John Barry and Martin Seager are to be congratulated for organising another excellent male psychology conference in this series, now the 4th I have attended. Each year the attendance increases (by my informal reckoning, at least) and the range of speakers widens, including speakers from abroad.
Martin opened by reminding us of the expected values. Martin alluded to the distinction between men being expected to change to accommodate society’s demands and society needing to accommodate men’s needs. I look forward to hearing more about “from empathy gap to gender distortion matrix” in due course. I was rather disconcerted by “equity of outcome”. It sounded rather like an attempt to appease. With the macro-demographic micro-replication monster currently chewing its way through the economy, I don’t think we should be feeding it.
The first day of the conference was on the dark side, or downside, of masculinity – much of which related to offenders. The second day concentrated on more positive aspects of masculinity. The following are merely rough unpolished notes.
Naomi Murphy, lead forensic psychologist at HMP Whitemoor, built on last year’s excellent presentation: working with serious violent and sexual offenders. Data: 54% had a history of being sexually abused as children by women, generally acting alone, 73% physical abuse, 81% neglect, 64% from ‘broken’ families, 59% parental antipathy. She reminded us that her staff were almost all women in their 20s and 30s. Yet the prisoner-psychologist dynamic was one in which it was the men who were fearful.
Joel Beckman updated us on CALM (which differs from Samaritans in being a male-specific suicide help line service). They receive 7000 calls or web chats per month, the service currently growing at 40% per year. They have 24 staff, with 10 staff on duty in parallel each evening/night. They claim to have prevented 427 suicides in 2017 (172 so far in 2018). The evidencing of this was challenged in questioning and the basis of the claim explained. Apparently, construction is the occupation with the greatest number of suicides. (I’d not heard that before, but care is needed – what’s the per capita rate? Construction employs huge numbers). Not only CALM’s staff levels, but also their very expensive, high profile advertising campaigns, testify to the funding pull of CALM, of which some of us can only be envious. In private conversations afterwards, with other parties, there was some frustration that CALM are so resistant to using the influence they have established in the political sphere.
Paula Hall (psychotherapist) discussed sex addiction. The definition includes porn, leading to the common phenomenon, on this definition, of sex addicted virgins. There are many 30 year old virgins, she told us. (I couldn’t help observing how odd it is, but somehow fitting in these benighted times, that being a virgin no longer disqualifies you from being a sexual deviant). 30% of survey respondents admitting sex addiction are women – though users of psychology services for sex addiction are almost all men.
Andrew Briggs (NHS psychotherapist) talked to the impact of fatherlessness on boys offending, including sexual offending, using a specific case study. His thesis was that (this particular) rape was enacted as an escape from the control of his self-confessed controlling mother. He went as far as to claim the boy’s offending would not have occurred had the father remained in the family. Rather too confident a prediction of a counterfactual, I thought.
Nathan Roberts talked about the work of Band of Brothers who work with prolific youth offenders, running a rites-of-passage ritual. Ethos: hurt people hurt people. The saddest thing about these sorts of enterprises is that they have been made necessary. For me they speak to how society has abandoned young men.
Vincent McGovern made some brief remarks about the work of FNF (for which see elsewhere in this blog).
Ashley-Christopher Fallon talked about the forensic mental health services in Solihull. 89% male, 10% high security, 48% medium security. Peak in ages 30s & 40s. Ethnicity: 25% black, 19% Asian, 6% Arab, 41% white. 20% personality disorders (maybe more if florid mental ill health masks it). Offences roughly (reading off histogram) 36% violence, 27% drugs, 18% sexual. Two-thirds referred by health services, one-third from prisons. (When referral is from prison, the time in a secure mental facility does not count as part of the sentence). Fallon, in common with other speakers, mentioned that staff generally don’t want to know about prisoners’ offending history – and this has the effect of perpetuating shame rather than providing a way forward. Gender blindness to male issues is a problem. One of the main conclusions was the need to develop a male-gender strategy in this context,
Mark Brooks talked about the work of Mankind Initiative, a domestic violence help line service for men. Only women apply for jobs on their phone-line; of 25 people attending a recent DV training course, Mark was the only man. Mankind took 1,671 calls in 2017 (75% by the man in question, 25% by women calling on behalf of a male victim). 97,000 page hits per 6 months. 52% of male callers had never talked to anyone of their problem before. 71% would not call if the calls were not anonymous. Average call 33 minutes. Average age 43. 56% of men have children in the house. Emotional abuse 95%; physical abuse 64%; psychological abuse 38%; coercive control 13%. Mark reminded us of the invisibility of male victims and how ‘the system’ conspires to facilitate this invisibility by re-packaging male victims within the Violence-Against-Women-and-Girls statistics. Quote “the only thing toxic about toxic masculinity are those who use it to demonise an entire gender” (applause).He called out Grayson Perry and Robert Webb as particular offenders. Mankind have proposed that there should be a separate DV strategy for men and boys. They were instrumental in the Crown Prosecution Service making a commitment to male victims of sexual and domestic abuse for the first time last September.
Rahmanara Chowdhury talked about domestic violence in Muslim communities. This centred around detailed interviews with 6 Imams. I expect this is rather a difficult subject for a Muslim woman to approach. But I felt the message was failing to hit the target. The message focussed on the identity struggle of young Muslim males (“a baseball cap coming apart at the seams” to quote one Imam), relating to the tension between traditional authentic Islamic teachings and the conflict with western culture. The ‘Muslim = terrorist’ thing and Islamophobia were mentioned, but I felt there was buck passing going on. Nevertheless there was an acceptance that traditional teachings needed modernisation. A pointed question related to the condoning of DV in the Koran, which the speaker claimed was an incorrect reading of the text. The audience became uncomfortable at this line of questioning.
Stuart Hontree (author of the book Parental Alienation, Attachment and Corrupt Law) gave a brief talk on Alienation, including its neuroscience and the diagnostic elements within the DSM (V61.29). (See Stuart’s comment below for further details of the status of Alienation as a diagnosis).
David Eggins told us of the work of Temper DV, reminding us of the stranglehold that Respect has on the Accreditation of DV perpetrator programmes – which effectively locks-in Duluth-type methodologies despite their known lack of efficacy. (See here and here for chapter and verse on DV perpetrator programmes).
Ianto Doyle & Luke Harney: Journeyman – a rites-of-passage programme for teenage boys. Unlike Band of Brothers, this programme is not (necessarily) for boys with an offending history. No doubt their heart is in the right place, but I’m sceptical about things that end in face paint. And I see these programmes being an attempt to make up for a society in which fatherlessness is endemic and society is increasingly failing (refusing?) to provide a positive identity for biological males. However well meant and well conceived, this is a Band-Aid on a fractured skull. Better than doing f***-all, though.
Shazia Hussain talked to male prisoners’ experience of psychotherapy. Of the 9 men in the study, 6 had paranoid schizophrenia; 8 had an average of 4.5 years of therapy. I felt slightly uncomfortable that the men were merely convenient ‘captive specimens’. Rather than the line of questioning adopted, relating to feelings and opinions, I wondered about simple factual things like family background, literacy, etc.
Matt Englar-Carlson (California State) talked about positive psychology / positive masculinity (PPPM). He told us (and this rings true) that all men tend to think that they are the least masculine man in their group. (To me that suggests an understood standard against which one judges oneself to be failing – but I demur from the view that this standard is quite so crude as the macho image sometimes claimed). The professor continued: Psychology has tended to concentrate upon pathology, on the dark side of masculinity. But it is important to understand what psychological health is for men – otherwise it is inevitable that all you see is pathology and toxicity.
Positive masculinity means empathically connecting with men and working with male strengths rather than working to reform masculine characteristics – as if masculinity itself were a pathology. Performance of traditional masculine norms is not inherently problematic. Positive masculinity emphasises the noble aspects of masculinity. Englar-Carlson emphasised the key role of shame in male psychology, an emotion of far greater importance in men than in women. The purpose of PPPM is to reduce shame, and to assist men in being proud to be men. (That didn’t used to be necessary, did it? What happened?).
He asked us “what kind of man do you want to be?” Right now there are lots of lonely men. Men over 30 find it hard to make friends. In psychologically healthy families, boys are raised to care for and protect others, and to be self-reliant. Perhaps we need to reframe what “provider” means: grit, perseverance, dedication, leadership, humour, leading an heroic life.
Englar-Carlson gave a formal definition of positive masculinity, which I thought was poor: “Endorsing those thoughts and feelings, behaviours and attributes which are socially constructed as masculine and expected of men and promote inter-personal and intra-personal well being and social good”. He was criticised in questioning on the “socially constructed” part – rightly so, in my opinion. Pity, much of what he had to say was – appropriately – very positive. I thought the main shortcoming of his perspective was a failure to acknowledge the practical and institutionalised difficulties which now face men: not least, being a non-resident father. You can hardly demonstrate these positive characteristics when there is a court order against you making contact with your family.
Glen Poole (Men’s Health Forum, Australia, via Skype) talked about his work in Australia to promote awareness of the causes of men’s suicide. Men do talk, we were told, it’s just that society doesn’t know how to listen. People need to listen to men with respect and without judgment. The cause of suicide in men tends to be an accumulation of external problems, both practical and social. The reason why it may appear that men don’t seek help is that they don’t necessarily seek help in the context of suicidality. They seek help with practical problems – those problems which may eventually drive them to suicide. Separated fathers are especially vulnerable, he told us. Within the first six months of separation, 50% of fathers are suicidal. This is all wrapped up with social isolation. More generally, men suicide because they feel they are a burden on others, The stereotype that “men don’t need help” is a stereotype which affects society as a whole, not a specific pathology of men themselves. It is society which denies men help.
Martin Daubney and John Barry presented the finding’s of their “Harry’s” survey which focussed on men’s positive masculinity: what is important for men, what factors contribute most to their positive mental outlook? I refer you to the report for details. Job satisfaction was a massively dominant factor. They authors showed us that martial state was significant. Being single was a downer as regards men’s happiness. (I should have asked if this finding had been controlled for socioeconomic status. Marriage is so strongly correlated with financial status that this finding may have masked “I’m unhappy because I’m poor and have a shit job”.). Health appeared to be positively correlated with competitiveness.
Gabriel Abotsie, Roger Kingerlee, Luke Woodley (Norfolk & Suffolk NHS): The Men’s Wellbeing Project. Luke (ex-serviceman) reported frustration with being misunderstood by existing practices. Most programmes are feminised; calls for specialist men’s services. This programme (2017-19) was targeted at men and at playing to men’s psychologies. Mensnet site with links to membership. Was pleased to heard men’s therapy referred to as “shoulder to shoulder”. Strong plays on sport and ex-servicemen. Scheme currently confined to Norfolk & Suffolk, but others in audience expressed interest.
Joe Rafferty (CEO Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust). Good to see someone of CEO status presenting. Mersey have announced a target of zero suicides of patients in their care. Key aspect of changed policy is ‘no restrictive practices’. I think this means being free to innovate without fear of blame. In my parlance, I believe they have introduced a no-blame culture – which is essential if you want to know what went wrong when something does. Otherwise there is always a cover-up as people try to evade the blame. Rafferty claimed a really dramatic fall in disciplinary actions not surprisingly. Rather than a Risk Assessment the key now was regarded as being a Safety Plan. This seemed to go down well with informed members of the audience. Surveying people before & after training indicated a dramatic reduction in how many people regarded suicide as (a) selfish, and, (b) inevitable.
Svend Aage Madsen (Copenhagen University Hospital) presented evidence of men as sufferers from post-natal depression (stop sniggering at the back!). 7% of men and 10% of women suffer PND according to the Edinburgh or Gotland scales. The latter is a male specific scale and identifies more male sufferers than the Edinburgh scale.
Derek McDonnell – Mojo training for men in distress in N.Ireland. Isolation / emasculation / shame of help seeking. Unemployment rates are very high, and this is likely the root cause of the plentiful candidates. 90% retention of men on the course (unusually high), 83% reduced depression, 70% assistance restarting education. “Co-production” seems to be the buzz word (active involvement of service users, or ex-service users, in directing the service development or delivery).
Barry Cripps: An old timer in the psychology scene – kept referring to Hans Eysenck, Durkheim and the Existentialists. Bit heavy given that he was addressing men’s psychology in sports. Entertaining, though. Claimed that psychological benefit of sports relates to agency, being in control, raising level of “hardiness” (interesting choice of word) and meaningfulness (which he related to individualism). Hmm.
Duncan Shields (University of British Columbia) discussed his work with “first responders” (firefighters, 25 men, 5 women). Bemoaned the fact that these people had received no training in recognising the very obvious mental health risks of being perpetually exposed to stress. The dangers of excess stoicism and inability to ‘turn off’. They claimed a 4 day course had dramatic positive effects on PTSD and depression symptoms. A bit touchy-feely for me in parts, but who am I to say what works. (American terminology OSI = Operational Stress Injury, rather than PTSD).
Hazel Lewis, Michelle Lowe: Post-traumatic growth in male survivors of sexual abuse. I was expecting Bob Balfour to speak (he was there), but he didn’t. Michelle talked about her PhD work, which related only to sexually abused male children (i.e., not adult males). She interviewed 12 participants. Lots of anecdotes. I think the conclusion was that “post-traumatic growth” is possible. I think this essentially means that you can recover. To be honest I was flagging at this point. (See the comment from Bob Balfour below).
Anyhow, all told a well organised and interesting couple of days, and an opportunity to meet up with friends whom I don’t see as often as I’d like, what with living out here in bucolic bliss rather than in the throbbing metropolis.
Well done to John & Martin for organising – noting that the significance of the event is far greater than just the presentations themselves.
We await the outcome of the vote for a male section to be formally recognised by the BPS (British Psychological Society).