Gender and Counseling the Past Term Paper

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[. . .] This new work ethic requires psychological qualities that are generally associated with feminine behavior. For example, while men are socialized to compete with one another, young girls are socialized towards more cooperative behavior and to place a value on a sense of belonging rather than self-enhancement.

Many men find their socialization in conflict with this new management style that place a premium on relational consultation and democratic decision-making (Grant 1988).

Men as Husbands

The socialization of men also gives rise to their role as husbands. Despite changing gender roles, men still feel the pressure to act as the provider. However, this also places men in a dilemma. While most men feel the need to be the caretaker, many men also feel an internal need to be cared for or "mothered" (Gordon and Meth 1990).

Most men also enter a relationship expecting to be in a dominant position, to show strength. This strength, however, is expressed through qualities like "invincibility." While growing up, men are discouraged from expressing their emotions, a characteristic seen as feminine (Gordon and Meth 1990).

This denial of emotions and needs, however, means that men often have trouble articulating their needs and feelings to their mates. Often, this denial of emotions is interpreted as being "uncommunicative" and can give rise to marital troubles involving intimacy and relating to their mates.

Men as Fathers

The socialized behavior of men also severely limits their role as fathers. Similar to their role as husbands, most men see their role as fathers in a "provider" or "leader" context. The apply the socialized behavior of competitiveness, rule-orientedness and keeping score to the familial setting, often with disastrous results. As an extreme example, Pasick cites the figure of Bull Meachum in movie The Great Santini and Captain von Trapp in the early part of The Sound of Music (Pasick 1990).

Instead of severe discipline, however, family life thrives on the ability to understand relationships. This skill, however, is identified as "feminine" and is therefore not taught and even actively discouraged for men. In addition, many fathers perpetuate this cycle by unconsciously instilling the same behavior in their sons.

Steps towards a Solution

Difficulties in Therapy

Many mental health experts now recognize how the internal lives of men are characterized by imbalance. Because of their socialized roles, men feel prohibited from seeking close relationships, either as mates, friends or fathers. They feel pressure to succeed in the realm of work and are therefore forced to relegate family and personal relationships to the back burner.

Psychologists are now recognizing how intense socialization into strict gender roles also has negative consequences for men. In addition to internal imbalance, the strain often places men's physical and mental health at risk. More men, for example, are prone to workaholism. This syndrome often masks a "difficulty in sustaining family relationships" (Pasick 1990:45). In other words, many men who become workaholics do so to escape the emotional demands of family.

The "keeping score" trait emphasized by men also place them at risk for stress-related disorders. Work-related stress is often manifested in frequent headaches, ulcers, back pain and heart disease (Pasick 1990).

However, despite this internal conflict, men are generally more resistant to seeking help for their troubles through therapy. In addition to socialization, therapist Jerry Magaro also attributes this reluctance to homophobia. He writes, "men generally are afraid that being physically close or emotionally vulnerable...will be construed as a message that they are gay" (Magaro).

The main factors, however, lie in how men are socialized. As young boys, for example, men are discouraged from acknowledging or expressing their emotions. For many men, there are acceptable outlets for expressing emotions - sports, sex and perhaps during drinking sessions with buddies (Pasick, Gordon and Meth 1990). Men who seek other outlets for expressing emotions - such as therapy - risk being labeled unmasculine or gay.

New Masculinity

Magaro observes that it often takes an emotional crisis such as a failed relationship or a career burnout to push a man towards therapy. Often, a man is confronted for the first time with depression, loneliness, anxiety and isolation. These factors finally push men to look inwardly and push them towards the first step of seeking help through therapy (Magaro).

Once men are encouraged to seek help, the key to successful therapy lies in allowing men to recognize the sources of their imbalance and to redefine socially constructed notions of masculinity.

Psychologists Jo Ann Allen and Sylvia Gordon recommend an educational approach. A new male client is asked to identify his beliefs regarding masculinity. The client then teases out the social bases of these beliefs and how these rigid descriptions contribute to the client's problems. Finally, the therapist should help a client recognize that these social descriptions of masculinity are not carved in stone (Allen and Gordon 1990). He is thus free to choose the dimensions of his other roles as friend, partner and father.

A therapist should also help men overcome the masculine stereotype of competitiveness and individualism/autonomy, since successful treatment will often involve the female partner or other significant family members. After all, any covert or overt resistance to change on the part of the father/husband will also affect the client's therapy (Allen and Gordon 1990).

Allen and Gordon also recommend the use of "invented reality" as a therapy tool. The therapist's task is to help clients discern how reality is something people have both invented and continue to reinvent. Thus, notions of masculinity - such as competition, aggression, and keeping emotions in check -- are invented meanings. As such, men also have the power to re-invent new meanings and measures of masculinity that are more compatible with their basic human needs for connectedness and emotion (Allen and Gordon 199).

This therapeutic approach also helps free men from their restrictive roles as provider, allowing them to recognize and even accept how other aspects of life can be as enriching or satisfying as work. This includes other pursuits that do not emphasize competition, such as family and friends.

In conclusion, the socialization of men into rigid masculine roles often conflicts with their basic human needs for connection with friends, family and other loved ones. This gives rise to internal conflicts and an out-of-balance life. Once men overcome the social hurdle of seeking therapy, the counselor's task is to help them discern how social constructions of masculinity force him into rigid social roles. This is the important first step towards allowing men to develop new meanings of masculinity - a masculinity that recognizes the importance of connectedness and satisfies all aspects of a man's life.

Works Cited

Allen, Jo Ann and Sylvia Gordon. 1990. "Creating a Framework for Change." Men in Therapy: The Challenge of Change. Richard L. Meth and Robert S. Pasick. New York: The Guilford Press.

Connell, Robert W. 1987. Gender and Power. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Eckert, P. 1989. "The whole woman: Sex and gender differences in variation," Language Variation and Change (Cambridge), Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 245-267

Grant, J. 1988. "Women as managers: What they can offer to organizations," in Organizational Dynamics (New York), Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 56-63.

Gordon, Barry and Richard Meth. 1990. "Men as Husbands." Men in Therapy: The Challenge of Change. Richard L. Meth and Robert S. Pasick. New York: The Guilford Press.

Kabacoff, Robert L. 1998. Gender differences in organizational leadership: A large sample study. Paper presented at the Annual American Psychological Association Convention, held in San Francisco.

Magaro, Jerry. 1996. Real Men Do Therapy. M.E.N. Magazine, July. Retrieved March 15, 2003 at http://www.menweb.org/menmag/realther.htm

Meth, Richard L. 1990. "The Road to Masculinity." Men in Therapy: The Challenge of Change. Richard L. Meth and Robert S. Pasick. New York: The Guilford Press.

Pasick, Robert S. 1990. "Raised to Work." Men in Therapy: The Challenge of Change. Richard L. Meth and Robert S. Pasick. New York: The Guilford Press.

Pasick, Robert S., Sylvia Gordon and Richard L. Meth. 1990.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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