I am suggesting that valuing a bilingual intimacy and emotional literacy that includes the body and talking, that includes masculinity and femininity and seeks to understand each man and woman who comes to see us in their masculine and feminine gender identification is an important part of doing therapy well and not leaving anyone out of the conversation.
by Traci Ruble, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
I am in a little coastside cafe, sitting cross legged on an old sofa, waiting out a
traffic jam writing this article. I had to squish in as the place is packed and
appropriately, I am inches away from a table full of men, about
five, over hearing their conversation, watching their body language
and getting ready to write an article on men in psychotherapy. They
glance over at me, seeing the Ronald Levant interview by therapist
Randall C. Wyatt in full view with the words "Psychotherapy With Men" like a flashing sign and I smile.
Why the heck is a woman writing about this? Well first off, I like
men. I like working with men and I especially like working with
couples. Second, most people coming out of psychology graduate
programs are women. A reverse of what it used to be when the field
began where it was a field of men, mostly treating women. After my own "training" in childhood about masculinity, I spent years in the high tech
surrounded by men, working alongside and with them, learning their
style of play and collaboration. And perhaps my greatest motivator
for this topic is I am a mother to two sons.
First, a distinction. The Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus
book is wrong. Yes, I have read it. Men and women, research
shows, are not that
different. What is different about the sexes is the gender
we each receive. Dr. Ronald Levant, the leading researcher on how to
perform effective psychotherapy with men, found that the more closely a
with "traditional masculinity", the more entering psychotherapy,
in therapy and getting stuff out of psychotherapy could be hard and
even shaming to men. Why? Well first, let's describe "traditional
masculinity" as Levant describes it. The notion that "men should
avoid anything that hints of the feminine, restrict the expression
of emotions, be aggressive and dominant, be extremely self-reliant,
be studs and always be ready for sex. They are also more likely to
endorse coercive and harassment attitudes towards women." Now women
could easily shame these traditional masculinity
identified men, call them "unavailable assholes" as I have heard
said. I don't feel that way at all. I think men have suffered as women had at the traditional gender roles we have been hemmed in by.
"...the greater the endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology
the more likely a boy is to have drug and alcohol problems, have
early sex and drop out of school...they're more likely to be
depressed and have relationship issues. The long and the short of
it is that traditional masculinity is hazardous to men's health. "
What Levant talks about and has created a treatment for is a way to
approach men about the limitations of their gender training, how it
robs them of choosing how to respond to emotions and thus their lives and creates a lot of suffering. Often men have
two choices in their emotional range - to be mad about stuff or to
feel all the emotions in their body in painful ways (think chronic
back pain, hemorrhoids, headaches, heart attacks etc). He says that men who are high
on the traditional masculinity scale are highly Alexithymic which
means that they lack skills at putting feelings into words.
Emotional communication is, quite simply, a learned skill that their
gender training never taught them and even reinforced that they not learn. So guess what? Men aren't from
Mars, they just did not learn this communication skill.
Does that mean that I, as a female therapist, am trying to feminize
my male clients? N - O! I think of mental health as the capacity
to be flexible in how we respond to life. Too often, I see couples
come in and the complaint is "My man isn't opening up, he doesn't
talk, he can't share his feelings" and that may be true. But even
psychotherapy has gotten inflexible. Many forms of psychotherapy
live in the land of the "supremacy of talk" as Esther Perel says and we impose that on men inside the therapy room.
I remember sitting listening to Esther talk five years ago,
the room was standing room only. Her thick French accent, her
poetic metaphoric language, her jacket falling ever so sensually off
her shoulder as she talked about the need for couples therapy to
embrace a "bilingual intimacy". And she meant bilingual between
masculine and feminine or between speaking about feelings and actually
having them in the body. She said, and I paraphrase from memory, "you female therapists need to think about the primacy you are
giving to speech inside the therapy room. How it not only leaves
the men coming in to see you out of the conversation but how you
perpetuating the ways in which women have been denied the expressive
capacity of the female body and left to only be able to talk" to
which half the room lept to their feet cheering and clapping. Not
only did Esther explain this, she embodied her conviction, her
sensuality as well as spoke of it. She has bilingual literacy. I think
and woman in that room that day left with a massive crush on
Esther Perel. I did!
"Favoring speech as the primary pathway to
intimacy reinforces the notion that women's sexual desire is
legitimate only when it is embedded in relatedness [aka talking]" -Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity.
Femininity has a lot to learn from modern masculinity about embodied
sexuality and masculinity has a lot to learn from femininity about relatedness. Notice I didn't say men and women. I see
plenty of masculine women and feminine men in my practice too.
So, what am I suggesting? I am suggesting that valuing a bilingual
intimacy and emotional literacy that includes the body and talking,
that includes masculinity and femininity and seeks to understand each
man and woman who comes to see us in their masculine and feminine gender identification is an important part of therapy. What that
specifically looks like is helping people become bilingual. How?
In couples therapy, I often replace talking at times with standing,
movement and body postural shifts. I don't give primacy to words
nor do I give primacy to the body. I also inquire about people's
gender role identification. How macho/feminine are they? I often using
some of Ron
Levant's ideas about educating and supporting acquisition of
emotional literacy as well as work with body centered psychotherapy to help clients embody their experience.
The end result is a therapy that helps men and women grow their
capacity to connect
on the body level and on the emotional level. Men and women aren't left feeling like
they have to have a gender lobotomy in order to get good stuff from
psychotherapy. My hope is for more men to come in to psychotherapy
and feel included rather than ostracized by a field that once was
predominantly masculine but is now increasingly feminine. My hope is that we all, men and women, become bilingual.
Traci Ruble is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works with adults struggling in relationship. She has special training working with couples. She helps couples who are stuck get back on course and sees couples for premarital and pre baby counseling as well as leads online mother's groups. She can be reached at 415-520-5567.
Labels: Femininity, Masculinity, Psychotherapy, Ronald Levant, Traci Ruble