Psychologists Issue Controversial Report on Masculinity
New guidelines on treating men have been criticized as too reliant on ideology.
Posted January 11, 2019
Earlier this week, the APA released practice guidelines on recommended treatment concerns regarding men and masculinity.
The guidelines have sparked significant controversy. They accurately identify some of the health and suicide risks for men and the fact that men are less interested in engaging with therapy. However, the guidelines have been criticized by many for relying on a great number of vague, subjective ideological and political/sociological concepts, rather than psychological science. For instance, the paper uncritically references the concept of micro-aggressions, without acknowledging the severe limitations of the concept recently pointed out by Scott Lilienfeld.
Another area of significant concern in the guidelines was the statement that "Prior to the second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s, all psychology was the psychology of men." This ignores the significant role of many female psychologists such as Anna Freud, Karen Horney, and Virginia Satir. This article reviews the powerful influence of female psychologists through history, many prior to the 1960s. Colleague Marco Del Giudice, with extensive work in gender differences, has pointed out that this statement also ignores past research on gender differences such as this extensive book from 1905, written by a female psychologist, the director of psychology research at Mount Holyoke University.
In response to the reaction to the guidelines, the APA issued a clarification of a sort, indicating that their real concern was only around some "extreme stereotypical behaviors" held by a few men. Unfortunately, though, neither the guidelines nor the correction offer much assistance on picking out these few unhealthy men from healthy men who are more traditionally masculine. They suggest that their concern is "When a man believes that he must be successful no matter who is harmed." The authors offer no assistance in distinguishing this particular concern from other, more clearly psychological issues, such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, which is more prevalent in males and would overlap substantially. For clinical guidelines to fail to address such an important issue of differential diagnosis is quite concerning to many in the field.
An in-depth review of the limitations of the guidelines was written by Chris Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University. Ferguson notes especially the way in which these guidelines state that social forces play an overwhelming role in gender differences, without taking into account substantial evidence regarding the role of biological influences.
In my view, these guidelines, if implemented widely in training, would make men less comfortable in therapy, not more. The APA is offering continuing education units for reading these guidelines, and they are likely to play a significant role in the training of future psychologists. Psychology is increasingly a profession and industry with more women, and guidelines such as these would be one important way for female clinicians to better understand how to treat patients with different gender experiences. These particular guidelines set a poor precedent, suggesting that psychologists can be quite casual with facts and ignore discrepant research when ideological values are deemed more important. That's not how I was trained in psychology, or as a man.