Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Counseling

Wen-Wu in Counseling with Men

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Counseling

Wen-Wu in Counseling with Men

Article excerpt

Wen-Wu in Counseling with Men

Men do not attend mental health treatment at the same rate as women (Prior, 1999; Vessey & Howard, 1993). Scholars have suggested that men are not attracted to mental health counseling because it does not honor a masculine way of being (e.g., Brooks, 1998; Wexler, 2009). Mental health counseling typically emphasizes that clients share their feelings, explore their problems, admit their vulnerabilities, and utilize a client-counselor relationship for change (Robertson & Fitzgerald, 1992). Traditional masculine ways of being often proffers incongruent qualities such as restricting emotions, establishing superiority, showing strength, and being independent (Levant & Kopecky, 1995).

Masculine ways of interacting and sharing frequently emphasize a physically active orientation (e.g., Brooks, 2010; Glicken, 2005; Kiselica, 2005; Rabinowitz & Cochran, 2002). Mental health counselors may need to honor this way of being in session in order to better facilitate some men's counseling experience. The present treatise is one approach to taking a more active orientation towards counseling by challenging men to conceptualize their health through the Chinese concept of wen-wu. This application is not meant to define treatment with men, rather to shape early interactions and facilitate deeper dialogs later in counseling.


Traditional Chinese depictions of masculinity have highlighted the balance between wen and wu (Louie, 2002; 2003; Louie & Edwards, 1994). This is a conceptualization of masculinity that roughly translates to English to mean wen, literary/civil/mental, and wu, martial/physical. According to Louie, this concept is most prevalent in China but is reflected in most East Asian cultures. Wen -wu encompasses a duality of mental and physical attainment in masculinity and serves to honor both scholar and soldier as being equally masculine. Louie noted that at one time, having a balance between these two elements might have been as desirable as having one or the other present. The context would have dictated what was needed most, but both elements were considered an acceptable expression of manhood.

Education is the most common representation of wen, which is supposed to depict the strength of mind and civility that an individual possesses. Louie (2003) noted that in East Asian countries many political leaders emphasize their educational attainments to depict their worthiness for leadership. In contrast to wen, wu is oriented towards physical strength and is sometimes tied to the martial arts. Louie noted that many American politicians will distance themselves from their education (wen) and gravitate towards their action-oriented pursuits (e.g., hunting, sports; i.e., wu). This is an example of how Westernized conceptualizations of masculinity tend to prioritize a wu-type of masculine strength, even in contexts when they are not intuitively desirable. When applying these concepts to counseling, the emphasis is placed on balancing these elements rather than having one supersede the other.

Applying Wen-Wu

The first step in using wen-wu with male clients is to introduce the concept in session. Most people are familiar enough with yin-yang that it can serve as a useful comparison. Both yin-yang and wen-wu are dualities that reflect a balance or harmony of forces. Informing the client about this balance between the "scholar" and the "warrior" or the "mind" and the "body" provides a foundation for additional discussion. Also noting how counseling will require wen and wu elements can help frame the counseling process. Early on in counseling, this framework might also facilitate a sense of structure for men who might feel especially vulnerable during initial meetings.

The second step is to help break down the two elements and generate examples of how clients are actively living out these qualities of wen and wu. …

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