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  • Writer's pictureRyon McDermott

Unpacking Print Media Reactions to APA's Practice Guidelines for Men & Boys

In 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) published the Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Men and Boys based on research compiled by the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities (Division 51 of the APA).

These guidelines were intended for a professional audience to guide research, practice, and training; however, in the months following their release, they became a focus of media debate in the United States. Dr. Ryon McDermott, a Professor of Clinical and Counseling Psychology at the University of South Alabama, led a team of researchers attempting to understand how the guidelines were presented to the public. We sat down with Dr. McDermott to discuss his recent publication in the Psychology of Men & Masculinities.

Full Citation:

McDermott, R. C., Nguyen, A. K., Smiler, A. P., Brasil, K. M., Smith, T. A., Barinas, J., Mims, C. E., Dudley, A. I., Davis, A., & Lindsey, D. R. (2023). Print media and the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men: A directed content analysis. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication.

What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?

We, the Culture and Individual Differences (CID) team at the University of South Alabama, wanted to understand how the guidelines were presented to the public via print media. Specifically, because the guidelines reflect the foundations of the psychology of men and masculinities, we thought that understanding media discussing the guidelines may illuminate how the discipline was presented to the public.

What were the main conclusions of your article?

Our team analyzed 77 print media pieces mentioning the guidelines in the months immediately following their release. We developed a list of 12 content domains: social constructionism (including counter perspectives of essentialism and biological bases of behavior), feminism (including related concepts of misogyny, misandry, and equality), traditional masculinity (including concepts of toxic and positive masculinity), research, and therapy. Articles supporting the guidelines generally mentioned and supported core perspectives such as social constructionism, feminism, and the existence of traditional masculinity. By contrast, articles opposing the guidelines generally rejected these perspectives in favor of gender essentialism (i.e., the idea that masculinity is something biological, biblical, or otherwise innate). The overall presentation of the guidelines was mixed, with about 50% of pieces presenting them favorably. Whether one loves or hates the guidelines, they appeared to contribute to a national discussion about the nature and meaning of masculinity for men and boys in the United States.

What are the key implications of your article for research, policy, or practice?

We noted one area of agreement between the critics and supporters of the guidelines. Both sides agreed that men and boys are struggling in a variety of personal, psychological, and social domains. The main differences emerged in what individuals saw as the cause of those struggles. Thus, we are hopeful that this agreement means there could be some common ground that can be used to facilitate advocacy efforts or influence policies impacting boys and men. Indeed, this is one of the main goals of the guidelines, and it will likely take a coalition of supporters and skeptics to meet that goal.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

Our team is actively working on several projects stemming from this one. We are collecting data this Fall on how media portrayals of the guidelines influence men's decisions to seek psychological help. We are also interested in layperson reactions to professional terms that are commonly used in the guidelines and research within the psychology of men and masculinities.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

I am very interested in how our science and practice is perceived by the public, but this was the first time in my career where I had ventured out to actually study those perceptions. I was one of the core task force members that drafted the guidelines. Thus, I led the project but did not code any of the articles or influence the coding to reduce the possibility that my experiences could influence the results. I am forthright about this in the paper as well. Fortunately, I was able to team up with Dr. Andrew Smiler who is an expert on these kinds of research processes, and he and I came up with the idea for this study together. Indeed, if it were not for his encouragement and support, this study would never have gotten off the ground.

A portion of the Cultural and Individual Differences (CID) research team at the University of South Alabama.

Left to right: Kyle Brasil, M.S.; Ryon McDermott, Ph.D.,; Callie Mims, B.A.; Donnie Lindsey M.Ed. Click here for all CID members.

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