Some Thoughts on the A.P.A. Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men

Dave Peterson

Dave Peterson has retired from a career in forensic psychology. He has worked for the states of Wisconsin, Georgia, and Florida, and the Center for Social Science and Law, LLC.

We are effectively destroying our selves by violence masquerading as love.

R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience, Ch. 3.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has just issued Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men, which have received considerable publicity for essentially turning traditional masculinity into a pathology. I’ve spent a good part of my life as a forensic psychologist, and I thought I should take a look at the new Guidelines myself. All the criticism is justified. They’re nothing but Gender Studies ideology masquerading as science.

The problematic aspect of these Guidelines is revealed at the outset, in their definition of gender—“Gender refers to psychological, social, and cultural experiences and characteristics associated with the social statuses of girls and women or boys and men, whereas sex refers to biological aspects of being male or female.” Gender is defined as social and psychological, sex is defined as physical, and the two are construed to be separate and unrelated. Therefore the Guidelines don’t mention the brain’s chemistry and structure as a determinant of behavior, including gender specific behavior. The role of the endocrine system is also ignored. The brain’s physical character affects “sex”—but nothing to do with “gender.” The idea that it could affect “gender” isn’t even broached.

The main section of the Guidelines follows up on this definition with an unscientific, ideological assault on traditional male roles and behavior. There are pages of language such as “policing of masculinity expression in boys by their caregivers tends to be ineffective and emotionally damaging to the child.” Traditional masculinity—essentially defined as a basket of negative stereotypes—becomes the font of psychopathology in males and females, the basis for numerous modes of social oppression. E.g., “while most men experience pressures to conform to hegemonic masculinity, some men, particularly those from marginalized groups, may be targets of gendered, racial, and heterosexist stereotypes.”

The APA’s 2007 Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Girls and Women are just as filled with gender-studies ideology masquerading as science, but at least they don’t seem to regard traditional femininity as toxic.

Psychology has always had trouble distinguishing idées fixes from science—and there’s a good case that at least aspects of the field has been based on fraud back to Freud. A lot of the latest psychological research also has been exposed by the replication crisis as lacking replication and possibly being irreproducible nonsense. Given this state of affairs, it’s no wonder that such an unscientific document would be produced by what essentially has become a guild of therapists, rather than a learned society of scientists. The idea that one sex’s traditional behavior is destructive to that species is absurd on the face of it, prima facie contradicts evolutionary biology, and ignores the powerful, cutting-edge field of gene-culture coevolution. If masculinity really were toxic, homo sapiens would have gone extinct a long time back.

The Guidelines are toxic nonsense, gelding in the guise of therapy, and they’re going to ruin clinical psychology. They also can’t be ignored. Over the past several decades, the APA has gained control over much of Psychology education, including its curriculum, course offerings, and course content. The Guidelines are going to govern the education, training, and accreditation of psychologists—de facto requirements for instruction in every Clinical and Counseling Psychology program accredited by the APA, if not part of the accreditation criteria prior to that. The Guidelines will also govern practica, field placement, and related service/experiential education options. No student will be allowed to become a psychologist who doesn’t affirm these straightjacketing Guidelines.

I like to think the problem will correct itself in the long run. You can’t do proper therapy or scientific research if you’re bound to affirm theory grounded in emotion rather than reason, and at some point Americans will stop wanting to pay for nonsense that doesn’t work or is harmful. More psychologists may try to exit the APA—a fair number have already voted with their feet, and left for organizations that still value scientific rigor and academic freedom, the Association for Psychological Science and the Cognitive Science Society. At some point, the APA may lose its stranglehold on American psychological education.

In the meantime, these Guidelines are deepening psychologists’ increasing disservice to ‘traditionally masculine’ men—men who could benefit from therapy that isn’t founded on hatred of them. I’ve listened to military veterans—a survivor of the Bataan Death March, men who breached the Siegfried Line, a soldier who was in the first squad of Patton’s infantry to liberate a Nazi death camp. They have contempt for most psychologists, who seem to think that wanting to be a soldier is itself a form of mental illness. One Vietnam vet put it well: “They’re all idiots. All they do is lay their trip on you and expect you to get better.”

Psychiatrists and psychologists can do real good—for ‘traditional’ men as much as anyone else. But the new Guidelines mean that the next generation of psychologists will be educated to commit malpractice. This is a disaster for psychologists—the new Guidelines have already provoked a Title IX complaint—and for all the Americans who could benefit from proper psychology, founded on science rather than ideological hatred.

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