knowledge has the potential to impact your work in positive ways.


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

Open post

A Psychologist Among Veterans: Co-Producing The Veterans’ Stabliisation Programme

by Dr Roger Kingerlee

My starting point, on first meeting with a veteran of HM Armed Forces in the clinical setting, is that I already owe them a debt. As a civilian, I am conscious of the fact that all veterans have voluntarily put themselves forward to protect me and my fellow citizens against potential harm. In this sense, every veteran I meet has already done more for me than I ever will for them. This, as a civilian psychologist who also works with veterans, I never forget.

Much of my activity revolves around running our Veterans’ Stabilisation Programme (VSP) in Norfolk with my friend and colleague Luke Woodley, Founder of Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing CIC. Partly via the Walnut Tree Facebook page, Luke engages local veterans, forming a key bridge into NHS services – including the 16-week VSP.

We wrote the VSP jointly, combining Luke’s own experience of combat-related post-traumatic stress, my knowledge of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and our NHS colleague John King’s expertise in mindfulness meditation. In effect, the VSP offers veterans, the majority of whom are male, a bespoke psychological deconditioning process, allowing them to transition into civilian life more fully and more successfully.

Some of the key psychological matters here are invisible to the naked eye, which may help explain why they have taken so long to identify in the UK and beyond. The hidden combination, for example, of military training overlaid with aspects of post-traumatic stress can have profound – and often to individuals and their families – apparently inexplicable effects on day-to-day life. Faced, at times, with mounting emotional pressure, and feeling that there is no-one who can help, many veterans encounter real difficulties, often compounded by anxiety, low mood, and substance use to self-medicate. Understandably, this can spiral.

To counter this, in the VSP, we explore the psychological mechanics involved and how – directly based on Luke’s lived experience – to dismantle the machine. There is a pattern here: I explain the CBT; Luke translates this into military language and metaphor; then John soothes us all with the healing balm of mindfulness.

Quite rightly, most of our veterans are sceptical to begin with. But with military-grade courage in the form of radical openness, and on a more or less weekly basis within the group, Luke walks out into the historical no-man’s land of exploring male feelings in public. He lays bare how it was for him at his darkest hour – and how he clawed his way back to life. This is full mental self-disclosure, and peer role modelling, of the highest order, in true Forces’ spirit. When one man gives of himself and his experience so completely to others, shame is vanquished by hope. A privilege to witness, and to be part of. Where Luke leads, the group can follow, slowly but surely, towards the light.

Each VSP, too, has its own themes, according to the needs of the group. Some recur. One is sleep, since the traumas of the past often linger in the unconscious only to emerge at night, and may need a nudge that – thanks to advances in psychological science and practice – we can now give. Another is family relationships, which can be strained. Frequently, here, gains are possible via improved communication and understanding between partners and family members.

By the end of each VSP, we do our collective best to ensure that everyone has learned and, critically, applied, useful material to enhance their own stability. Some may need further specialist trauma therapy. Some may be ready to return to work, full- or part-time. Many, perhaps even all, feel ‘normal’ again, knowing that they are not alone. Far from it: they are among friends.

So, while my own civilian’s debt to these individuals can never be fully repaid, when they leave the VSP after 16 weeks I can feel that I have contributed at least something. With all the psychological skill I can muster, I have played a small part in explaining how it can help to begin to let go of aspects of the past, and to begin to seize the present. Or, as Luke puts it: it’s time to stop fighting and start living.


About the author

Dr Roger Kingerlee is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Roger and colleagues are presenting their latest research findings at the Male Psychology Conference on 23rd June

Read more about the Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing:

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






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