Friday, December 31, 2010

Dr Miles Groth - Working with Young Males in Psychotherapy: Implications of the Findings of Boyhood Studies

This is an useful (for some of us) from Contemporary Psychotherapy - a free online magazine. Understanding young men has become increasingly challenging - my guess is that working with them therapeutically is even more challenging.

As a note of clarification: Dr. Groth is one of the founders of the "male studies" movement - they tend to believe that men's studies are feminized due to their origin in women's studies and gender studies departments. And they tend to be harshly anti-feminism, as if all feminists are the same and hold the same values. I disagree with that part of their agenda.

Working with Young Males in Psychotherapy:

Working with Young Males in Psychotherapy: Implications of the Findings of Boyhood Studies

Dr Miles Groth discusses his approach to, and experience of, working psychotherapeutically with young men aged 4 to 24.

The New Boyhood

Boys are now among the most challenging groups with whom we work as psychotherapists. During the past two decades, boyhood has received special attention, and with good reason: boyhood is being radically redefined. As a result, the number of vulnerable boys who require our attention and care has increased significantly. Some of them are just entering kindergarten; others are graduating from high school or college and manoeuvering their way in a world of work that has increasingly fewer places for them; a decreasing number are in graduate school. Ever more are disconnected, disaffiliated and adrift. We witness a group who often make the astonishing claim that they do not feel welcome among us. Some do not articulate it this way, but they indicate it in their actions. Especially disturbing, we see more and more boys who by age fifteen have lost the kinetic playfulness and saying-by-doing typical of boys and young males. Many wander on in an odd, constricting, dimmed-down atmosphere that engulfs them for another decade. We often find that, no matter how long our reach, we cannot touch them.

The features of traditional boyish behavior still make their appearance at about age four when the differences between the sexes register with males but the boy as pre-gender trickster has often been tamed. Given the earlier average onset of puberty at about age twelve, one might suppose that boyhood ends sooner, yet for want of significant and decisive rites of passage, male adolescence has effectively disappeared, replaced by an extended period of boyhood. No longer children, males in the second decade of life are not busy consolidating their identity, the mark of the adolescent passage, as they once did. Very apparent to casual observation and evident in the media, boyhood now extends into the early twenties, when a ragged tear finds young males suddenly dropped off at the curb of a world where they are expected to assume the “elusive status” of manhood.

The behavioral manifestations of the new, two-decade-long boyhood are by now well known and have been documented by clinicians, educators and journalists: lack of commitment to projects and pastimes that once were satisfying to boys; aimless movement from one distraction to another; sullenness, withdrawal and isolation—the Western version of hikikimori which finds an alarming number of Japanese boys staying in their rooms for weeks or months at a time; an alarming increase in the number of suicides at ever earlier ages (4-6 times greater than that of their female age-mates); outbursts of aggressive behavior directed at individuals, especially those representing our major social institutions, the family and school; if attending an educational institution, lack of engagement in learning and a resulting failure to attain literacy; and numbing bouts of abuse of alcohol and both licit and illicit drugs. Such retreat into chemical solipsism is now often iatrogenic; Ritalin, as often as marijuana, is a boy’s introduction to drugs. In the college years, he grinds up the tablets he has been prescribed for more than a decade to dampen his behavior and inhales their contents. This he washes down with beer and tops off with a joint. We hear accounts of experiences of depression, hostility, feelings of rage that cannot be articulated, confusion, lack of motivation, and an almost schizoid retreat into worlds of fantasy mediated by video games and online diversions.

Young males2

Boys no longer “will be boys.” More and more, the cliché does not at all apply. In fact, we are relieved if a young boy’s dearest possession is his skateboard, yet he is now often closest to the cyclops of his computer. He may lift weights alone in his parents’ basement or strum his guitar. His emotional outlets are often limited to anger. With decreasing numbers playing organized sports, a boy’s generous physical energy may find an outlet exploding in a rave, playing in a rock band, or enacting backyard wrestling scenarios. Boyhood ends not by being transcended in initiations or symbolical rituals but by being forced underground still very much alive. Typically, this occurs when a boy leaves school, whether early or late. The creature we see then – sometimes inaccurately called a boy-man – is in fact no part man, however. This status has been made even more problematic by the fact that in the past thirty years definitions of manhood have changed in ways that even fully grown men of the past two generations have not been able to understand and accommodate. We cannot expect our boys to fathom what no one can say they are to become.

Read the whole article.

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