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The Male Psychology undergraduate module – a first for the UK and the world

by Dr Becci Owens

Male psychology is a recent development in academia, having first being proposed by UK consultant clinical psychologist Martin Seager in 2010. Male Psychology values any perspectives – including biological factors – that can help in the understanding of the psychology of men and boys. In fact one of the topics of interest in Male Psychology is the question of why it is such an under researched area. (Spoiler alert – we believe that a cognitive distortion called gamma bias plays a role. You will learn more about this on the module).

Although several universities run men’s studies modules, these tend to magnify social-constructionist explanations of behaviour, and mostly minimise the importance of biological, genetic and evolutionary influences. Also men’s studies, like gender studies (which mostly focuses on women), takes a relatively negative view of masculinity. In contrast Male Psychology takes the pragmatic view that there is much more to be gained by harnessing the positive aspects of masculininty.

The really exciting news is that this week I give our stage two students at the University of Sunderland the chance to study the first – to my knowledge – Male Psychology undergraduate module, at stage three.

In this new module, we will consider sex differences in evolved cognitive architecture which provides a basic ‘template’ with which men and women develop and interact with their environment. This predisposes men and women to experience many things differently, and embody these differences in ways that are dismissed as some people as stereotypes, or recognised by others as archetypes (Seager, 2019).

The module will also explore the concept of masculinity from cross-cultural and comparative perspectives, and challenge the fashionable notion that masculinity is inherently toxic. We will also examine sex differences in the experience of trauma, and sex differences in how trauma is managed. For example, women are more likely to internalise trauma, experiencing anxiety and depression, whereas men are more likely to externalise trauma, developing difficulties with inhibition control leading to risk taking behaviours.

This module will consider the impact of gender roles and stereotyping in mental health. For example, if we see men as interested only in uncommitted sexual relations, how much empathy do we have when it comes to the long-term mental health impact of involuntary childlessness on men? Also, if we see men as dominant, aggressive, assertive and power-seeking, but how does this stereotype impact the way we view male victims of intimate partner violence?

The core textbooks for the module include the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, and a forthcoming textbook Perspectives in Male Psychology (published by Wiley). The Palgrave Handbook consists of 32 chapters from the leading academics and practitioners in Male Psychology from around the world. Our stage three students will begin a critical introduction to male psychology, including guest lectures from members of the Male Psychology Section of the BPS, and authors of the Handbook of Male Psychology.

I hope that this module will be useful not only in bring new light to how we understand the psychology of men and boys, but will inform a new generation of psychologists in ways that will be of practical and theoretical value no matter what their main area of interest is. For example, those who are interested in mental health will find insights from male psychology invaluable, as will those interested in health, sports, crime, child psychology, education, and the workplace.

Male Psychology is a brand new and rapidly expanding field, and I look forward to welcoming new students to this subject.


About the author

Dr Becci Owens is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an evolutionary psychologist with a research focus on male psychology and mental health, sex differences in mating behaviours and mating strategies, and body image and modifications.
Becci’s chapter in the Handbook of Male Psychology was published recently: Barry JA and Owens B (2019). From fetuses to boys to men: the impact of testosterone on male lifespan development, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1
Email: ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens
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Male help-seeking behaviour and suicide – stereotypes or archetypes?

On World Suicide Prevention Day, the following is a summary of the main thoughts behind Consultant Clinical Psychologist Martin Seager’s chapter on male suicide in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health.


Suicide is universally a gender issue, with male deaths outnumbering female by a large percentage in virtually every country, in very age group and in every year since records began.

Research into suicide however has largely been gender-neutral, and is only now even beginning to show any curiosity about male gender experience of suicide. Many books on suicide don’t consider male gender at all as a theme, meaning that the male gender experience is usually invisible.

This vast disparity between the magnitude of male suicide and our lack of curiosity about the male lives behind the statistics is, in fact, the biggest clue to the causes of male suicide: the gender empathy gap. A lack of empathy for men and masculinity reflects the fact that human gender behaviour has an evolutionary basis.


An evolutionary basis

Sex differences are the basis for reproduction and evolution not just in the human species but in many others. In every culture, the evolved male archetype is about “strength”: to take risks, to provide, protect, fight, win and control emotions in order to focus on the successful performance of dangerous tasks. Because of the ‘male protector’ archetype we are all implicitly more tolerant of male death and suffering for the simple reason that we expect the male gender to offer protection rather than receive it.  The statistics on deaths and protective behaviours across the world prove this. Even the survival figures from the Titanic, where most of the women survived and most of the men died, show men were trying to protect women and children by getting them into the life boats.


Male shame

Male suicide is linked quite clearly to shame about weakness and failure, but this shame mirrors a societal lack of empathy for the male experience – this is why men don’t value their own vulnerability or seek help because they don’t expect to receive help and this is actually reflected in a lack of services for male victims and resistance to seeing men as a group with needs of their own.

However the currently popular social constructionist narratives around gender assume male gender behaviour is a set of stereotypes that can simply be retaught and remoulded.  Efforts are therefore being made – mistakenly – to educate boys and men to change their attitudes and behaviour. Masculinity itself is felt to be harmful and men are blamed for not seeking help and ultimately even for their own suicidality. Paradoxically this of course only reinforces the archetype that men are responsible for sorting all problems out, including themselves.

The shame men feel in seeking help is implicit in all society. Telling men to open up and seek help is a double standard when the actions and attitudes of society are not sympathetic and only reinforce the shame. This only confuses and paralyses men more.


Can we change men’s help-seeking behaviour?

In my chapter on male suicide I make it clear that trying to change an archetype as if it were a stereotype is not only mistaken but damaging and counterproductive. However, I argue that it is possible to redefine and reapply what the male archetype means in a modern social context:

  • We can redefine male strength to include help-seeking, because help-seeking involves facing problems, taking control and taking action. These are archetypally masculine attributes. If we tell men that by seeking help they are protecting their families, it plays into the archetype, not against it.
  • Helping any group can also only work if the approach is empathic, yet with men we have constantly tried to change or educate them, rather than accept them as they are or empathise with their world. This means we have not respected male differences in ways of communicating, relating and dealing with emotion. We have tried to fit men into a “counselling” model of what we think they should be, which is ironically closer to the female archetype.
  • The evidence is clear however that where services listen to men and offer help in a way that honours the male archetype, things work much better. This can be achieved through male spaces, doing things together, talking shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face.

Men do talk, if people listen in male-friendly ways. If we can change the language of our message on suicide from “open up, you stubborn men” to “let’s all open up to men” we will get a lot further and save many more lives.


About the author

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



Seager MJ  (2019). From stereotypes to archetypes: an evolutionary perspective on male help-seeking and suicide, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology & Mental Health IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1 DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1



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

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

by Dr John Barry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

To purchase this book please email 


About Owen Connolly

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

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


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Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys?

by Dr John Barry

The APA’s Division 51 (Men and Masculinities) recently released their guidelines for working with men and boys. While guidelines on this topic are much needed, the APA’s contribution leaves room for improvement. In this article I will outline issues with two of their 10 guidelines:

Guideline 1 of the APA guidelines suggests that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms”. However although it is true that masculinity is, in part, constructed, it is also partly innate.

What is the evidence that masculinity is, in part, innate? Well, sex differences in cognition and behaviour  are found worldwide, and their universality suggests something that transcends culture. Moreover, most of these clearly map onto masculinity. For example, the tendency to being more competitive, aggressive (physically), and interested in sports than women maps onto the male gender script of being a fighter and winner. The tendency to working longer hours, working in male-typical occupations, exploring the environment, more willing to take risks, maps onto the male gender script of being provider and protector.The tendency to show less fear, less crying, more inclined to substance abuse (self-medication) maps onto the male gender script of having mastery & control of one’s emotions.

The crucial point for therapy is that because some aspects of masculinity are innate, changing them is not a simple case of cognitive restructuring or behaviour change, any more than changing other deeply-held aspects of gender identity or sexual identity is straightforward or even desirable.

However we live in a culture steeped in the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’, telling us that there are ‘more similarities than differences’ between men and women. Of course this idea is not wholly untrue, but it typically deflects our attention away from the fact that it is the differences between men and women that ‘make all the difference’. Thus in many ways we are not encouraged to notice sex differences, and we might even experience cognitive dissonance if we are asked to focus on sex differences and consider the implications for, to take one example, treatment approaches in psychology.

Guideline 3 states that “in the aggregate, males experience a greater degree of social and economic power than girls and women in a patriarchal society”. This statement is an example of what we have identified as gamma bias in psychology, a type of cognitive distortion in which examples of male privilege are magnified and female privilege is ignored or explained away. Examples of male disadvantage are boys’ educational achievement and the high rates of male suicide. Examples of female advantage lighter prison sentences and gender quotas in science jobs. In fact recent evidence has found that men are disadvantaged in many countries worldwide, especially those with medium to high levels of development.

Therapists who believe that guideline 3 is true of their male clients might understandably struggle to find much empathy for them, and a male client might struggle to believe they will find much empathy from such therapists too.

As an alternative to guidelines 1 and 3, I would suggest that we recognise that masculinity is to some degree innate and potentially positive for mental health, and the vulnerabilities of male clients are more important to us, as therapists, than any hypothesised patriarchal power. We shouldn’t presume that the bad behaviour of the minority of men are representative of some underlying aspect of men in general, and we should recognise that negative views of men are a barrier to an appropriate level of therapeutic empathy.

I would encourage Division 51 to revise their guidelines to bring them in line with research evidence and common sense. I would also urge authors of any other guidelines relating to male mental health to make similar revisions. After all, men seek therapy less than women do even when suicidal, so we need to do what we can to make therapy more male-friendly.

Is there an alternative to the new APA guidelines for working with men and boys? Well the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health offers practical advice to therapists and a more positive theoretical perspective on men’s mental health and male psychology in general. Guidelines based on this handbook will be issued soon, and I hope the 32 chapters offer therapists and academics a realistic and useful way of understanding and working with men.


About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health


The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health will be released in April 2019.

From the back cover:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.



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The yin of being looked at and the yang of looking

The “#MeToo” campaign, which was very prominent in 2018 and became a platform for women to complain about male behaviour, also reflects the tendency of society to polarise opposites and set them up in “boxing” mode against each other.  It also chooses to ignore the fact that women can also be abusive of men.  When I lived in Doncaster, South Yorkshire for example, I used to witness the effect of unwanted sexual advances on male friends of mine who were approached by female prostitutes who got into their cars at traffic lights. This kind of casual reverse sexist discrimination is what has inspired me to write a chapter for the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology (2019).

I think we should be celebrating male and female difference rather than setting up men and women in competition against one another. My belief is that the male and female are designed very differently because, as we have developed as humans, we have needed to take on different tasks to survive.  The male has been designed to “look”, not only at the female, but to “look out” for prey, for danger, and for ways to protect his family unit.  The woman, much to the surprise of some, still likes being “looked at” by the male, and will in fact go out of her way to make sure she is seen, unless of course, she dislikes the particular male who is “doing the looking”.

The unprecedented rise in the use of cosmetics and surgical enhancements proves that women feel the need to look good for as long as possible.  The use of botox is no longer confined to the ageing female – it is now used by young women in their 20s, and the number of women between 19 and 34 using botox has risen by 41% since 2011.  This is because the need to look good is “hard wired” into female genes.  It is rooted in mating behaviours which we see also in the animal kingdom.  In the avian kingdom, it is usually the males that display for the females, but for mammals, it is always the other way around.

The eastern concept of Yin and Yang is, I believe, a sensible way to view male and female complementarity.  The ancient Chinese world believed that the interlocking building blocks of the universe were Yin (the feminine) and Yang (masculine). “Yin” is negative, dark and feminine, and “yang” is positive, bright and masculine. Yin needs Yang and vice versa, and the two need to be in perfect balance for health and harmony in the body.

Because the male is “hard wired” to respond initially to what he can see visually, this is not something that he can “turn off” to avoid offending the modern female.  The female on the other hand, in a biological sense is designed to be especially attuned to touch because of regular reproductive cycles and physically nurturing the young from conception.  She therefore has tended, in an evolutionary sense to have a more internal frame of reference, but also needs to “be noticed” so that her primeval instincts can be satisfied.

The male will always need “to look” at the female and the female will always need “to be seen” by the male – even if she continues to re-define exactly how she is looked at and what she wants the male to see.

Looking and being looked at can be thought of as opposite forces interacting to form a dynamic system, in which the whole is greater than the parts.


About the author

Jennie Cummings-Knight, MA, MBACP, PGCE, FHEA

Jennie is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor of individuals and couples. She works privately near Cromer, Norfolk, as well as lecturing in London and online as a part time Associate of the Existential Academy.  She also runs regular workshops for counsellors in Norwich.  She has a particular interest in Male Psychology.

Jennie explores the topic of ‘the gaze’ in her chapter ‘The Gaze: The Male Need to Look vs the Female Need to Be Seen—An Evolutionary Perspective’, in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (2019)  available for purchase here  DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1





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