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Resetting masculinity views; New psychologist guidelines intended to help in treatment of men, boys
Capital - 1/27/2019
There are many ways to be masculine, and if men and boys move beyond traditional gender stereotypes, they could avoid certain mental health and behavioral issues, according to new guidelines released by the American Psychological Association.
The guidelines, more than a decade in the making, were published this month by the APA and are the first instructions addressing the male population written for psychologists.
Though the guidelines, which include a summary of research and best treatment practices, are largely intended for clinical professionals, they received some public criticism on social media, pegging the document as an attack on masculinity.
Jared Skillings, the APA's chief of professional practice, said the guidelines are largely misunderstood.
"People have misunderstood the term 'traditional masculinity,' " he said. "They think we are saying that's problematic on its face."
Instead, the guidelines point to research that shows traits like stoicism, competitiveness and aggression - commonly associated with masculinity - can be problematic, Skillings said, and that men should feel comfortable taking on traits that aren't as often associated with masculinity, like being communicative and showing emotion.
"The harm is in the rigidity," he said. "What we're trying to say is: There are a number of ways to be a man."
If men are open to more emotional traits, they could avoid problems associated with rigid masculinity, Skillings said, including higher rates of incarceration and suicide, as well as the fact that they're less likely to seek out medical or mental health treatment "because they don't want to admit weakness."
In the document, the APA, which also has guidelines for women and girls and other groups, noted that while men aren't a marginalized minority group, they still have special needs and issues to overcome.
"In some ways, it's hard to be a man; it's hard to be a person these days," Skillings said.
The Washington-based association started working on the guidelines in 2005, but turnover in the organization delayed the release, Skillings said. The document is not in response to the #MeToo movement, he added, but the APA "is pleased to be part of the conversation."
Masculine stereotypes are also the subject of a campaign that debuted last week by Gillette that went viral. The campaign, dubbed #TheBestMenCanBe, kicked off with a 1:48 minute film that depicts bullying, sexual harassment, mansplaining and the modern-day #MeToo movement, with the message that while things are improving, there's still a way to go "because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."
The campaign was lauded and criticized. But psychologists say it provides similar messages in its work, and the new APA guidelines also fit in with that message.
"The guidelines are suggesting ... we need to be aware of how we're raised, aware of gender roles, and that men can find more roles than the ones men have traditionally held," said Clifton Saper, a clinical psychologist at Amita Health Behavioral Medicine Institute in Illinois.
"It's not attacking their identity, but allowing them to expand and explore the roles open to them," he said.
Saper said the men and boys he treats tend to have a more difficult time managing their emotions, turning to "strategies like suck it up or stuff it down."
"They do that for so long, and it causes problems," he said, explaining that emotions then come out in other ways, like drinking, violence or isolation. This can lead to some of the problems facing men, like suicide.
And for men who need help, it's generally harder for them to ask for it, Saper said. "Many men I see, when I say, 'Why are you here?' they say, 'My wife told me I need to go to therapy.'"
In working with men, Saper said, he finds it helpful if those who are fathers use their children as motivation to change behaviors or deal with their emotions. "It helps them make changes for the benefit of their kids," he said.
That's important because fathers model behavior for their children, including what it means "to be masculine and a caregiver," said Sheehan Fisher, a psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, who researches fathers' mental health.
Many men want to change but aren't sure how to because their role models growing up didn't show emotion, Fisher said.
It's also important for clinicians to recognize these traits because men tend to act differently from women when depressed, said Fisher, who praised the guidelines for bringing that to light.
"Men aren't always inclined to express sadness ... because masculinity tends to hide that they have these types of emotions," he said. "Clinicians might miss that."
It's also important to start young when discussing harmful gender stereotypes, said Pat Mosena, president of Chicago nonprofit Options for Youth. The organization last year created the What's Up With Manhood? program.
The program provides freshmen and sophomore boys in high school with a group, including adult mentors, and they meet during their school day to talk about what it means to be a man, and that it's OK to show emotion and compassion.
Mosena said the program has shown promise so far and is necessary to combat violence-inducing characteristics of masculinity.
"We're helping kids redefine what it means to be a man. The traditional characteristics are still very much out there," she said. "And they get it. And they're accepting it."
Credit: By Kate Thayer - Chicago Tribune - firstname.lastname@example.org;Twitter @knthayer
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