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Dr John Barry

Male psychology: holistic, compassionate, future-facing

23 October 2017 | by Dr John Barry

It's staggering to consider how many men kill themselves every day (around 13 according to recent figures), but perhaps just as staggering is how few psychologists realise this is a field where they can have a positive impact.

Most psychologists don’t realise that although three quarters of suicides are by men, suicidal men are less likely to seek professional help than suicidal women (Kung et al, 2003).

Male psychology is any issue that predominantly impacts men and boys, or is understudied in men and boys. This means that you may already be working in male psychology without having realized it.

Here are some examples:

  • Clinical psychology: suicides and substance abuse are higher in men
  • Educational psychology: boys have been falling behind girls since the 1980s
  • Neuropsychology: most serious brain injury patients are male
  • Developmental psychology: autism spectrum disorder is more common in males
  • Forensic psychology: most prisoners are male
  • Military psychology: most combat-related PTSD is in men
  • Sports psychology: men engage more in sports than women do

There are other fields too, and if we depicted all of these as a Venn diagram, male psychology would be the common denominator.

Developments in one field (e.g. improving boys’ education) might have a positive impact on other fields (e.g. clinical and forensic psychology). Thus male psychology does not take anything away from other areas, it adds to them by facilitating the application of what we have learned about men in one field to other fields.

If you are starting to realise that you are working in a male psychology field, then here are three reasons to be cheerful:

  1. Male psychology is holistic
    It not only spans all of psychology, but is about a diversity of gender and sexuality. It accepts that there are many ways to be a man, without putting men into categories. It is about understanding women as well as men e.g. ‘women in our survey said X; men in our survey said Y’. Women can work in male psychology too, in fact currently about a third of Male Psychology Network members are women. Male psychology unites people, it’s not about dividing people or hunkering down in an academic silo.
     
  2. Male Psychology is compassionate
    It provides a necessary balance to our normal tendency to overlook problems facing men and boys. It is normal for us to automatically favour women over men (Rudman & Goodwin, 2004). The roots of this ‘empathy gap’ are probably rooted in evolution, with men expected to provide protection, not receive it (Barry, 2016). When men are acting out emotional problems through antisocial behavior rather than talking to someone, our empathy for men, understandably, is reduced.  And it is precisely because we have so little time for men with difficult psychological/behavioural problems that male psychology is such a challenge.
     
  3. Male psychology looks to the future rather than the past
    The past has been replete with men trying to fulfill a role that was dangerous or damaging to them e.g. trying to be a hero, working in dangerous and damaging jobs, keeping their emotions under tight control.  We are looking to a future where men can feel good about their role in more fulfilling and harmonious ways, and express themselves in more positive ways.

For these reasons, male psychology brings a positive synergy and adds value to many areas in psychology. Although psychologists are already addressing male psychology issues in many fields of psychology, we would all benefit by working in a more holistic way, recognising the common element that unites these areas and can facilitate learning between them.

My challenge to you is to recognize the element of male psychology that already exists in the work that you do, and discover how this knowledge has the potential to impact your work in positive ways.

 

Dr Barry is also hosting a Psychology In The Pub event in Exeter on Wednesday evening entitled "Do men and boys need help from psychologists?".

This event is free and open to everyone. For more information, please click here.

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