Men have hearts – believe it or not. Men’s hearts, like women’s, can get really badly hurt. Unlike women, men are not as adept in doing the work that heals a heart.
I wouldn’t be able to say stuff like that when I was in my teens and twenties, given to acting all smooth as Swiss chocolate.
I think it’s got to do with growing up. Or it may be because I have finally realised and accepted that everyone needs help, sometime. Which is the same thing, it is.
Actually, to think you can do it all on your own is actually immature. It is also one of the key problems some masculinities are dangerous for your health, and likely to lead to early death – of yourself or those you claim to love.
I’ve come to know that most African men can use psychotherapy – or whatever you call processes of healing that focus on the heart, soul, emotional and mental pain – to work through their internal anguish and melancholy. Same is true for African women, of course. The difference is that if therapy is availed, women more than men are more likely to take it up. The prevalent sentiment among black men is that therapy is for moegoes. Or mama’s babies, cheese boys, those who are not made of steel, sissies, and softies. It’s all psychobabble anyway, they say.
I am afraid it isn’t. Emotional distress is as real as a harde skop in the gut.
You may be surprised to know that even though I have a PhD in Psychology, I have always been sceptical about psychotherapy. Like most critical psychologists I regarded therapy as bourgeoise self-indulgence. We need to change society, not to fuss over our sexual dreams in psychoanalysis.
But here is the thing. We all do need parents who love us and can take care of our needs. We need fathers alongside our mothers to be there for us till we can take care of ourselves. Our taxes must assure us that we will get free quality education so that every child can optimally contribute to society and the world with her and his talents and strength while earning a living. As a society we must be assured of an adequate national health system, transport system, social security for the aged. Parks, public art spaces, playgrounds, these too we need to make livable neighbourhoods, villages, suburbs, towns, townships, and cities. Absolutely, we need all that to take care of our bodies and minds and social needs. But how can we not need healing when Africa is so obviously, acutely, and continuously traumatised?
How can we not need to work through the hidden (and not so well-hidden) internal, psychic, emotional pains when each day there is yet another incredible traumatic event in our communities? Were they born anywhere like Canada and Denmark, any of the traumas millions of boys and girls in many African countries experience on a regular basis just to survive to adulthood would mean that their countries literally gets stopped to process it and deal with. Scores of counsellors, priests, social workers, psychiatrists, and clinicians would get sent out to help society to cope.
I don’t think I need to enumerate the spectacular events. They are all too common. If you add the diseases, the disease-related mortality, murders, rapes, transport injuries, unemployment, thwarted aspirations, precarious lives, hunger, abandonment by fathers, children having to raise themselves, how are we expected to flourish? How are we expected to compete, to create, to fly? And yet we do it over and again. But that is not cause to assume that it’s a normal life.
And so when Shahieda Jansen decided to approach me to supervise her doctoral work on group psychotherapy with men, I did not hesitate. She has gone way beyond this point, but here is a slightly tweaked abstract of a presentation she did last month at the 2013 South African Congress of Psychology on a very preliminary analysis of a pilot interview on the work.
Emotional experiences of participants in an all-male group psychotherapy: Reflections on a pilot interview
Shahieda Jansen & Kopano Ratele
There is growing South African evidence of the emotional misery that males inflict on others and themselves. Renewed focus on the subjective distress of males reveals rates of depression that may surpass that reported among females, challenging the prevailing tendency of locating emotional ill-health in women. This presentation draws from a qualitative study, which explored the subjective therapeutic experiences of participants of gender homogenous group psychotherapy. The central aim of the study is to uncover male emotional responses in a psychotherapeutic group setting. Data-collection methods include in-depth individual and focus group interviews. The sample consists of purposively selected males who had been in brief and long-term all-male psychotherapy groups with the first author in a student centre at a local university and in a private practice setting. The sampling strategy ensured maximum variation on the basis of site, age, race, geographical location, urban and rural and socio economic status. Data was analysed using grounded theory method-driven thematic analysis. The presentation reflects on the preliminary results of the pilot interview of a participant of the all-male group psychotherapy. It is argued that effective psychosocial change work with men demands an explicit male-gender framework and that all-male group psychotherapy provides a space for gender sensitive and gender consistent therapeutic change work. It is hoped that the findings of this study increase understanding of men’s self-reflection, engagement with therapeutic culture and other issues and experiences that are typically expected to emerge during therapeutic encounters.
The work Shahieda has been doing with younger and older men has been incredible. Our on-going discussions on how to do more and get more men doing the desperately needed emotional work are mind-blowing.
No, then, I don’t feel men making time to deal with their emotional traumas is for bourgeoise, mamas’ babies: recognise, admit, and work through It; or it will continue to sneak up on you and mess up your life.