Now it’s Dr. Leonard Sax’s turn to savage the new APA Guidelines for Practice with Men and Boys (IFStudies, 1/15/19). Sax, like Michael Gurian about whose response to the APA I wrote this past Wednesday is that rara avis who takes the needs of men and boys seriously. Not only that, he takes the science of his profession – psychologist – seriously too. So it’s no surprise that he scorns the new guidelines.
His piece is aimed mostly at the science on men and boys and the lack of it supporting the guidelines. But Sax also points out some of the more obvious deficiencies of the APA’s screed. For example,
There are 10 guidelines in the APA publication. The first states that masculinity is a social construct.No, actually it’s not, it’s a biological reality. Yes, culture acts on biology, but however it does that, it is an individual’s biological makeup that responds. Culture can influence certain traits, but the traits remain. Sax makes this clear in his opening few paragraphs that compare chimpanzee behavior with that of humans. If male and female behavior were all a matter of the society in which they occur, we’d expect to see no comparison between humans, who have culture and chimpanzees that don’t. But of course the comparisons are stark and have been reiterated too many times to count. Plus, across all human cultures, we see gender-typical behaviors. How, for example, does the APA explain that, in over 36 cultures studied, men preferred as ideal a waist to hip circumference ratio in women of 0.6:1?
Needless to say, the APA has nothing to offer on that or any of the countless facts demonstrating that sex is in fact not a social construct.
Sax goes on to recount the many emotional, psychological and social problems besetting men and boys in today’s United States (and elsewhere). The suicide rate, falling behind in school and many others occupy Sax the clinician. All that of course raises for him an obvious point:
For all these reasons and more, it makes sense for our nation’s largest association of psychologists, the American Psychological Association (APA), to issue evidence-based guidelines for working with boys and men.Indeed. If the APA cared about the welfare of men and boys, it would have done exactly that. But it didn’t.
There are 10 guidelines in the APA publication. The first states that masculinity is a social construct. That assertion is politically correct. But it flies in the face of substantial research demonstrating that some typically masculine characteristics—such as risk-taking and the propensity for violence–are conserved across the primate order, from monkeys to chimpanzees, and therefore cannot be primarily a social construct (chimpanzees don’t watch The Sopranos). The APA guidelines never mention, let alone seek to refute, research on the innate basis for many traditionally masculine characteristics, such as risk-taking. Words such as “hardwired” and “innate” never appear. By contrast, “transgender” is mentioned 60 times!Truly, I’m not making this up. Neither is Sax. In favor of a scientifically baseless claim that masculinity is a social construct, the APA, that supposedly sees to the professional competency of its members, entirely ignores basic hard science on masculinity, science that makes the irrefutable point that there is a huge biological component to sex-specific behavior. In no scrupulous publication could that be done. The necessary conclusion being that the APA guidelines aren’t one.
Making the same point even stronger, Sax, like Gurian before him, points out that the aim of the guidelines is not to help men become self-actualized, positive, productive human beings, but to eradicate traits like “aggression” and “stoicism” and others social justice warriors deem inappropriate.
As a summary of the guidelines on the APA website states, "The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful." Enlightened psychologists should, therefore, “help clients develop awareness of systems that assume cisgender masculinity expression is the expected norm” and “model gender-egalitarian attitudes and behaviors” (page 10 of the guidelines) in an effort to convert traditionally-masculine men into enlightened, gender-egalitarian men.Sax then cites Stetson University psychologist Chris Ferguson who made the point I did recently - that the APA’s guidelines remind us of nothing so much as its previous definition of homosexuality as a mental illness that could be “cured” in various mysterious ways. It’s beginning to look like the best thing the APA can do for men is to just leave us alone.
Speaking of science, Sax wants to know where the APA’s science is that demonstrates the success of the therapeutic interventions the guidelines recommend. But of course there is none.
The APA guidelines are also disconnected from reality. Missing from the guidelines is any smidgeon of evidence that psychologists who preach to male clients about “cisgender masculinity privilege” or “gender-egalitarian attitudes and behaviors” will have any salutary effect at all.Naturally, the most likely result of therapists’ embrace of the guidelines would be to turn men and boys irrevocably away from seeking psychotherapeutic help.
The most likely effect of such attempts at indoctrination will simply be to drive men out of the psychologists’ offices and to discourage men from becoming psychologists. That trend is already well underway. Among American psychologists 61 to 70 years of age, the male/female ratio is almost precisely 50/50. Among American psychologists 31 to 35 years of age, women now outnumber men by more than 8 to 1, according to the APA’s own data.There’s such a thing as the cure being worse than the disease. Doctors with this type of training are best avoided.
Psychology can help men and boys. It just can’t do it using the new guidelines.
Years ago, I visited a boys’ school in Maryland. The school counselor, Judy Collins, didn’t quote Dave Grossman. But she knew all about the distinctions he made. She said, “You can’t turn a bully into a flower child. But you can turn him into a knight.” Her motto: “Affirm the knight.”Men’s natural (biological) tendency to protect the vulnerable sometimes involves aggression and even violence. We label that tendency “toxic” at our peril. Collins is spot on in her quest to channel the negative energy of male violence in the direction of helping those in need. That’s how psychologists who care about their male clients act. That’s how psychologists who know something about the true makeup of men and boys act. And that’s how psychologists who know the science of masculinity act.
And that’s what the APA wants to stamp out. Men, be informed. Whenever you go to a psychologist, at the very first session ask questions like “Have you read the new APA guidelines?” “Do you agree with their characterization of masculinity?” “Do you believe that masculinity is a social construct?”
If the answer to those questions is “Yes,” stand up and walk out. There are perfectly good therapists out there, but anyone who agrees with the guidelines should be avoided.