Interview: John Barry on the sixth Male Psychology Conference

Najma Zaman May 21, 2019 0
Interview: John Barry on the sixth Male Psychology Conference

Next month sees the sixth Male Psychology Conference take place at UCL. Here, we interview Dr John Barry, the lead organiser of the conference.

The BPS had a vote last year on whether or not to have a male section. What was the actual result of this vote, i.e. votes for and against?

Out of nearly 4000 votes, two thirds of people were for creating a Male Psychology Section. This level of support surprised many people. Similarly, our new Handbook of Male Psychology is fast looking like becoming one of Palgrave Macmillan’s biggest selling psychology books. The official launch is at UCL on 30th May and attendees can get a voucher for 20% off here.

There was some opposition towards having a male section. What were the main reasons for this?

The opposition was from some psychologists who thought we weren’t feminist enough i.e. we don’t blame masculinity or ‘patriarchy’ for men’s mental health problems. They set up a website that was full of misleading nonsense about the Male Psychology Section. Everything they said was easy to disprove (see my blog with Martin Seager here. We offered to debate them in front of a public audience on film about their opinions. Despite apparently being very outspoken online they were very reluctant to debate us. Eventually they agreed to a ‘discussion’ on camera at a neutral place, but when we arrived we were told by the camera crew that the radicals had pulled out. This has become a recurring theme – radicals criticise Male Psychology, we offer to debate them in public, and the radicals back off. I don’t blame them.

What were your reasons for starting an annual male psychology conference?

The first conference in 2014 was a way of bringing together research related to Male Psychology and presenting it to psychologists. We quickly realised two things: there were lots of people outside psychology who fully understood the urgency of helping men’s mental health, and there were lots of people inside psychology who had no awareness that men’s mental health was an issue at all.

Are all the presenters psychologists/trainee psychologists?

Most presenters are professional psychologists. Some are people working in roles that impact men’s mental health e.g. the Minister for Mental Health Jackie Boyle-Price, MP, and Paddy Benson (Benson Boxing Academy) who improves men’s mental health through boxing training.          

What themes have been covered in the past?

Past themes include: positive masculinity, mental health of criminals, psychological aspects of prostate cancer. This year we are focusing one day on mental health issues related to the family e.g. fatherhood, domestic violence. Every year a large part of the programme is about strategies to improve men’s mental health. That’s what most of the Handbook of Male Psychology is about too.

 Who generally attends these conferences?
Mostly clinical psychologists and other therapists (counsellors, psychotherapists etc). Also mental health charity workers who have no background in psychology but find what we are doing immensely useful. We also get some everyday people who just want to understand men’s mental health and how to understand what men are going through.

What feedback have you received from attendees?

We get extremely good feedback every year. Regulars know the standard to expect, but first time attendees – who might feel a bit uncertain about attending – are blown away. Nobody else is doing anything like this in psychology at present, yet there is a growing interest in it.

I understand that there are two themes: male friendly interventions and services; the role of male psychology in the family. Could you tell me who’s presenting this year and what the topics are?

We are always really lucky in getting experts to speak. This year for example we have got Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan who is one of the top few experts in the UK on domestic violence. Prof Graham-Kevan gets lots of requests to speak internationally but almost never accepts. A rare exception was a talk she gave at the European Parliament last Dec on the impact on children of witnessing domestic violence. It caused quite a stir and I think this made her realise that there is a need to share the information with others, so it was lucky timing when I asked her to speak at the conference at UCL.

We have got other speakers too that some people will know e.g. Mark Brooks, who got an OBE this year for his inspirational charity counselling male victims of domestic violence. Martin Daubney will be drawing on his experience as a journalist and author to discuss the unflattering presentation of men in the media. We have other speakers from around the world e.g. Dr Tania Reynolds of the famous Kinsey Institute in the US. There are speakers who are back at the conference by popular demand e.g. Prof Gijsbert Stoet, who was in the news in January with his groundbreaking improved method of measuring gender differences in deprivation worldwide. We also have some new speakers that I know are going to be popular, especially Prof Eric Anderson, who is an expert on masculinity, sexuality, and patriarchy theory. Also Dr Mahamed Hashi is going to inspire people when he gives insights into the mental health issues around trauma and bereavement of young men in Brixton who rap about the violence they experience in their lives.

Dr John Barry is a psychologist, researcher, hypnotherapist, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London (UCL), and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

The Male Psychology Conference takes place 21–22 June at UCL. More information and tickets are available here.

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