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Psychotherapy and Healthy Masculinity

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		Psychotherapy and Healthy Masculinity image

Exploring our values, and what stops us thinking about them, when working psychotherapeutically with increasingly unstable notions of masculinity

SAFPAC/CPN Joint Zoom Conference Saturday 2nd October 2021

Speakers include: Manu Bazzano, Anastasios Gaitanidis, Robert Grossmark, Chris Hemmings, Del Loewenthal, Alexandra Macht, Anthony McSherry, Sally Parsloe and John Taggart

£15 waged £5 unwaged

Attendance: 6.5 hours CPD

Please note that this event will be recorded, and later some aspects available on our YouTube channel.

What are our values as psychotherapists regarding differing notions of masculinity? Furthermore, what stops us thinking about them? What are the implications of that for ourselves and our clients? This conference explores our responses to ideas of masculinity, and whether our thinking and talking about masculinity is inhibited and indeed prevented by cultural, social and intellectual forces.

How does new knowledge about masculinity with for example the growing ‘public perception of crisis in the lives of boys and men’ impact on us as psychotherapists? Our fathers’ values of masculinity are perhaps more clearly different to those of today, but is that also true of our therapists’ and supervisors’ let alone ‘ours’? What then of relational aspects of gender, for example are there kinds of masculinities that should be upheld and others that should be called into question, and if so, on what grounds or ideals? How may masculinity even be constructed at all without reference to the feminine, and do attempts so to do result in serious blind spots and distortion?

This conference aims to explore what happens regarding issues of masculinity when a male or female psychotherapist’s ‘culture, character and normative unconscious processes’ meets the male or female client’s ‘culture, character and normative unconscious processes’ (Layton, 2020).

However, is the culture we are in increasingly preventing us as psychotherapists from being able to think about such issues as masculinity? For example, when do such contemporary concepts as ‘social justice’, ‘identity politics’ and ‘intersectionality’ help or hinder explorations of masculinity? Here there are cultural wars where for some, including psychotherapists, it means overdue equality and acceptance of diversity and for others an everlasting instability that must, at least in part, be resisted. Are we increasingly experiencing the imposition of new, and the defence of old, ideals that are not expressed as an invitation to reflect or challenge but as a moral assertion of right and wrong? As a result, because there are so many tripwires for all of us preventing conversations and potentially creating outcasts, psychotherapy could be one of the few places that clients can explore issues of masculinity. But what if the psychotherapist is also too scared to be ‘thoughtful’?

This conference aims to enable psychotherapists to explore issues of masculinity including: How tied up is masculine authority with suspect patriarchy? What it might mean to be strong enough to put our client, whether man or woman, first? How much is the stumbling block the psychotherapist’s resistance to changing notions of masculinity? What is the relation of masculine to changing notions of feminine and gender? What’s castration got to do with it? Can one be critical of critical without necessarily being reactionary? What are the masculinities that psychotherapists encounter and what direction, if any, should psychotherapists encourage men and women towards? How then do we as psychotherapists change, can we, should we?

The conference is designed to hear leading exponents on working psychotherapeutically with notions of masculinity in our ‘liquid modernity’ and to provide the opportunity to explore their implications in small groups for ourselves and our practices.

Prof Del Loewenthal

Conference Chair

Critical Psychotherapy Network &

Southern Association of Psychotherapy and Counselling


9.30am - 10.00am: Zoom log in

10.00am - 10.10am: Welcome and introduction to the conference, Prof Del Loewenthal - Conference Chair (Critical Psychotherapy Network, Southern Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling, London, UK)

10:10 – 10:30am: Working psychotherapeutically with increasingly unstable notions of masculinity, Prof Del Loewenthal (Psychotherapist/Psychologist, Critical Psychotherapy Network, Southern Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling, London, UK)

10:30 - 11:00am: Plugging the empathy gap: healthy masculinity in a modern world, Chris Hemmings (Journalist, Author, Producer and Director of Speakers Collective, UK)

11:00am – 11:10am: Break

11:10 – 11:40am: The Role of Love and Children’s Agency in Improving Fathers’ Wellbeing, Dr Alexandra Macht (Independent Researcher, Romania)

11:40am – 12:10pm: When Interiority is Annulled: The healing of psychic pain, trauma and deprivation in a case of compulsion to child pornography, Dr Robert Grossmark (Psychoanalyst, New York City, USA)

12:10pm - 12:20pm: Break

12:20pm - 12:50pm: Everybody wants to be a Manager: On Masculinity, Microfascism, and the Manosphere, Dr Manu Bazzano (Author, Psychotherapist/Supervisor, London, UK)

12:50pm – 1:20pm: Lunch

1:20pm – 1.50pm: Beyond the Phallus and/or the Breast: A Relational Understanding of Maleness, Dr Anastasios Gaitanidis (Psychotherapist and Metanoia Institute, London, UK)

1.50pm – 2.30pm: Small group discussions 1

2.30pm- 2:50pm: Being Gay and Being Masculine, John Taggart (Psychotherapist, London, UK)

2:50pm - 3:10pm: What am I supposed to be? Sally Parsloe (Psychotherapist, Critical Psychotherapy Network, Southern Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling, London, UK)

3:10pm – 3:20pm: Break

3.20pm – 3.40pm: Masculinity and Kierkegaard’s coat: or the feminisation of Freud in contemporary society, Dr Anthony McSherry (Psychotherapist, Critical Psychotherapy Network, Southern Association for Psychotherapy and Counselling, London, UK)

3:40pm – 4:20pm: Small group discussions 2

4:20pm – 4:30pm: Break

4.30pm – 5.00pm: Plenary, Presenters, respondents and all participants

5:00pm: Conference close


Dr Manu Bazzano - Everybody wants to be a Manager: On Masculinity, Microfascism, and the Manosphere

The emergence of the manosphere with its online promotion of a blinkered view of masculinity associated with the alt-right, its hostility to feminism and its explicit misogyny has been characterized as aberrant in relation to mainstream psychological and cultural values. Expanding on Felix Guattari’s seminal piece Everybody Wants to be a Fascist, this paper argues that there is instead a profound continuity between the two. They both share an ideology of resilience (championed by Positive Psychology and embraced by most psychotherapy orientations): a misleading notion dominating current representations of masculinity. They both share an ideology of dataism, i.e., the view that the world can be reduced to abstracted data and measurable logic. They both share practices of microfascism, i.e., a yearning for more management, order, and control in relation to the intrinsic ambivalence of being a man and being human. In our post–civil rights era of identity politics, white ‘injured’ masculinity masquerades as a ‘different’ and ‘marginalized’ identity in relation to which the bland slogans of woke capitalism and woke consumer-culture present no real opposition. At present, most cultural representations of masculinity are essentialist. Can psychotherapy theory and practice help construct new representations of masculinity as performative, fluid, and as a steppingstone to a deeper form of inquiry?

Dr Manu Bazzano is an author, psychotherapist/supervisor in private practice and an internationally recognised lecturer and facilitator. His background is philosophy and rock music. He studied Eastern contemplative practices since 1980 and in 2004 was ordained in the Soto and Rinzai tradition of Zen Buddhism. Among his books: Re-Visioning Existential Therapy: (Routledge,2020) Nietzsche and Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2019); Re-visioning Person-centred Therapy (2018); Zen and Therapy: Heretical Perspectives (2017) Therapy and the Counter-tradition (2016); After Mindfulness (2014); Spectre of the Stranger: towards a Phenomenology of Hospitality (Sussex, 2012); Buddha is Dead (Sussex, 2006). Website: www.manubazzano.com

Dr Anastasios Gaitanidis - Beyond the Phallus and/or the Breast: A Relational Understanding of Maleness

In this presentation, Anastasios intends to critically examine how psychotherapeutic and social practices are still haunted in their conceptualisation of masculinity by either the legacy of the phallus or the privileging of the breast or the mother-child dyad which disregard or repudiate the relational dynamics of maleness. For this reason, he will propose new ways of conceptualising the position of the male, which involve both the enhancement of his capacity for critical reasoning and broadening of his sphere of experience to include emotional connectivity and acknowledgement of desire. Finally, he will provide brief clinical vignettes from my work with male patients so as to illustrate how these new ways of understanding masculinity are linked to clinical and social practices.

Dr Anastasios Gaitanidis is a Director of Studies in the DPsych Psychotherapy programme at Metanoia Institute. He is also a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist in private practice and member of the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis. He has published several articles on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in peer-reviewed journals and he is the co-editor (with Polona Curk) of Narcissism: A Critical Reader (2007) and the editor of The Male in Analysis: Psychoanalytic and Cultural Perspectives (2011). He recently co-edited (with Polona Curk) the book The Sublime in Everyday Life: Psychoanalytic and Aesthetic Perspectives, which was published by Routledge in Jan 2021.

Dr Robert Grossmark - When Interiority is Annulled: The healing of psychic pain, trauma and deprivation in a case of compulsion to child pornography

Contemporary psychoanalytic theory has problematized masculinity such that we now regard masculinities as multiple and constantly shifting rather than static and monolithic. This presentation will argue that we have too often constrained and castrated the masculine by limiting the conception of male interiority and inner psychic life, thus leaving much male experience outside of our theoretical and clinical palette. The focus will be on a case of a compulsion to child pornography, an area that has defied psychoanalytic engagement and typically been consigned to regulative and controlling interventions. The case will highlight the imbrication of cultural demands, early trauma and deprivation and will focus on the flow of enactive engagement in the treatment relationship as the central hinge in facilitating a healing and transformative environment where yet to be experienced pain, loss and trauma come to take shape and live within and between analyst and patient.

Robert Grossmark, PH.D, ABPP is a psychoanalyst in New York City. He works with individuals, couples and groups. He is on the teaching and supervising faculty at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis, The National Institute for Psychotherapies Psychoanalytic Program, The National Training Program in Psychoanalysis, The Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society and lectures at psychoanalytic institutes and psychology programs nationally and internationally. He is the author of The Unobtrusive Relational Analyst: Explorations in Psychoanalytic Companioning and co-edited The One and the Many: Relational Approaches to Group Psychotherapy and Heterosexual Masculinities: Contemporary Perspectives from Psychoanalytic Gender Theory.

Chris Hemmings - Plugging the empathy gap: healthy masculinity in a modern world

Chris engages his audience in a discussion about how certain aspects of masculine expectation can not only damage individual men and boys, but also women and girls, too. The talk will enable men to think critically about their own behaviour, and recognize that they have the power to help their brothers overcome, amongst other things, mental health issues, tendencies for violence and the removal of female agency. The audience will learn that, by removing the patriarchal pressures exerted on men and boys, we can allow each other the space to be an individual - and encourage more of us to feel empowered to speak out against negative traits and perceived injustices.

Chris is a journalist and author of ‘Be A Man - How macho culture damages us and how to escape it’ He’s written on the subject of men for numerous national newspapers, produced and presented fifteen films for the BBC and now speaks around the country promoting a healthier idea of what it means to be a man. He’s also a Director of the Speakers Collective and is training to become a psychotherapist.

Prof Del Loewenthal - Working psychotherapeutically with increasingly unstable notions of masculinity

See conference brief

Prof Del Loewenthal is is Chair of Southern Association For Psychotherapy And Counselling (SAFPAC)’s existential-analytic training (www.safpac.co.uk), co-founder Critical Psychotherapy Network (www.criticalpsychotherapy.wordpress.com) and Emeritus Professor Psychotherapy and Counselling, University of Roehampton, UK. His current books (all Routledge 2020/21): “Critical Existential-Analytic Psychotherapy: Some Implications for Practices, Theories and Research”, “What is Paranormal?: Some Implications for Psychological Therapies”, “Towards Transcultural Histories of Psychotherapies” (with Shamdasani); “Beyond the Therapeutic State” (with Ness and Hardy); and “Love, Sex and Psychotherapy in a Post-Romantic Era”. Del has a private practice in Wimbledon and Brighton. (www.delloewenthal.com).

Dr Alexandra Macht - The Role of Love and Children’s Agency in Improving Fathers’ Wellbeing

In this keynote presentation Alexandra will focus on the mutual effects of father-child wellbeing, tentatively arguing that fathers can be emotionally transformed by having a child and that children can have a beneficial influence on father’s health and positive engagement in work. Previous research described how involved fatherhood offers men the opportunity to resist practices of risk-taking, denial of treatment, expression of anger, which are harmful to their health. However, studies on the relationship between fathers and children often overlook the mutual beneficial effects that these family members have on each other. Based on findings from 47 qualitative interviews and 6 observations with Scottish and Romanian involved fathers and their children, Alexandra will show how children were described by fathers as re-energizing them for work and helping them let go of negative health habits, such as smoking, drugs, and reckless driving. Fathers in turn, adopted a long-term perspective for their health and wellbeing brought on by planning for the future. Conclusively, children seem to play an important role in counteracting the toxic aspects of masculinity, as children were described as helping fathers shift emotionally from stoicism and control to increased nurturance and emotional openness, thereby affecting their wellbeing in positive ways.

Dr. Alexandra Macht is a sociopsychologist and a researcher. She previously worked as a lecturer in Sociology at Oxford Brookes University in the UK and as a postdoctoral researcher with the prestigious Uppsala University in Sweden. Her work bridges the fields of the sociology of emotions, critical studies of men and masculinities and family relationships. She has obtained an MSc in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Edinburgh, and since 2017 she has specialized in qualitative research and reflexivity. Among her other roles was also co-editing for a number of 4 years, the annual review of The International Network of Leave Policies and Research, alongside Peter Moss, Sonja Blum and Alison Koslowski and Ivan Dobrotic. Her work is published with Sage Research Methods Cases, Discover Society, FQS – Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Families, Relationships and Societies, Vitae Scholasticae: The Journal of Educational Biography and Palgrave Macmillan.

Dr Anthony McSherry - Masculinity and Kierkegaard’s coat: or the feminisation of Freud in contemporary society

In this presentation, Freud’s analytic attitudes of free association and free-floating attention are regarded as phenomenological, and fundamental to psychotherapy, whilst also ultimately belonging to a feminine discourse in contemporary society. What emerges from this kind of practice can perhaps only be understood from the ‘inside’, shown through the difference between ‘disembodied talk’ and free association. Coming to understand one’s own masculinity in psychotherapy appears to depend on our ability to stay with the latter phenomenological way of speaking and being. One aspect emerging from this process is how meaning imposes itself like a gestalt that precipitates as an ideology of oneself. To escape one’s ‘ideology’ entirely would be like becoming a kind of Nietzschean ‘superman’ treading close to an abyss. It appears we are enclosed in our own personal time story, encircled by a bigger time story circulating in culture. Free association escapes time, but one’s masculinity does not and cannot be changed simply like Kierkegaard’s coat. Regardless, there is a push in society for ‘the man’ to change his coat through a naïve cognitive shift, involving ‘authority as knowledge’ giving way to ‘scientific method as knowledge’. Ironically, this is nothing but the privileging of Lacan’s master discourse, in which both men and women are alienated.

Dr Tony McSherry is a UKCP Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapist, and Existential-Analytic Psychotherapist working in the NHS and private practice. His primary practice interests are in psychoanalysis and phenomenology.

Sally Parsloe - What am I supposed to be?

Masculinity is considered through the question ‘What am I supposed to be?’ A poem of polarity describes the profusion of possible ways of being and ways of knowing what to be. The speaker refers to her own experience of seemingly contradictory expectation on gender. What are the ways people use to try to alleviate the confusion, to hammer out the contradictions, and how do these play out in our clients, ourselves and the systems we inhabit? Definitions, narratives, the policing of speech and behaviour, colonisation, denial and abjection of otherness, possession or repudiation of the penis, these might be some of the ways. The power and vulnerability of the penis is explored, and the implications for the client of their own body and the bodies of others. In considering vulnerability and power the author asks if the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas about alterity and the primacy of the other might be helpful in working with the clients’ interactions with masculinity, and following on, the work of Judith Butler on vulnerability and the precariousness of life. The author attempts to wonder about her own values around masculinity, and how these come into the therapeutic room.

Sally Parsloe is a psychotherapist in London. She has worked in the NHS, as a therapist in the organisation Mediation in Divorce, and is currently busy in private practice. She has run anger management courses, and groups for people estranged from family. Sally is also a family solicitor and worked for many years with children in care proceedings and in a domestic abuse unit.

John Taggart - Being Gay and Being Masculine

The gay world has been synonymous with liberation since the Stonewall riots of 1969. Ironically that struggle for freedom has increasingly turned into putting gay men in straightjackets. In many gay venues and on gay websites men identify themselves as either top or bottom – no point in me conversing with you if we are both tops or both bottoms. Men hook up on websites such as Gaydar where judgements are instantly made based upon a criterion of masculinity shaped in the gym and with little possibility of negotiation nor nuance. In the consulting room one encounters gay men who feel trapped in simplistic categories, such as Bear, Twink, Macho or Fem. But the client’s notion of what it means to be a man will in truth be much more complex than the idealised image projected by gay influencers on Instagram. A client who has had a conflicted relationship with his father and a close relationship with his mother may have a conflicted view of masculinity. He may not want to be a bottom nor a top or may want to alternate. Where, other than the consulting room, can he be honest about his sexuality?

John Taggart is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working in private practice in Battersea, South London. He worked as a teacher and was also a professional actor. John was Head of the Counselling Service at St. George's , University of London, for many years and has extensive experience in working with students and also with adolescents. Having recently undergone a training at the Laurel Centre in Sex and Pornography addiction he has a particular interest in how accessing pornography from an early age can affect men’s attitudes to sex and to their own masculinity.

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