Open post

Men are boxing their way back to mental fitness

An interview by Dr John Barry with boxing coach Paddy Benson of Birmingham’s Pat Benson Boxing Academy.

It’s a familiar story. A young rebellious man seems out of control, always getting into conflict and looking destined for prison. Somehow he finds out about the local boxing club. Maybe it’s his last chance, or maybe it’s just a challenge he won’t refuse. But one thing leads to another and he suddenly finds that he has got something that is more important in his life than getting into trouble. Somehow or other, boxing has saved him from wasting his life.

If the NHS clinical psychology or forensic psychology services could replicate this kind of success story they would quickly recognise it as a breakthrough treatment programme. In fact some people outside boxing are starting to recognise the mental health benefits of this activity, and it just so happens that an old-school boxing club in Birmingham is leading the way. When I found out a few months ago that something called the Mind-Fit programme had won a mental health prize, I tracked down Paddy Benson of the Pat Benson Boxing Academy as quick as I could to find out more:

Barry: Congratulations Paddy on getting a prize for your wellbeing programme. What are your thoughts on your programme, and on the impact of boxing on men’s mental health?

Benson: It started after we had a guy who was from a substance abuse background. He used to train a lot, but sometimes he would go missing. We knew when he went missing he was on a relapse. One day we started chatting with him, and he opened up and said he really valued the structure and routine of the boxing training, which is why he kept coming back. That’s what he was really looking for and that kept him on the right track, away from drugs. We realised that we hadn’t given him any special treatment, but the boxing environment and routine had helped him deal with drugs. In fact of course training is a natural high, a release of endorphins.

Within about 30 mins radius there are lots of charities where we are in Birmingham, so we talked to them and put together a basic mental health package. We think that men’s mental health is a taboo subject at present, but one that will explode soon.

We evolved this programme due to feedback. We try to get the best out of everyone. Our strategy is inclusive – it’s not just for the top half-percent of boxers to win national titles. The programme is one hour per week doing bags and pads in a traditional boxing club, and participants like being coached in this real environment.

We have some specialist mentor staff, we have a social group – basically getting men to talk – and the feedback has been fantastic. We’ve had a national sporting award, and started getting funding. This is social prescribing. These guys are going to their GP but don’t necessarily need a clinical psychologist. For some people who have been using drugs or homeless, just eating fresh fruit is a new thing. The routine is the main thing.

We have worked with Nottingham Trent for a case study, but more with Brunel. Street Games provided free mental health first aid. Some of the participants get back on the straight and narrow, become mentors themselves, and even go on to university.

Barry: Are other things like martial arts just as good, or is boxing special?

Benson: Getting fit and building trust is key. Anyone will feel better. And staying away from drugs. Maybe boxing is more old school so there is a special sort of traditional aura. Our trainers have been around. This does help build trust. It’s hard to explain, but over time participants start to talk. They even start to trust themselves more when they feel more confident and healthy.

Barry: Do you think gaining meaning in life is important?

Benson: Yes, if you have been homeless or on drugs you know you are on the wrong path. When they meet us they mostly right away want to get their lives back on track. Finding an identity and purpose in life is a real achievement. They also learn to help others and give something back.

[Interview ends].

Some of the findings of my research in male psychology are things that are fairly unsurprising to most people who haven’t been steeped in the ideology of gender studies. However in these strange days when traditional masculinity is misunderstood even by psychologists in the US and UK, finding ways to help men’s mental health can sometimes be best done outside of mainstream mental health services. Important understandings about gender aren’t yet part of the psychology syllabus, for example, that when distressed, women often want to talk about their feelings whereas men would rather fix their problems. With men more likely than women to kill themselves, but less likely to seek help from a therapist, it’s my prediction that rediscovering how men have, for generations, been taking care of their mental health might benefit modern psychology. Activities like boxing might not appeal to everyone, but a pilot study by Brunel found it worked for the 24 participants on Benson’s Mind-Fit programme. Without a doubt the merit of this approach is worth further investigation.

 

About Paddy Benson

Paddy Benson trains in the Pat Benson Boxing Academy, a club based Birmingham’s Irish Quarter – produced the likes of champion Matthew Macklin and is currently training future world class boxers. The Academy was created to honour legendary trainer from Mayo in Ireland, Pat Benson, after he was crowned BBC Unsung Hero 2010. Pat and his grandson Paddy, a University business graduate who has also boxed for England Youth, work together in the family run club. Paddy will be giving a short presentation at the Male Psychology Conference at University College London in June.

 

About John Barry

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis

for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. He is co-founder of the Male Psychology Network, and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the authors of the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health  DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

John has blogged previously on the mental health benefits of boxing.

Open post

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

Open post

Born to lose: the sad start and tragic end of Sid Vicious

by Dr John Barry

It’s easy for psychologists to feel empathy for a little old lady, sobbing quietly in a comfy chair in your therapy room. The cause of her pain is obvious – she has willingly told you all about it. You understand her pain, empathise with her, and she eagerly engages with your suggestions for therapy.

Much more of a challenge is the young man who acts in an erratic and violent manner, doesn’t want to talk to you, doesn’t want your help, and has little interest in what he is feeling or why he is feeling it. He doesn’t want your help, and you – very naturally – don’t feel inclined to help him.

John Simon Beverley (aka Sid Vicious) died 40 years ago today. He is exactly the kind of person who represents a challenge to psychologists, because he is such a challenge to our capacity for empathy.

The public image is of someone uncontrollably violent and anarchic, and ultimately a convicted murderer. But the underlying story is of a boy who grew up without a dad, raised by a mum who was a drug user and dealer. Clearly, not a good start in life. Prenatal exposure to substance abuse can impact behaviour throughout the lifespan, and we know that dads can have a stabilising influence on their sons. His own drug abuse began early in life and he became a heroin addict, which some would argue is a form of self-medication for emotional problems.

Some of the people around him who could have helped (for example, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren) simply encouraged his bad behaviour. In fact many people would have been disappointed if Sid Vicious didn’t live up to his name, and when you get positive reinforcement for behaving badly it doesn’t make sense to behave like a saint.

The violence of Sid Vicious is interesting: although he started lots of fights, he was in fact pretty bad at defending himself. One has to wonder whether getting beaten up was part of a pattern of deliberate self-harm, something he did in other ways, such as cutting himself with broken glass on stage.

Self-harm, violence and drug addiction are not the acts of a happy person, and one wonders whether Sid might have had a much different life had he found a therapist or a friend who could have influenced him for the better.

You have to wonder too how many other young men who are out there today who have similar problems and act out in intimidating ways, and have similar prospects for a tragic future if we can’t bring ourselves to listen to what they are telling us, through their words and actions.

One of the greatest challenges to psychologists, and society, is to empathise with people whose behaviour is violent or upsetting. This is a challenge we need to rise to if we want to work with such people and change their behaviour, ultimately to the benefit of us all.

 

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”.

 

 

 

 

Scroll to top