Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pelle Billing - Book Review: Doing Psychotherapy With Men

In both of the places I am doing my counseling internship, I am one (of perhaps two or three) of the token males, and often the only one who does not identify as a gay man. Men represent about 20% of the counseling population here, which puts Tucson on par with the national average, although several of the male "therapists" here are actually psychiatrists and do little more than prescribe drugs.

Being the token male, and generally the one seen as straight (by Tucson's therapeutic community standards), I get the male clients who do not want to see women, and often the men the females maybe do not want to see (anger issues, past aggression, etc.). I'm cool with that - I'm getting a lot of experience working with men in a much deeper way than coaching allows.

So when I saw this post from Pelle on a book about counseling men I was interested - it sounds good and useful. My limited experience already suggests that there are some differences in how men approach issues or how they process their feelings around those issues.

That doesn't change much of how I do things - it's always first and foremost about the relationship for me. But it does suggest that men are different enough from women (either naturally and/or through socialization) that it's useful to have a book such as this one.

Book Review: Doing Psychotherapy With Men

June 28th, 2011 by Pelle Billing


I’m reading an excellent book at the moment, one that I even took the time to review on Amazon. It’s called Doing Psychotherapy With Men, by Dr John A. Ashfield, and it’s highly relevant for anybody who’s interested in men’s issues and male psychological health.

Here is the review:

An important book on an important subject

Some people may ask if we really need a book on doing psychotherapy with men. After all, don’t we simply need good psychotherapy for people in need - regardless of gender? Don’t we have enough gender stereotyping as is in society?

As much as I can empathize with the rationale behind those lines of thinking, it turns out we do need specialized knowledge in the field of psychotherapy, just like in medicine and other professional fields. The intersection of biology and culture presents men with unique challenges, opportunities and yes - distinct on average psychological functioning. Tackling this subject head on is also very much needed in this day and age where manhood and masculinity are increasingly viewed as pathologies.

The book unfolds in a logical way, starting out by defining core concepts, then moving on to male coping, communication and ways of handling stress, as well as specific diagnoses such as depression and alcoholism.

Rather than starting anew in each chapter, the author demonstrates how key ways of male psychological functioning shine through in many different situations. The included cases studies are also very useful, and help maintain this integrated and holistic vibe.

One of my own major take aways from this book is that male psychological functioning and coping are not deficient, but simply different from that of women. I thought I knew this but this book showed me how I still held on to the belief that men need to be more like women, psychologically speaking, and “get more in touch with their feelings”. In my opinion one of the reasons that the cultural zeitgeist presents male psychological functioning as deficient is that women have tended to be the norm in the development of modern psychotherapy (Freud, etc), just like men tended to be the norm in the development of modern medicine. There are other factors too, but we have been on a trajectory for decades where men are portrayed as deficient women when it comes to emotions, communication, etc.

None of this is to say that men cannot develop and improve their psychological health - after all, this is what the book is about! - but they will do it as men and not by trying to fit into a mould which is not for them.

To sum up, I recommend this book for any man who wants to understand himself better, and for any woman who wants to understand men better. For psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, this book has the potential to make every future meeting with a man that much more productive and healing.

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