Matt Hancocks

Counselling and Psychotherapy in the Lakes and Dales

Men, Therapy and Language

One of the challenges confronting men coming to therapy (if they come at all!), is knowing what to expect and what the experience will be like. I’ve just come back from a conference on Male Psychology, where some really amazing work with Canadian Military Veterans was show-cased. These are guys who have seen some of the horrors of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The work was presented by Professor Marv Westwood, who has been working with the Canadian Military as well as the Australian Military on something called the Veterans Transition Programme – working with Veterans transitioning back to civilian life. The work, video footage and case studies were very moving, but more importantly were the results – truly amazing. The impact this work had, 1-to-1s, group work, etc. is inspiring.

My main take-away though was the importance of language, especially for men displaying typically traditional forms of masculinity. Using language, expressions, labels etc. that are male friendly, not shaming, and ones that don’t undermine “typical masculine norms”, e.g. it’s not “crying” but “releasing”, that it is a “fight” or “battle” with the depression, etc. This seemed to be very important to these men. It is this point that I think is important to men in therapy as well!

My sense of therapy with men is to help them make sense of the past, live in the present and have hope for the future, in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them and are gendered appropriately.

Below is some of the emerging theory, thought leadership, and perspectives on male therapy (if some of the academic material interests you).

A number of researchers (Kinselica, Engler-Carlson, and Fisher, 2008; Kiselica, Engler-Carlson, and Horne, 2008; Kinselica, & Englar-Carlson, 2010) have defined what they believe is a more positive psychology, positive masculinity model of psychotherapy with men and boys. This is based on their study, consistent with a positive psychology perspective, of what they consider to be male strengths. They suggest that promoting the positive aspects of traditional masculinity can enhance our understanding of, and clinical work with, boys and men. (Kinselica, & Englar-Carlson, 2010). They list 10 key strengths in their framework. These are:

1. Male relational styles – the way men and boys develop friendships and intimacy with each other through shared activities e.g. sport, gaming, projects etc. (Buhrmester, 1996; McNelles & Connolly, 1999; Clinchy & Zimmerman, 1985; Surrey, 1985; Kiselica, 2001, 2003a, 2003b, 2006.).
2. Male ways of caring – how men are raised to protect their loved ones and friends (Kiselica, et al 2008a; Kinselica, & Englar-Carlson, 2010), and their high levels of “action empathy” (Levant, 1995).
3. Generative fatherhood – the way fathers respond to the developmental needs of boys in a positive, emotional, educational, interlectual, social and affirmative way (Dollahite & Hawkins, 1998; Kiselica, 2008).
4. Male self-reliance – the way men & boys are socialised to use their own resources to solve their problems (Levant, 1995), yet considers the input of others (e.g. coaching, mentoring) as well as their needs (Kiselica, et al 2008b).
5. The worker/provider tradition of men – the way men find meaning and purpose in work and their role as providers (Skovholt, 1990; Bernard, 1981; Christianson & Palkovitz, 2001; Loscocco, 2007) and its centrality to male identity and self-esteem (Axelrod, 201; Heppner & Heppner, 2001).
6. Male courage, daring and risk-taking – the courage men and boys “muster while taking worthwhile risks – such as facing peril to protect others, completing dangerous but necessary jobs, or pushing themselves to their limits during athletic competitions” (Kinselica, Englar-Carlson, 2010).
7. The group orientation of boys and men – the way males band together to achieve a common purpose and participate and value groups, “which can provide them with important sources of identify and community (Kiselica, 2008b).
8. The humanitarian service of fraternal organisations – this includes involvement in male service organisations which seems more US centric, and has no direct parallels, however the rotary club, round-table, sport clubs etc. may fit this perspective within a UK context.
9. Men’s use of humour – “Many men use humour as a vehicle to attain intimacy” (Kinselica, &Englar-Carlson, 2010), have fun, reduce tension, stress and manage conflicts (Kiselica, 2001, 2010)
10. Male heroism – an age old exemplar of one of the positive qualities of traditional masculinity (Kiselica, 2003b).

Kiselica, et al (2008b), state that these 10 overlapping male strengths are meant to representative rather than an exhaustive list.

Our challenge as male therapists is to maximise therapy for men, if these help, let’s use them.

© Matt Hancocks

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