Book Reviews

Men in Therapy

Men in Therapy
David B. Wexler
W.W. Norton.

This book should be read by the psychotherapists for whom it is intended and also by anyone, male or female, who wants a better understanding of why men are the way we are.

David Wexler draws upon masses of research and his own experience as a father, husband and uncomprehending-of-women man to offer guidance to therapists looking for new ways to help their male clients.

If the book has a limitation it is that while brilliant in clarifying the male mind of the past two generations or so, it hardly speaks to current young men who, in my opinion, are unlike their fathers and grandfathers in that they have little difficulty expressing emotions, changing diapers or recognizing their feelings.

Those older men were brought up to not show emotion, to hold back tears and never admit to vulnerability or sensitivity. As a consequence, writes Wexler, when they are upset they don't even recognize the feelings of loss, sadness and depression, for example. Instead they experience anger.

A man's anger, arising from fear of abandonment by a woman, only serves to alienate the very person he loves. In the chapter on relationships Wexler offers guidance on how to deal with the underlying fears that such a man is not even aware of.

Several chapters have lists of Rules. In the section on 'Men Who Abuse Women' the author offers Nine Rules. The first is excellent (although modern men, despite or maybe because of being attuned to their feelings, seem largely to ignore it): "We are all 100% responsible for our own behavior."

But how can a misogynist wife-beating guy accept Rule Two: "Violence is not an acceptable solution to problems"? America is steeped in violence as a solution to problems. This was the rationale for the birth of the United States. It's what the white-hat cowboys used against the black hats. It's the excuse for invading Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan. It's the justification for the right to bear arms.

While the book ranges over a wide territory something about the author's justification of his credentials for writing the chapter "When Women Treat Men" made me uneasy. He admits "I am a little uncomfortable writing this chapter. I would feel presumptuous (as a white male) writing a chapter on the experiences African-American therapists face in treating white men . . . ." [Although there is a chapter on white males treating "Men of Color"]. He then goes on to proclaim ". . . . over the years I have supervised many female therapists, I have co-led groups with many female therapists, I have reviewed many articles on this subject by female therapists, I have been in therapy myself with female therapists, and I have a wife who is a female therapist."

The many other instances of self-disclosure by the author enable the (male) reader to identify with familiar themes, e.g., self-doubts about being a good father to one's son.

Wexler's broad experience in treating men individually and in groups infuses the text with a vast amount of enlightening explanation rendered memorable by his pithy labels (e.g. the "Broken Mirror" of Mummy not reflecting back to her son what the boy longs to see), Lists (e.g. "The Four Pillars of Intimacy") and references to books, movies and TV shows (particularly the Sopranos).

Each chapter is a stand-alone piece. Not surprising since the Depression chapter is largely taken from a previous book by Wexler and the first chapter appears to be a research paper complete with jerky reading because almost every sentence finishes with a reference.

Wexler warns of transference and counter-transference. But elements of many psychological approaches besides psychoanalysis are intertwined in the text. Such as attachment theory, cognitive dissonance, control and mastery, feminist theory, family systems, CBT, even Zen Buddhism.

I am so impressed with this book that I have prescribed it to several female clients who want to better understand the men in their lives.

You might also find my own book How To Avoid A Bad Relationship useful.