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Gaslighting: How abusive people create self-doubting victims

by Andrew Pain

This blog is adapted from the article published in Psychreg in January 2020

The wine was flowing, the dinner party in full swing and she was holding court (as usual). She was describing her experiences undertaking a PGCE, with a work placement in a nearby town and she referenced the local drug abuse issues:

95% of the people there are drug addicts.

He shuddered. She always did this. She’d start off with a great story then take things way too far. The people around the table looked at each other in disbelief. No one dared say a word (they never did) and she carried on regardless. Later that evening, he summoned the courage to challenge her:

Darling, you were in great form last night, but … are you sure about that 95% statistic? It doesn’t sound right to me.

She glared at him:

You pedantic t**t”!

His mouth went dry and his heart was beating fast. As expected, she’d not taken this well and it was going only one way: rage then violence (it always did). He nervously reasoned with her that she’d lost some of the people around the table when she mentioned the 95% statistic and that maybe, with statistics, it’s just worth being absolutely sure they’re correct before stating them as fact.

Why can’t you just enjoy the eveningYou do this with the kids, always f***g picking at them: now you want to have a go at me?

He could hear his young daughter crying upstairs, woken again by her mum’s shouting … it was all his fault!

His wife stormed out the house and he breathed a sigh of relief: at least, he didn’t get hit this time, but he’d been SO stupid for having been SO pedantic. She didn’t lose the people around the table and so what if the stat was wrong: it probably wasn’t that far wrong, right?

Gas lighting: in abusive relationships, abusers skilfully take control of your every thought by pouring doubt into your mind, about:

  • what he said/she said
  • what your mum said
  • what your friends think / thought
  • events in the past … “no it didn’t happen like that, it was like this”.
  • your traits and skills: “No, you’re not talented – you never were“ or: “Yes, you have some talent but you’re so damn arrogant about it.

Bit by bit, the onslaught wears you down and the stories your abuser spins in your mind have two purposes:

  1. To ensure that you doubt yourself.
  2. To ensure that you trust your abuser 100% and follow their every command.

Some days you’ll think you’re going insane as you become your partner’s greatest excuse-maker, justifying his/her behaviour to yourself and to others, friends, her family, your family: but deep down somewhere in side you, you know something is wrong, but who’s fault is it? The wrestling and churning over in your mind is a spinning wheel which never stops.

She’s tired”,

The kids are wearing her out”,

She’s working through some stuff “,

She’s under a lot of pressure”,

She’s amazing to have got where she is”.

I can’t go on like this

If I was a better person, she/her wouldn’t keep losing the plot!

As a survivor of an abusive marriage, I struggled to make decisions on anything in case it was the wrong one: holidays, activities, decisions about the home, which route to take on the day-trip, what do with the kids. I always held back on what I truly felt and simply followed the opinions/ideas which fitted in with her, whether I truly believed them or not.

I became a manipulative liar, focussed entirely on preventing my wife’s triggers from being pulled, hiding my own mistakes, the kids mistakes, forward planning in absurd detail to out-maneouvre anything which might go wrong. I had become a control freak, ruled by paranoia and panic and I no longer trusted my instincts or skills.

The term “gaslighting” originated in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play, Gas Light, where a manipulative husband drove his wife to insanity by causing her to question what she experienced. Gas lighting takes many forms, from convincing the victim that he/she is in need of counselling, or has mental health issues/major personality issues, to deliberately planting seeds of doubt about the victim’s appearance, before blatantly flirting with other people, including inappropriate levels of physical affection with friends, colleagues, contacts, just so the victim can see it, and feel it, and then when the victim challenges it, he/she is over-reacting, is too sensitive, always imagining things.

When you’re on the receiving end of gaslighting, it’s hard to see beyond it because your abuser knows you: your strengths, weaknesses and motivations and will consistently work to keep you unsettled and unsure of yourself, convincing you that you’re overreacting, imaging things, making it all up. But you’re not – and it’s not your fault.

–       If in doubt, try to take a step back and see the situation with a clearer perspective. If it was a friend in your shoes, experiencing what you are experiencing, what would you say to them?

–       Find someone to talk to who you trust, and is outside the situation. Abusers will isolate their victims so their gaslighting goes unchallenged but when you talk to someone who can help you see things for what they are, the walls built by the gaslighting abuser become more shaky, eventually tumbling down, the more you come to your senses and the dominance of the abuser simply folds in on itself.

I am happily remarried and repaired with all family relationships restored. There are no mind games now. There is no fear in my life anymore, just straight forward living. If I were to break my wife’s favourite wine glass today, she’d be disappointed if it held particular sentimental value, but my stomach would not be churning in fear, nor would I be desperately thinking of a way of hiding the evidence. I’d tell her and it would be OK. She is a rational, measured and loving woman. Living without that fear today is liberating and wonderful.

There is life beyond abuse: the separating and moving forward takes time and can be hugely challenging, but there IS life after abuse.

Further reading

Stephanie A Sarkis writes a concise and easy-to-read article in Psychology Today, outlining 11 key tactics of gaslighters to help people spot the signs. Included in the 11 tactics is positive appraisal of the victim, which serves the purpose of confusing the victims, so the dynamic gets blurred and doesn’t just become an onslaught of negativity https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

About the author

Andrew Pain is a TEDx speaker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HgPICMQLls&t=9s) whose talk, ‘Domestic Abuse – not a gender issue’ is one of the only TEDx talks to explore female perpetrated abuse. He is a domestic abuse campaigner, blogger and following his own experiences of domestic abuse, he co-leads a pilot project to support male survivors. Andrew is also a leadership coach, helping business leaders to get more done but without getting busier or burnt out, working with diverse organisations including the NHS, The Institute of Leadership and Management, The Association of Project Management and a range of schools and colleges. In his spare time, he is a father of 5, including 3 boys under 7.

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The double whammy of being a survivor of domestic abuse who is blind and male

by ‘Ken’ (real name withheld).

 

In the Beginning

 

When I first got together with Alison, (not her real name), she presented her best side to me and friends. We rarely quarrelled until our wedding day.  Then on our wedding night, she complained continuously, saying  the wedding was a disaster, blaming me for everything that didn’t go 100% .

 

Early warnings

 

At first, I didn’t spot the red flags. Confusingly, she would say: “I am your carer”, and “I never said I was your carer”. When reading printed letters to me, she would deliberately omit crucial information like contact details. I’d ask for them, and she’d tell me I was hard work, as if I’d asked her for the moon. She’d tell friends and strangers alike that I was a burden:  ”… if that’s not bad enough I’ve got a blind husband to see to”. Such comments left me feeling virtually worthless.

 

Financial

 

She’d decide what my money was to be spent on, but treat me as ‘The Bank of Husband’. I thought she had no money of her own. However, after she left, she bought a £115,000 home in a single down payment, with money I didn’t know she had. I felt scammed.

 

Escalation

 

She would not let me hold her elbow, the prescribed way to guide long cane users, saying I was damaging her arm. Once, returning with friends from a holiday in Devon, we stopped at a motorway service station. After my repeated attempts to get her to guide me correctly, she broke away, leaving me in the middle of a slip road with traffic hurtling around me. Our friend rescued me from the melee. I’d frozen, fearing I’d be run over if I moved.

During that holiday, walking back to our B&B, she kept insisting our friends they were going the wrong way. When I told her to calm down, she pushed me in front of a moving car. The driver had swift reactions, but I came within inches of collision. Later when I mentioned the incident, she told me that because she could see and I couldn’t, everybody would believe her over me. Besides, she alleged, I’d imagined it. I said it had happened in front of sighted witnesses. She replied that she’d pushed me with with good reason. That comment traumatised me more than by the original incident.

 

I have married again, and my present wife is thoughtful, kind and loving, so my fears, stoked by Alison’s attitude during our marriage, that hers was my best and last chance of love proved groundless. Alison and I are on friendlier termsnow.

 

Reporting

 

Once when she threw stiletto heeled shoes at me, I reported to the police. The duty officer was brilliant. But the officers in the squad car he sent round told me to go home and kiss and make up.  He said I was wasting their time, they’d been chasing guys threatening each other with knives and I was reporting thrown objects? Alison followed me to the squad car and claimed in soft tones that she was the victim. Instantly, she got >>There There My Dear, I got <<Now Look, Sir!

 

Effects

 

After an episode, I’d struggle to sleep for a couple of nights, then things would settle. About a week later, I’d have a nightmare themed around the traumatic event. Friends said I had become wary and on edge, afraid to displease her. One said: “When she’s not with you, you seem ten years younger”.

 

Lessons Learned

 

  1. Remarks like “I’m telling you how ugly you are for your own good”, put me off ending the relationship. I began to fear that loneliness was the only alternative to the abusive relationship. I got a feeling of “I’m not ok, everyone else is ok’. Finally, counting how many friends and family members she’d driven away, I ended the marriage. By then I felt life with her was a more daunting prospect than life alone.
  2. Withholding information from important printed material, such as utility bills unavailable in other formats was particularly hard to challenge, as I’d often not know the information was there to be had.
  3. I could not easily have moved out, as I’d need to move to an unfamiliar area. As a blind person, before I can visit the nearest pub, for instance, I have to be shown where it is.
  4. To be a disabled survivor and a male survivor is to be a disabled male survivor. That is, the cumulative impacts on gender and impairment are greater than the sum of their parts. You are a minority within a minority. A male survivor can often feel they are ‘a man in a woman’s world’ because of gamma bias. It is still not known how or whether the few support services available to male victims are accessible to disabled people. Efforts to find out must not put disabled men behind disabled women in the queue. Rather, experts must study the subject of disability and domestic abuse in an open, gender-inclusive way.
  5. One social identity cannot trump another. I felt in my dealings with some police officers, as though I were treated firstly as a man (assumed to be a perpetrator), but they’d overlooked risks associated with my impairment. Example: How can you dodge a missile you don’t see coming?
  6. Where the abuser exploits a victim’s disability to gain control, we should treat the behaviour as both disability hostility and domestic abuse, because the disadvantage of the impairment is the ‘weapon’. Example: A partner deliberately locking essential medication out of reach of a wheelchair user.

 

Conclusion

 

Experts could gather the stories of other male victims with a wide range of different impairments. Only then will we begin to find out:

  • How the experience of disabled victims differs from that of non-disabled victims; and
  • How domestic abuse may affect disabled men and boys differently from women and girls

 

In the meantime, I would encourage any disabled male survivors and victims to come forward with their stories, and go to Mankind Initiative or Abused Men In Scotland for support.

If you have a disability that impacts you in a way relevant to male psychology, and would like to blog on it for the Male Psychology Network website, please contact me john@malepsychology.org.uk

 

 

 

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Who is best placed to help male victims of domestic violence?

By Paul Apreda, Manager of Both Parents Matter.

According to new data from the Mankind Initiative charity, 41% of men who experience domestic violence suffer from mental or emotional problems as a result. Male victims of domestic violence have been largely invisible of the years, but a change is in the air: finally there is recognition that not only do men experience abuse, but also that their needs should be supported. The BBC documentary about the life of Alex Skeel cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact in the corridors of power and on the frontline in Police and Local Authority offices. Real investment in developing services for men is on the agenda, yet the favoured groups to secure this new cash are perhaps surprising, because they hold the view that domestic violence is caused mainly by patriarchy, and that the most important victims are female.

The past 10 years have been a roller-coaster experience for male victims of domestic violence. Back in 2007/8 the British Crime survey found that as many as 15% of victims of abuse were men. Ten years on that has grown to more than 37% in the latest Crime Survey of England and Wales.  The Mankind Initiative – the UK’s leading specialist support service for male victims remind us that for every 3 victims of DV – 2 will be women and 1 will be a man.

In a survey of 728 male victims of abuse undertaken by our charity we asked ‘How important is it that services for male victims should be grounded in the experience of men and separated from services primarily designed for women?’ More than 84% though it essential or important. We agree.

You might be forgiven for assuming that support services, strategies and funding would have mirrored this meteoric rise in the number of men suffering abuse. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.

In Wales new legislation to combat domestic abuse was introduced in 2015. It’s called the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. There is a clue in the title. It has spawned a range of programmes, initiatives and strategies such as Ask & Act – delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid – where public sector workers are trained to understand the ‘Violence against Women’ agenda. Welsh Government also fund a helpline for ALL victims of abuse called ‘Live Fear Free’ – also delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid. Sadly just 2% of callers to the service are men.

The Welsh Government’s National Strategy emphasizes that:

’…violence against women is a violation of human rights and both a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men, and it happens to women because they are women and that women are disproportionately impacted by all forms of violence.’

Male victims get a somewhat less significant statement about their experience

‘Whilst it is important that this Strategy acknowledges and communicates the disproportionate experience of women and girls this does not negate violence and abuse directed towards men and boys or perpetrated by women’

That will be little comfort to the 1 in 3 victims who experience abuse and have the misfortune of being male.

In terms of practical help there is a chasm between need and provision for men. In Gwent, the official data shows that 36% of victims – over 8,000 in total – recorded by the Police were male – yet support services helped just 69 men compared to 2678 women in 2015/16 across the five local authorities. In North Wales it’s even worse –2,401 women were supported and just 32 men.

There have been some important changes, and surprising ones at that. You’ll struggle to find many organisations called ‘Women’s Aid’ across huge swathes of Wales. Whilst some have retained the clue in the title many have changed their name – Cyfannol, Threshold, Calan, Atal Y Fro, DASU, Thrive and many more.  Almost all are still member organisations of Welsh Women’s Aid and retain their commitment to a gendered view of domestic abuse that emphasizes the role of the patriarchy, and mirrors the Welsh Government strategy’s statement about this happening to women BECAUSE they are women.  To be clear, these organisations are powerful advocates for the women who experience domestic violence and abuse, who undeniably make up a majority by all ways of calculation in the UK.  If you were a woman you’d want these people on your side. But what if you’re a man?

The question that will come before local politicians in 2019 will be – ‘Should ‘Women’s Aid’ organisations receive public funding to provide support to men as well?’ There is also a question about potential conflicts of interest where both parties are supposedly being supported by ‘women’s aid’ as victims / survivors of abuse? We think that’s another important reason for separate services delivered by separate organisations.

It has never been more important for men’s voices to be heard.

 

About the author

Paul Apreda is National Manager of Both Parents Matter (BPM) in Wales. BPM is a service of FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru – a registered charity that provides information, advice and assistance to parents and grandparents with child contact problems. Since 2017 the charity has responded to the growing number of service users who identified as male victims of domestic violence and has developed a service to provide drop-in support as well as helping men (and some women) to access Legal Aid for Family Court proceedings.

Website www.fnf-bpm.org.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Families-Need-Fathers-Both-Parents-Matter-Cymru-263187500387675/

Twitter:  @fnf_bpm_cymru

Paul Apreda
National Manager – 07947 135864

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Negative attitudes towards men and masculinity in Spain

by Daniel Jiménez

In the second of our occasional blogs on the theme of Male Psychology and masculinity around the world, Daniel Jiménez describes the surprisingly high levels of prejudice against men in Spain in the past 20 years. The implications for men’s mental health are concerning.

 

In recent times the United States has been witness to a devaluation of masculinity in the public discourse. From academia to mass media and gradually pouring into popular culture, masculinity has been blamed for a range of social illness: mass shootings, intimate partner violence, sex crimes… to the point where some claim that there is no toxic masculinity, but rather masculinity itself is toxic. Male creativity, contributions and achievements are, on the other hand, attributed to individual traits or to a position of privilege. The so-called “masculinity crisis” has been a hotly debated topic, as the State gradually appropriates the role of provider and protector that men held, and modern economy facilitates women becoming financially independent.

From the Unites States it would be easy to perceive these developments as particular to the Anglo-Saxon world, and perhaps Nordic European countries such as Sweden. On the other hand Spain, like most of Southern Europe, tends to be regarded as a place where traditional notions of masculinity remain strong. This is the country the world associates with Don Juan Tenorio, brave bullfighters and the term machismo. Most Americans are surprised to find that a negative perception of masculinity not too dissimilar to that of the United States has developed in Spain, and that its devaluation has been taken even further.

The catalyst that triggered the change was the killing of Ana Orantes in 1997. Domestic violence was starting to be discussed openly in the Spanish media, and Orantes appeared on national television to tell her story. She was burned alive by her husband the next day, and this brutal killing shocked public opinion. This wasn’t the death of an unknown person, but a familiar face that people could recognize and a story they empathized with. Over the following years domestic violence killings (when committed by a man) became treated not as the isolated actions of evil or unstable individuals, but were rather understood according to gender theory postulates. Domestic violence was explained as a manifestation of male oppression, and the dismantling of structures and socio-cultural practices that made this oppression possible was said to be the only way to eradicate it, because domestic violence emanated from the imbalance of power.

In 2004 the view of domestic violence as a gendered phenomenon materialized into the Organic Act on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence. The adoption of the term “gender violence”, instead of alternatives such as “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, framed the conversation in terms of violence against women by their male romantic partner or ex-partner. The law would impose higher penalties to these men in a subset of domestic violence crimes, as shown in Title IV. The act would include, among other measures, special courts designed only for these crimes: the juzgados de violencia sobre la mujer, which presently number over a 100. To my knowledge Spain is the only country that has courts exclusively focused on male crimes (as gender violence is defined), making the U.S. Violence Against Women Act seem soft in comparison. The law has also been weaponized during divorce processes, as accusations often activate a protective order against the male and give automatic custody of the children to the accuser until the accusation is resolved. Depending on the circumstances and the region, making an accusation – regardless of the outcome – can confer other benefits such as a small stipend, free college tuition, job placement or the granting of permanent residency in the case of immigrants.

The complexity of the 2004 law would merit a separate article, but what needs to be pointed out is that it marked a turning point in Spain. Gradually, mass media, education at all levels and public policies came to be interpreted through the lense of gender theory, cementing a discourse that fuels a sex war where the male sex is widely portrayed as a problem in need of fixing.

While the United States has also fed on ideas about masculinity based on gender theory, having lived in both countries I would assert that the negative perception about masculinity is more pronounced in Spain. In fact, the Spanish media has not only created expressions such as “violencia machista” to replace the less explicit term “gender violence”, but has shown itself eager to adopt terms that originated in the United States as well. Aside from expressions like toxic masculinity (mascunilidad tóxica), neologisms such as manspreading, mansplaining and manterrupting have either been borrowed or translated by the Spanish media, with machoexplicación (the translation of mansplaining) becoming candidate for word of the year by Fundeu (Fundación del Español Urgente).

Masculinity, and men in general, have become an acceptable punching bag for the media and public officials. While there are many examples, I will only mention some of the most recent. On one occasion a journalist declared on national television that celebrating Men’s Day would be akin to celebrating “The day of the terrorist”. There is also the case of a judge specialized in gender violence that described males as “acorn-fed animals.” And not long ago, in a regional government-run campaign against gender violence, male bystanders were accused of sexist attitudes or even domestic abuse by an actor who introduced himself as “your (inner) machismo.” [1]  In the political arena, the 2017 State Pact Against Gender Violence included in its congressional discussion terms such as “patriarchal justice,” “patriarchal domination,” “male domination,” “structural machismo,” “patriarchal violence” or “privileged-oppressed relationship.”

While discontent (and disconnect) about men’s negative portrayal in the media and public institutions is growing among the Spanish population, the negativity doesn’t seem to be waning. And while it’s true that ideas from the United States have had an influence on the perception of masculinity in Spain, if the latter country were to be considered its student, it would no doubt have surpassed its master.

 

[1] Machismo in the Spanish sense of the word, which implies a sexist sense of superiority over women and even a sense of entitlement over them in more recent uses of the term.

 

About the author

Daniel Jiménez is a Spanish Language and Culture Instructor for the U.S. Defense Language Institute. Raised in Spain, he has been living in the United States since 2006. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of any agency of the U.S. government

 

 

 

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Light at the end of a long dark tunnel for male victims of domestic violence?

by Dr John Barry

Picture: outside the European Union (EU) Parliament in Brussels. L-R Dr John Barry, Marta Iglesias Julios, Prof Joaquim Soares, Prof Nicola Graham-Kevan, Eduardo Zugasti.

Many of us will have found that when we try to discuss men’s mental health issues we are met with disinterest or even derision. It has even been suggested that men in general are so privileged that they don’t need any male-specific help.

It could be that there is especially little sympathy for male victims of domestic violence, even amongst male victims themselves. There are lots of reasons for this. In general, neither men nor women want to see men as victims. Also, the domestic violence industry is focused almost exclusively on female victims, and any sign that funding will be diverted to male victims is not welcomed with open arms. Campaigners such as Erin Pizzey and researchers such as Prof Murray Strauss have experienced threats and abuse, and it is true to say that the decades since the 1970s have been bleak times for people sympathetic to male victims of domestic violence.

But now in 2018, perhaps we are seeing the first green shoots of fresh thinking about domestic violence:

Since September 2018 we have seen Mark Brooks and the Mankind Initiative in the UK feature prominently in the mainstream media, including the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC1  They – especially Mark himself – are to be congratulated for the determination and professionalism.

27th November 2018 saw Dr Liz Bates (University of Cumbria, UK) be honoured with an award for her research on male victims of domestic violence as one of the ‘UK’s Best Breakthroughs’ in academia this year.

4th December 2018 saw a meeting in the EU parliament in Brussels, focusing on research evidence of the extent of domestic violence against men worldwide, compiled by Professor Joaquim Soares (Mid Sweden University). In the same meeting, Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan (University of Central Lancashire, UK) discussed research into the sometimes devastating impact on children of witnessing domestic violence. Marta Iglesias Julios, a PhD candidate from Portugal, gave a very thought-provoking presentation on the potentially far-reaching harm caused by non-physical violence (e.g. spreading malicious rumours) of the type that women tend to engage in more than men do on average. The forum was organised by MEP Teresa Giménez Barbat and Euromind, and was very positively received. For me it was a very pleasant surprise that support for male victims of domestic violence is alive and healthy in Europe.

So it appears that this topic is moving from the hinterlands and breaking into mainstream consciousness. What we need to see is this progress continuing in a sustainable manner. To facilitate this process, it would be helpful if the following developments were to occur:

1/ We need for the mainstream media – especially the BBC who we pay a tax for –  to tell the people of the UK the truth about domestic violence, not distortions of the truth. Failure to devote proportionate time to male victims should be condemned as a breach of the BBC code of impartiality.

2/ Greater recognition of the lack of services for male victims is needed. For example, male-specific treatment programmes – not the widely discredited Duluth model –  and other types of male-friendly support are urgently needed.

3/ We need greater recognition of the huge sacrifices made by people working in the field of male victims of domestic violence. Many people are doing incredible work voluntarily, or survive on a shoestring, in their efforts to help male victims.

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, this tunnel is filled with obstacles. Funding to help male victims is still almost unheard of. Even the excellent MankindInitiative charity recently almost had to shut down due to lack of funding. Ironically, because of the recent heightened awareness of male victims, the domestic violence industry – after years of focusing only on helping women – are apparently now keen to apply for funding so that they can extend their services to men. This isn’t a solution, mainly because the domestic violence industry has a reputation for treating men as perpetrators rather than victims, and because most women (and probably many men) will not be happy with having mixed-sex shelters and other facilities in this highly sensitive field.

So is there room for optimism when it comes to male victims of domestic violence? My answer is that we should be realistic and recognise the gains that are being made, strive to build upon them, and be prepared to have to work hard to finally reach the light.

 

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 Institute for Women’s Health at the UCL Medical School in 2011. Since then he has published some 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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