Australian boys and men seeking help for mental illness may soon find themselves being lectured about toxic masculinity and white privilege.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS), Australia’s peak body for psychologists, has signalled that it is likely to follow the path of the of the American Psychological Association (APA), and adopt something similar to the APA’s newly-released Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men.
The APA’s guidelines have been fiercely and widely critiqued. Not only for the partisan and divisive language used, but also for their poor scientific practice. Most worryingly the document takes aim at not just “toxic masculinity” but “traditional masculinity” which in turn is defined by the most thuggish aspects of male behaviour. Positive attributes of masculinity such as honour, strength, sacrifice or, to use an Aussie phrase, mateship are noticeably left out.
The president of the Australian counterpart, Ros Knight, has brushed aside such concerns. She said, “there is an opportunity for us to consider whether making specific practice guidelines for boys and men would be a sensible thing to do.” And further explained; “I think as a result of the APA really bringing this much more to the fore, it’s something that we’re going to think about doing in 2019.”
The politicised nature of the guidelines is visible even in the introduction. Which begins sentences with caveats that seem to accuse the very people they are claiming to help. One begins “although boys and men, as a group, tend to hold privilege and power based on gender …” The document then moves onto a glossary of terms, most of which are borrowed from the jargon of identity-politics: Oppression, Privilege, Cisgender, Gender Bias, Gender Role Strain and Gender Sensitive. Their definitions are not backed by the citing of evidence and credible academic papers, but instead by quoting the words of controversial activists such as American feminist Dr Peggy McIntosh.
In doing so, the guidelines notably fall into the postmodernist trap of prioritising group identity above that of the individual. As noted by Sally Satel, a practising psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University, “ … it is questionable because it encourages clinicians to assume, before a patient even walks in the door, that gender is a cause or a major determinant of the patient’s troubles.”
In other words, the guidelines take the data-driven area of psychology and shape it into an activism driven practice.
One of the psychologists responsible for the guidelines, Ryan McDermott, was unabashedly forward in the activist roots of the document saying in relation to the guidelines: “If we can change men … we can change the world.” This statement rests on the presumption that there is something inherently wrong with men in the first place. Unlike women, who as we all know, are all beautiful beings of goodness being held back by the patriarchy.
Professor of Psychology, Jordan Peterson, has publicly critiqued the guidelines. In response to a segment on the early socialisation of boys, which claims that men who socialise their boys in a traditional manner will damage the mental health of their offspring, he cited statistics showing that it is fatherless boys who are overrepresented in crime, addiction and other anti-social behaviours.M
He then posed the question; “If it is fatherless boys who are violent, how can it be that masculine socialisation produces harm both to mental health and society?”
The guidelines do have some very small moments of sanity hidden among the activist agenda. As feminist academic Christina Hoff Summers noted, there is a segment recommending that “for boys and adolescents, shorter sessions, informal settings outside the office (e.g., playground), instrumental activities, using humour and self-disclosure … may provide more congruent environments than traditional psychotherapy.” Unfortunately, these rare moments of wisdom are buried under partisan and divisive jargon about “Eurocentric masculine ideals of restrictive emotionality”.
The APA guidelines stated purpose is to address the mental health crisis that has been facing men for the past few decades. Six men will take their lives in Australia today, a statistic that demands a response from the psychological community. But the APS would be misguided if it follows the American approach to this issue, in which the stated purpose appears to have overwhelmed by radical feminist slant. It would be a self-defeating move because the politically charged, bias and overtly partisan language used is more likely to drive men away from seeking psychological help.
We must not let activism and political interest take over the human sciences in Australia, — particularly in such a vital field as mental health — but this is what will happen if activists are allowed to set the agenda in professional associations and associations of scholars.