Masculinity and your health

When the American Psychological Association (APA) published the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women in 2007, it was largely met with praise. The guidelines urged mental health professionals to understand the role of discrimination, oppression and violence in women’s lives, pay attention to marginalized women and emphasize their resilience and strength. Arguably for the first time, women and girls felt truly seen in psychological practice.

The APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men was not met with the same unanimous enthusiasm.

The purpose of the publication is to help therapists provide care that is sensitive to the concerns of boys and men influenced by diverse economic, biological, developmental and sociocultural factors and reduce the impact of traditional masculine ideology. But the publication was met with swift backlash from Twitter users, news programs and men’s rights activists who deemed the publication a war on men, riding closely on the heels of a much-contested Gillette ad.

The guidelines

Here are the ten guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men that sent waves (and in some cases, tsunamis) through communities across the country:

  1. Recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms.
  2. Recognize that boys and men integrate multiple aspects to their social identities across their lifespan.
  3. Understand the impact of power, privilege and sexism on the development of boys and men on their relationships with others.
  4. Develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the interpersonal relationships of boys and men.
  5. Encourage positive father involvement in healthy family relationships.
  6. Support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men.
  7. Reduce high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse and suicide.
  8. Help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors.
  9. Promote gender-sensitive psychological services.
  10. Understand and change institutional, cultural and systemic problems that affect boys and men through advocacy prevention and education.

The need

In practical application, these guidelines are anything but an attack on men and masculinity. Studies show that traditionally masculine ideals (defined by the APA as anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, adventure, risk and violence) have a real and alarming health impact on men and boys. Men are more likely to engage in risky behavior than women when influenced by traditionally masculine ideology, which is demonstrated by the following health outcomes:

Men who subscribe to traditional masculinity marked by stoicism, competition, dominance and aggression are half as likely as men with moderate beliefs surrounding masculinity to seek preventive health care, and this reluctance extends to seeking mental health care.

Redefining masculinity

The message is clear: traditionally masculine ideology hurts men and contributes to poor mental and physical health outcomes. The APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men is designed to spread this message and empower mental health professionals to support men in releasing ideologies that hurt them.