Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Matters: Working with Adult Male Survivors of Trauma

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Matters: Working with Adult Male Survivors of Trauma

Article excerpt

This article includes a review of the literature regarding gender role influences in the lives of men, the behaviors of men, and how men cope with trauma. The first part of the article offers an overview of feminist theory, its core tenets, and interventions. The second part presents a brief discussion on trauma: responses to trauma, its accurate diagnosis, and long-term goals for trauma survivors. Then, the discussion focuses on the influence of gender role socialization on men and how the ideology of masculinity limits men's self-concept; their behaviors; how they relate to women, to other men, and to children (Pleck, 1981); and ultimately how they cope with trauma. The article also examines the literature regarding men and society's narrow and dim concept of masculinity that provides men with limited and contradictory coping mechanisms (Fischer & Good, 1997). Finally, the discussion focuses on the applicability of gender role analysis as an effective intervention when treating this population (Brown, 1986), specifically because this conceptualization implies that the treatment of male survivors of trauma should in most cases proceed on two levels: (a) redefining masculinity and its legacies and (b) confronting the trauma and its legacies.

A key point in this article is that, because male clients have been socialized in ways that suppress their abilities necessary for coping with trauma, therapy must first help the client redefine masculinity so as to free up and strengthen the client's coping mechanisms. After this preliminary phase of stressing a revised masculinity and developing hope, resilience, and transcendence, effective therapy may move to a second phase in which traumatic experience and its legacies can be addressed.

Theoretical and Philosophical Overview of Feminist Therapy

The women's movement was a catalyst for empowering women to make choices about their own lives. As the feminist movement evolved, so has feminist theory, which has begun to make its presence known in the fields of psychology and counseling. Feminist psychotherapeutic theory has been developing since the early 1970s (Brown, 1986). Many influential feminist theorists and practitioners--for example, Laura Brown (1986), Susan Sturdivant (1980) and Sandra Bern (1981)--have laid the groundwork, writing extensively about feminist theory, principles, practice, and process. Over time, feminist therapy has become highly developed and has become more consistent in its applications, goals, and techniques (Wyche & Rice, 1997).

Feminist therapy is critically concerned with social action and with the implementation of changes in institutional sexism and in our sexist society (Cammaert & Larsen, 1988). It demands the analysis of gender roles, the changing of traditional sexist and restrictive role options in women's lives. Feminist therapy proposes that nonhierarchical egalitarian relationships should exist in human interaction and in institutional settings (Brown, 1986). This therapeutic theory holds that oppressive (nonegalitarian) social structures and relationships have shaped women's status (Cammaert & Larsen, 1988). Feminist theory rejects patriarchy and gender role ascriptions. Feminist therapy values consensual decision making, equal access to power, and open gender role options (Brown, 1990). Finally, feminist theory contends that the accumulation of knowledge has been controlled by a male hierarchy and that the shaping of knowledge has occurred in accordance with male criteria of achievement, performance, and so on, without regard for the ultimate effects on the quality of life or the nature of reality (Enns, 1993). Thus, a feminist philosophical stance argues that male perceptions have shaped the dominant view in society. This dominant view controls the definitions of women, social structures, and institutions, as well as thought and value patterns (Brown, 1990). Ironically, this dominant view has also greatly limited and harmed men. …

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