Archive for June, 2011

Book Review: Doing Psychotherapy With Men

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011


I’m reading an excellent book at the moment, one that I even took the time to review on Amazon. It’s called Doing Psychotherapy With Men, by Dr John A. Ashfield, and it’s highly relevant for anybody who’s interested in men’s issues and male psychological health.

Here is the review:

An important book on an important subject

Some people may ask if we really need a book on doing psychotherapy with men. After all, don’t we simply need good psychotherapy for people in need – regardless of gender? Don’t we have enough gender stereotyping as is in society?

As much as I can empathize with the rationale behind those lines of thinking, it turns out we do need specialized knowledge in the field of psychotherapy, just like in medicine and other professional fields. The intersection of biology and culture presents men with unique challenges, opportunities and yes – distinct on average psychological functioning. Tackling this subject head on is also very much needed in this day and age where manhood and masculinity are increasingly viewed as pathologies.

The book unfolds in a logical way, starting out by defining core concepts, then moving on to male coping, communication and ways of handling stress, as well as specific diagnoses such as depression and alcoholism.

Rather than starting anew in each chapter, the author demonstrates how key ways of male psychological functioning shine through in many different situations. The included cases studies are also very useful, and help maintain this integrated and holistic vibe.

One of my own major take aways from this book is that male psychological functioning and coping are not deficient, but simply different from that of women. I thought I knew this but this book showed me how I still held on to the belief that men need to be more like women, psychologically speaking, and “get more in touch with their feelings”. In my opinion one of the reasons that the cultural zeitgeist presents male psychological functioning as deficient is that women have tended to be the norm in the development of modern psychotherapy (Freud, etc), just like men tended to be the norm in the development of modern medicine. There are other factors too, but we have been on a trajectory for decades where men are portrayed as deficient women when it comes to emotions, communication, etc.

None of this is to say that men cannot develop and improve their psychological health – after all, this is what the book is about! – but they will do it as men and not by trying to fit into a mould which is not for them.

To sum up, I recommend this book for any man who wants to understand himself better, and for any woman who wants to understand men better. For psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, this book has the potential to make every future meeting with a man that much more productive and healing.

Will Ferrell Parodies The Manifesto for Conscious Men

Friday, June 24th, 2011

As you may know, I’ve commented on The Manifesto for Conscious Men before (here and here). I believe that the intention of the creators is good, but that they miss the mark by about a mile.

Apparently, the Manifesto is now getting even more attention than expected, but perhaps not in the way envisioned. Check out this parody (original available here):

Structural Brain Differences Between Sexes Significant

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

In a research report that is more than six years old, Richard J. Haier and his research team outline how men and women achieve similar levels of intelligence in different ways.

It appears that while men and women have the same average IQ, the level of cognitive function is achieved in very different ways. Not only do women and men employ different brain regions, there is also a vast difference in the emphasis on gray and white matter.


Let’s take a look at what the researchers have done:

Here, we examine whether there are male and female differences in the correlations between IQ and GM [gray matter] or WM [white matter] volumes based on optimized voxel-based morphometry (VBM) of structural MRI data.

Not only do the researcher want to investigate if men and women use different regions to create their intelligence, they want to check if the white matter or the gray matter is “doing the heavy lifting” in the areas that are important.

If they can demonstrate these kinds deep structural differences – directly linked to functioning – in men’s and women’s brain, it will be a significant finding. Previous research has demonstrated several functional sex differences in the brain, but without the kind of unquestionable link to brain structures that the researchers are aiming for:

Functional brain imaging studies have reported a number of sex differences (Cahill et al., 2001; Gur et al., 2000; Haier and Benbow, 1995; Mansour et al., 1996; Neubauer et al., 2002; Shaywitz et al., 1995, 2001), but task-specific demands on cognitive resources with functional studies must always be considered as the task itself could affect interpretation of functional imaging results. Structural imaging correlated with off-line analyses of various cognitive performance measures and traits, on the other hand, can identify those differences in neuroanatomy which may underlie the cognitive measure of interest, irrespective of any task design constraints.

Never mind if you don’t want to grasp every technical detail; the main thing to remember here is that they are checking whether men and women use different brain regions to achieve similar intellectual functioning, and whether men and women rely on gray/white matter in the same way.

Here are the results:

These present results highlight an important dissociation of brain morphology related to intellectual functioning in normal adult brains, as the pattern of voxel types and voxel locations linked with intellectual functioning differed substantially between the sexes.

The regions employed in intellectual performance are far from the same in men and women – a somewhat startling finding perhaps. Even more shocking is that the sexes use gray and white matter in such different ways:

With respect to voxel types, men had roughly 6.5 times the number of GM [gray matter] voxels identified as related to intellectual functioning as did women, and women had roughly nine times more WM [white matter] voxels than did men.

6.5 times the number and roughly nine times more? That’s beyond significant.

These findings – as interesting as they are in their own right – also throw the next, inevitable question at us. If women and men use different neural substrates to achieve a similar general level of intelligence, are there any differences in subsets of cognitive performance?

The current results contribute to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that, although the sexes do not differ in general intellectual ability, the neural substrates of general intelligence are different. Whether similar neuroanatomical differences are associated with specific mental abilities (assessed for example by WAIS subtests) remains to be determined; our VIQ and PIQ findings need replication with larger samples.

It would be highly surprising if such marked differences in brain regions/tissue employed in cognitive functioning do not translate into different ways of processing information, integrating memory, experiencing emotion, etc.

If anyone is skeptical of the hereditary component in these gender differences – perhaps wondering if they can solely attributed to men’s and women’s different gender roles – then the researchers put that fear to rest (see the first phrase):

Although GM and WM volumes are highly hereditable in many areas (Posthuma et al., 2002; Thompson et al., 2001), there is evidence that GM volume in humans can increase with motor learning (Draganski et al., 2004) or the acquisition of a second language (Mechelli et al., 2004) and the nature of genetic determinism in general is now controversial (Silverman, 2004).

My own take on this research is that it’s amazing to see that the general level of complexity of a system (such as the brain), determines overall functioning to a higher degree than the specific components. This is why men and women have similar intelligence even though our brains are quite different.

I also feel that the research on gender specific brain differences has come far enough to once and for all let go of the belief that gender is mainly constructed, and innate factors simply a minor concern. Men and women have brains with clear differences in anatomy and physiology, and it is highly unlikely that this wouldn’t affect our conscious and unconscious brain processes. as well as our behavior in the world.