Utilizing Models of Masculinity to Increase
Treatment Effectiveness with Men
By Timothy Boling Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist,
Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare Administration
While much of the early research of psychology was directed primarily by men, this lack of diversity created blindness to the effect of masculine roles, norms, and assumption on this research. This lack of awareness has had a lasting effect on psychotherapy and treatment of men who are experiencing psychological distress or exhibit poor health behaviors. While no clear model of treatment has been created to completely address this problem, research on men and masculinity may shed some light on how to more effectively engage men in the therapeutic process for both their psychological and physical health.
It is an almost accepted fact that many American men are reluctant to see a physician or speak to a mental health professional. This reluctance to seek help unfortunately is related to poor health outcomes. For example, research related to men and masculine norms has shown that these norms are related not only to psychological distress (Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995; Sharpe & Heppner, 1991) and difficulties in intimate relationships (Cournoyer & Mahalik, 1995; Good et al., 1995; Sharpe & Heppner, 1991), but also health related factors such as being honest about alcohol use and negative beliefs regarding psychological intervention (Blazina & Watkins, 1996).
Despite this research suggesting that American men are reluctant to seek or accept help, it may be possible to utilize research on these same masculine norms to “break through” to men and engage them with treatment. Although research has not yet shown a typology or clustering of masculine behaviors and beliefs, medical professionals who work with men in treatment settings may want to consider the implications of these masculine norms to help identify potential attributing factors to either the presenting problem or barriers to treatment. As such they may wish to rely on research related to measures of masculine norms which has provided different domains of ideology to help guide them.
One such area of research is related to the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI). The CMNI, created by Mahalik et al. (2003) is a 94 item inventory that is based on 11 different facets of masculine norms (Winning, Emotional Control, Risk-Taking, Violence, Dominance, Playboy, Self-Reliance, Primacy of Work, Power Over Women, Disdain for Homosexuals, and Pursuit of Status). While the inventory is not available for use in the public or clinical domain, clinician working with men can still use these areas to build and test hypotheses about the individual men that they are working with. For example a clinician working with a male who consistently prioritizes work over his physical health or time with his family may wish to explore if this is motivated by his primacy of work or perhaps the need to “win” at work.
While more research is still needed to better understand these complex gender role dynamics, well as advocacy in loosening all constrictive gender roles, each life that is changed is a step towards tearing these beliefs down and allowing all of us to be a more healthy and authentic person. And that I think is something we can all agree on.
Blazina, C., & Watkins, C. E. (1996). Masculine gender role conflict: Effects on college men’s psychological well-being, chemical substance usage, and attitudes toward help-seeking. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43, 461-465.
Cournoyer, R. J., & Mahalik, J. R. (1995). A cross-sectional study of gender role conflict examining college-aged and middle-aged men. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 11-19.
Good, G. E., Robertson, J. M., O’Neil, J. M., Fitzgerald, L. F., Stevens, M., DeBord, K., et al. (1995). Male gender role conflict: Psychometric issues and relations to psychological distress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 3-10.
Mahalik, J. R., Locke, B. D., Ludlow, L. H., Diemer, M. A., Scott R. P. J., Gottfried, M., & Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the Conformity of Masculine Norms Inventory. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 4, 3-25.
Sharpe, M. J. & Heppner, P. P. (1991). Gender Role, Gender-Role Conflict, and Psychological Well-Being in Men. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 323-330.