Book Review – Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction – Louise Liddon (author), John A. Barry (author), British Psychological Society (associated with work) Publisher – Wiley – Blackwell (2021)
Male psychology is a relatively new development in academia. According to the Male Psychology Section of the BPS (British Psychological Society): ‘Male psychology studies the thinking, emotion and behaviour of men and boys and the factors which have an impact on them.’ BPS (2023) ‘Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction’ is currently the only BPS book on male psychology.
The stated aim of the book is to explore a range of issues relating to male psychology whilst presenting ‘a balanced perspective that has been missing from academic and media narratives around topics such as child development, education, sport and exercise, the workplace, crime, the military, health and wellbeing, mental health, therapy, masculinity, and sex differences.’ Crucially, the text also considers ‘the role that evolution, biology, and culture play in shaping male behaviour.’ (Wiley 2021)
Early ventures into the field of men’s psychology in the US in the 1990s borrowed from concepts in sociology and feminism. They developed a ‘deficit view’ of masculinity, focusing on the ways in which masculinity might harm men and the people around them.
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 13). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
The central argument of the author is that ‘an overreliance on social constructionism and preoccupations with notions such as patriarchy and privilege, too often seen in the narrative about men’ has prevented government, health services and the media from addressing issues which disproportionately affect men and boys, such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, imprisonment and educational underachievement. (Wiley 2021)
Although some approaches to therapy encourage a rejection of traditional masculinity (APA, 2018), others suggest that there is much more to be gained by embracing the strengths inherent in masculinity and helping men to deal with their feelings without feeling that they are abandoning their masculinity (Englar-Carlson, 2006).
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 171). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
The book highlights a cognitive distortion known as gamma bias, which is ‘the tendency to magnify some gender differences while simultaneously minimising others’ (Seager & Barry, 2019). According to Seager and Barry: ‘Gamma bias operates within a matrix of four possible judgments about gender: doing good (celebration), doing harm (perpetration), receiving good (privilege) and receiving harm (victimhood). The theory predicts that within mainstream western cultures, masculinity is highlighted only in the domain of ‘privilege’ and ‘perpetration’ but hidden in the domains of ‘celebration’ and ‘victimhood’.’ (BPS 2020)
When people do harm (perpetration) being male is magnified e.g. male criminality is ‘toxic masculinity’ whilst being female is minimised e.g. women’s crime is due to trauma, deprivation etc. When people are successful (privilege) being male is magnified e.g. men’s wealth is ‘privilege’ or due to ‘sexist wage gap’ being female is minimised e.g. unremarked that 13 girls go to university for every 10 boys. When people do good things (celebration) being female is magnified e.g. UN Days celebrate women more for their gender than their actions being male is minimised e.g. the fact that most dirty/dangerous but essential jobs are done by men is not celebrated
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 19). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Despite being an academic text, the book is refreshingly easy-to-read. I was able to scan the entire text in less than two hours, creating eighty Kindle quotes for future reference. I have since returned to the text on numerous occasions. Clarity and accessibility are the book’s two greatest assets. The authors achieve their goal of having produced an evidence-based, non-ideological introduction to a range of issues relating to men’s mental health and male psychology.
My own personal interest in male psychology began when I started working in a men’s prison. I am an NHS drug and alcohol recovery worker and help to deliver a range of psychosocial interventions to substance misusing offenders. It would not be overly dramatic or sentimental to describe the custodial environment as a graveyard of male hopes and dreams. Hours spent contemplating the brutal impact of fatherlessness, lack of exemplary male role models, and a general lack of a healthy, masculine identity had a profound effect on me. It seemed to me that media and academia was at best suspicious about and at worst overtly hostile towards notions of masculinity and manhood. The term ‘toxic masculinity’, removed from its original Mythopoetic context, was now instead used to describe any facet of objectionable behaviour by men. Observing prisoners who had overwhelmingly been raised by women and who were also products of an increasingly feminised education and health and social care system, it became increasingly obvious that problems created and faced by men were likely the result of a toxic lack of masculinity.
A report on youth crime England and Wales estimated that 76% of all men in prison had an absent father and 33% an absent mother (Jacobson & Prison Reform Trust (Great Britain), 2010). A large meta-analysis found that poor attachment to the father was linked to delinquency in boys (Hoeve et al., 2012). It has been suggested that ‘dad deprivation’ leaves boys more vulnerable to a life of crime, and prisons have been described as ‘centres for dad-deprived young men’ (Farrell & Gray, 2019, p. 327).
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 64). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
In traditional cultures, the men are crucial to initiating the boys into adulthood and making them productive members of the community (Brown, 2016). In the modern West, by contrast, fatherhood tends to be overlooked in the literature on parenting, and has been for decades.
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 64). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Sex Difference in Parenting Style, and Emotional Regulation Compared to women, men tend to have a ‘generative’ fathering style, which focuses on the child’s positive social, emotional and intellectual growth, to help the next generation live a better life (Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010). This is in contrast to mothering, which is more likely to involve meeting essential emotional and physical needs (Mitchell & Lashewicz, 2019).
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 65). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
Wanting to provide more effective interventions for the men in my care within the custodial environment, I began to look for material on the subject of male psychology, focussing on specific therapeutic approaches to men’s mental health. The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health was an obvious place to start but it’s prohibitive £150 price tag renders it inaccessible to the general public. Perspectives in Male Psychology is priced at £35.
In 2021 I began training to become a hypnotherapist and counsellor. In the first year of my course, I was one of only two male students in a class of approximately twenty. This gender imbalance is echoed in all branches of the psychological therapies and a contributing factor to my decision to train as a counsellor. According to a 2018 audit of registered members of the BACP, 87% were female and 13% were male (BACP 2018). The following quotation from an article in The Psychologist (BPS 2014) shares anecdotal feedback commonly shared by male participants
“Male trainees often comment on the difficulty of being a very small minority, amongst predominantly female trainees, female course staff and female supervisors. They say that as well as questioning the appropriateness of clinical psychology as a career for them they also question the extent to which the complexity of masculinity and identity is addressed in the training.”
Having observed the disproportionately low number of men working in frontline mental health service provision in the UK prison service – and the current systemic indifference to male perspectives in psychology, I am looking forward to helping to redress the gender imbalance in the talking therapies.
Mental health services providers have been criticised for taking a one-size-fits-all approach to therapy that is based on the needs of the average female client (Morison et al., 2014). This model – which might not fit all women – is of therapy as a talking cure where the client discusses their feelings (Ogrodniczuk et al., 2016). The historical reasons for therapy being formulated in this way are a matter for debate, but it could be based on Sigmund Freud’s clinical experience, which used predominantly middle-class female clients in Vienna. The different needs, in general, of men and women can be summarised by the idea that men want a quick fix to their problem and women want to explore their feelings (Holloway et al., 2018).
Perspectives in Male Psychology (BPS Textbooks in Psychology) (p. 214). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
I reached out to Perspectives in Male Psychology co-author John Barry via email and was delighted when he agreed to speak with me over Zoom. Something he said struck me: ‘I was quite surprised when I began to realise that the general public has a lot more interest in and awareness of male psychology than the profession of psychology. Not only are people outside the field of psychology more interested in male psychology and men’s mental health, they often seem to have a deeper level of insight than professional psychologists.’ Barry later told me that his academic peers were often surprised by findings that were obvious to laypeople. For those who care deeply for the health and wellbeing of men and boys, Barry and co-author Louise Liddon have created a clear and humane exposition of male psychology.
Perspectives in Male Psychology: An Introduction John A. Barry, Louise Liddon British Psychological Society (associated with work) Publisher – Wiley – Blackwell (2021) Kindle Edition.
Publisher’s Synopsis – (online) last accessed 01.02.2023 at: https://www.wiley.com/engb/Perspectives+in+Male+Psychology%3A+An+Introduction-p-9781119685357
BACP Register Audit Annual Report 2017-2018 (online) last accessed 01.02.2023 at: https://www.bacp.co.uk/media/7084/bacp-register-audit-annual-report-2017-2018.pdf
Linda Morison, Christina Trigeorgis, Mary John (2014) Are mental health services inherently feminised? The Psychologist Vol.27. BPS. (online) last accessed 01.02.2023 at: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-27/edition-6/are-mental-health-services-inherently-feminised
John Barry, Martin Seager (2020) Gamma Bias: A new theory (online) last accessed 01.02.2023 at: https://www.bps.org.uk/volume-33/april-2020/gamma-bias-new-theory
BPS – Male Psychology Section (online) last accessed 01.02.2023 at: https://www.bps.org.uk/member-networks/male-psychology-section