The Emerging Field of Male Psychology and Shifting Perspectives on Masculinity
Male psychology is a field of study that is still developing and gaining increasing interest from higher education institutions and the general public. In fact, it wasn’t until 2020 that the University of Sunderland in England launched the world’s first male psychology module in their bachelor’s degree program.
June is National Men’s Health Month, so as a psychotherapist specializing in the psychological needs of men and young men, I’m excited to take this opportunity to discuss the emerging field of Male Psychology and the latest discoveries regarding effective approaches to psychotherapy with men and boys.
Contemporary studies in male psychology are introducing a more thoughtful and scientific approach to understanding the mental health of men and boys. For example, researchers may examine the negative circumstances that affect men’s mental health and question the usefulness of terms like “toxic masculinity” in addressing these issues. It’s important to recognize that masculinity is just one aspect of male psychology.
Gender Differences in Men’s Mental Health
It is crucial for mental health practitioners to be aware of gender differences in the presentation of mental health problems. Taking depression as an example, which is a common diagnosis, there is substantial evidence suggesting that men are more likely than women to express their depressed mood indirectly through “acting out” behaviors such as aggression, risk-taking, or substance abuse, rather than through direct verbal means (Whitley, 2021). This may contribute to lower reported rates of depression among men, as they often don’t openly share their feelings in the same way.
According to Dr. Rebecca Owens, Associate Head of the School of Psychology at Sunderland University, “Research suggests men have an innate, often unconscious desire to appear strong and invulnerable, and society has often encouraged this too. However, there is an increasing awareness of men’s vulnerabilities, the humanity of masculinity, and we need to keep up the momentum to promote awareness, understanding and support for men.”
Effective Approaches in Psychotherapy for Men and Boys
Interestingly, men seek out psychotherapy considerably less frequently than women (Addis & Mahalik, 2003). This discrepancy is often attributed to male attributes such as stubbornness and stoicism, rather than considering the characteristics of the treatment modalities themselves. Liddon & Barry (2021) discovered that incorporating a “strengths-based” approach in therapeutic interventions for men leads to better outcomes.
Liddon and Barry (2021) suggest that problem-solving and action-oriented approaches tend to resonate more with men. They argue that “people-oriented” jobs like therapy need to be tailored subtly when working with male clients.
Evidence-based approaches that may be effective in psychotherapy with men and boys include Positive Psychotherapy, which emphasizes human strengths instead of weaknesses; Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, rooted in stoic philosophy; and Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which focuses on building solutions and problem-solving.
In their paper “Psychological interventions to help male adults” published by the British Psychological Society, Seegar and Barry (2022) present the following guidelines for treating men based on scientific principles and human-centered values:
- Talking therapies should not be the sole option. Action-oriented and community approaches should also be considered, including due consideration of culturally appropriate settings.
- Gender responsiveness should be a crucial factor when formulating and selecting approaches to address the problems and needs of men and boys.
- Group and community approaches that allow men to identify with others who share similar experiences can encourage help-seeking behaviors.
- Problem-solving and action-oriented approaches generally appeal more to men.
- Coaching and mentoring approaches show promise as male-friendly interventions.
- The scarcity of male therapists as mentors and role models for men and boys within the field of psychology and professional care is an important consideration in improving therapy uptake and outcomes. However, it’s worth noting that the quality of the therapeutic relationship, rather than gender alone, plays a significant role in achieving positive outcomes.
- Therapy for men and boys, just like for any other demographic, should prioritize empathy and respect for the client’s identity within the spectrum of human experiences. Therapy models that adopt a positive and empathic perspective on masculinity are likely to be more appealing and effective for male clients, as opposed to models that take a critical stance suggesting that masculinity itself requires reform and change. It’s important to note that ‘masculinity’ should not be narrowly or rigidly defined in this context, and the client’s own experiences should always be central in therapy.
- The preference among males for ‘shoulder to shoulder’ communication, as opposed to direct ‘face to face’ interaction, can be harnessed to foster more authentic therapeutic connections with men and boys.
Supporting Men’s Health
During Men’s Health Month, as we encourage men and boys to take control of their physical and mental well-being, let’s stand alongside them with therapeutic approaches that recognize their strengths, uncover their vulnerabilities, and embrace the essence of masculinity as a fundamental aspect of their humanity.
To learn more about Male Psychology, The Center for Male Psychology, and the U.S. Men’s Shed Association, click the links below.
Addis, M.E. & Mahalik, J.R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American Psychologist, 58(1), 5.
Liddon, L. & Barry, J. (2021). Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction. 1st edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Seager, M. & Barry, J. (2022). Psychological interventions to help male adults. Briefing Paper. The British Psychological Society.