Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Affirming the Strengths in Men a Positive Masculinity Approach to Assisting Male Clients

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Affirming the Strengths in Men a Positive Masculinity Approach to Assisting Male Clients

Article excerpt

Although there has been increased attention on understanding the lives of men and working with them in a clinical setting, some researchers (O'Neil, 2012; Smiler, 2004; Wong et al., 2011) have critiqued the existing knowledge base as being overly problem focused, primarily detailing the deficits of and the difficulties created by men. There is, therefore, a knowledge gap around understanding the actual healthy lives of men and how counselors can promote wellness with male clients. In response, several scholars have advocated for greater research and clinical attention to be given to positive dimensions of masculinity (Hammer & Good, 2010; Kiselica, 2006, 2011; Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010; O'Neil, 2012). Wong (2006) encouraged counselors to respect their healing traditions and to move beyond "business as usual" therapeutic approaches (i.e., eradicating "the bad") toward developing strategies that capitalize on strengths and virtues (i.e., promoting "the good"). In a sense, this can result in crafting a counseling setting wherein the focus is on what the client does as opposed to what the client does not do. In this article, we present a rationale for applying strength-based approaches for working with male clients. We examine the concept of positive masculinity and note the influence of context and cultural forces in defining strength-based ways of understanding and working with male clients.

Conceptualizing Strength-Based Approaches

In recent years, there has been a growing focus on applying strength-based approaches to counseling (Chapin & Boykin, 2010; Kosine, Steger, & Duncan, 2008; Smith, 2006). The traditional foundation of counseling emphasizes normal human development, wellness, and prevention rather than amelioration of psychopathology (Grothaus, McAuliffe, & Craigen, 2012), but recent efforts to develop strength-based approaches have been further bolstered by the emergence of the field of positive psychology (Joseph & Linley, 2006). Although positive psychology is in its infancy, it has grown rapidly and influenced the helping professions (Azar, 2011). Counselor educators have expressed a deep interest in integrating aspects of positive psychology into counselor training (Kolondinsky, Englar-Carlson, Montopoli, & Edgerly, 2011). Both positive psychology and counseling share the basic assumptions that human goodness, growth, development, and excellence are as authentic and deserving of attention as disease, disorder, and distress are. Furthermore, counseling is a learning activity in which the client is educated about herself or himself, with an emphasis on personal growth, wellness, prevention, and the enhancement of optimal health (Kottler & Shepard, 2010; Sweeney, 2001). Thus, researchers have begun to examine the intersection of positive psychology and strength-based counseling (Harris, Thoresen, & Lopez, 2007), school counseling (Park & Peterson, 2008), career counseling (Zikic & Franklin, 2010), and rehabilitation counseling (Chapin & Boykin, 2010).

Others have moved beyond specific settings and explored cultural components and influences in forming and defining strengths (Grothaus et al., 2012). This is a way to develop a culturally embedded understanding of what is considered "positive" or a "strength" (Pedrotti, 2011; Pedrotti, Edwards, & Lopez, 2009). McNulty and Fincham (2012) noted that psychological traits and processes are not inherently positive or negative; instead, whether psychological characteristics promote or undermine well-being depends on the context in which they operate.

Sex and gender, like other identity factors, are recognized as powerful organizing principles in peoples' lives and experiences (Kimmel, 2013). Although the concept of cultural competence has been addressed in the counseling field, the notion of gender competence has often been overlooked (Owen, Wong, & Rodolfa, 2009; Sinclair & Taylor, 2004). …

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