Dr. Fred Rabinowitz discusses four benefits of male-only groups: trusting men, dealing with interpersonal conflict, safe expression of strong emotion, and self-confidence.
A men’s therapy group can be a powerful modality to enhance interpersonal openness, emotional expression, self‐care, and empathy. Sharing similar physical bodies, similar socialization, and similar relational perspectives, even men from diverse backgrounds feel a different kind of support than what they receive from women. One man in our weekly therapy men’s group said it this way, “I have always gone to women for emotional support to my tender and expressive side. With my male friends, I tended to relate about sports, school, and work and not burden them with the stuff I would tell my mother or girlfriend. I felt like I couldn’t be completely real with either women or men. In the men’s group I have found out that most men feel this way. It has been such a feeling of a burden lifted to realize I can be totally myself here; gentle, aggressive, compassionate, wild, or competitive and still be accepted by these guys, who I initially thought were going to judge and reject me.”
Men’s groups help men trust other men again. In our competitive culture, it is not uncommon for men to be pitted against each other at work or even at play. The buddies one might have had growing up are more difficult to find in the adult world. Many men find the pressures of work and family to take most of their energy and time. Once a week, a man might be able to play cards, go golfing or fishing with male friends, but more likely the time is spent ministering to the needs of those at work or at home. In the men’s group, it is expected that each man will talk about who he really is, not just his work or social persona. Because of rules of confidentiality and through honest sharing, men learn they are not alone and in the process build trust with each other at a personal level.
Men’s groups teach men how to constructively deal with interpersonal conflict. Many men have been socialized to avoid conflict through distracting activities, intellectual rationalization, or silence. Once initial trust has been established through mutual sharing and self‐disclosure, group members will begin to tire of being “nice” to each other and engage in more challenging ways that go beyond the surface and result in insights that would have been missed if conflict had been avoided.
Men’s groups allow for the safe expression of strong emotion. Many men have been taught that to express strong feeling exposes too much personal vulnerability. Anger is an emotion that men are given more permission to feel and it is the channel we use to get at emotions beneath such as fear, sadness, and hurt. In our men’s group, we sometimes use a tennis racquet to smack pillows or have a man hit a punching bag (wearing boxing gloves). We also utilize group members to physically hold back a man while he flails at an imagined or real adversary. The effect is to allow for release and encourage openness to feeling in the body.
Men’s groups give hope and rebuild confidence in oneself, especially after being battered by life circumstances like unexpected loss, health concerns, or isolation. In very few settings do men actually verbalize and show each other support, respect, and care as they relate what they are going through.
Fred Rabinowitz is a licensed psychologist who has been leading men’s groups for over thirty years in Redlands, California. He has written extensively about men in individual and group therapy. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California.
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