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Alternative, Scientifically-Literate Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men

The American Psychological Association’s “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” have received much criticism from journalists and professional psychologists. Much of the opposition has centered on the guideline’s attack on “traditional masculinity” and the privileging of activism over evidence-based treatment. One of the few redeeming features of the guidelines is their acknowledgement that men face unique physical, psychological, educational, and social challenges and are less likely to seek psychological treatment to meet those challenges. But the guidelines fail in their targeted goal of preparing therapists to help the men under their care.  

Throughout the entirety of the APA’s guidelines, discussion of evolutionary influences on men’s psychological development is either unintentionally neglected or willfully avoided (“testosterone” appears nowhere in the document and, out of more than 400 citations, only four mention either hormones or anything brain- or neuro-related). Whatever the reason, the fact that a sharp distinction is made between “sex” as biology and “gender” as “psychological, social, and cultural” experience suggests that the authors of the guidelines subscribe to the fallacy of mind-body dualism. This conclusion is further supported by the following advice to practitioners, contained in the very first guideline: “strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.”

Denying that biology, from genes to hormones to neurotransmitters, plays a role in shaping men’s masculine self-expression is, to say the least, a scientifically untenable position. In the current article, I offer seven alternative, evolution-informed guidelines for therapists treating boys and men—ones that I hope are less ideologically-driven than the APA’s and that take seriously the inextricable link between the mind and the body and the fact that men and women exhibit psychological differences for evolutionary reasons. (Note that the following guidelines lay out a general, high-level approach for therapists with male patients. Specific psychotherapeutic interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can be incorporated as sub-components of treatment, but they are not presently discussed.)

The Guidelines

Guideline 1: Therapists should assist patients in developing a passion that they can excel in.

Men are uniquely motivated to broadcast their strength, skills,1 and talents.2 This is because the evolutionary pressures of sexual selection favored men who could outcompete their rivals and attract members of the opposite sex. Ancestrally, women’s primary reproductive asset was their fertility, which, for the most part, was evaluated via physical cues such as health and attractiveness.3 Ancestral men, unlike ancestral women, often failed to reproduce because they lacked talent and skill. Men are not necessarily more talented than women, but their passion to refine and develop their talents into observable skills is perhaps an inheritance from their passionate forefathers. And such passions are reflected in men’s propensity to work longer hours and obsessively dedicate themselves to perfecting their craft.

Therapists should acknowledge the importance of such passions and encourage their male patients to heed their motivational calls. Failure to do so may results in patients developing a sense of ennui or low or unstable self-esteem. Passions can vary widely and need not conform to stereotypical gender roles (e.g., wrestling, ballet, engineering, and the creative arts are all equally viable candidate passions). Most importantly, however, patients should be encouraged to dedicate themselves to enhancing their skills so as to develop a sense of pride in their work and achievement.

Guideline 2: Therapists should encourage patients to embed themselves in one or more all-male coalitions.

Given the primacy of all-male coalitions and the socialization of males within them in our ancestral past, their importance to men’s mental health should be taken seriously. As childhood was winding down and boys and girls were slowly growing into their roles as men and women, they had to eke out a place for themselves in coalitions of other members of their sex. It is in these coalitions that maturing individuals learned how to perform the tasks and responsibilities appropriate to their sex-typical roles within ancestral societies. Women’s primary role was tending to the home and gathering edible and inedible material resources nearby. Men’s primary role was venturing far off into the savanna, jungle, or tundra so as to hunt large or medium-sized game.4 Whereas women’s roles could be accomplished alone or in a small group of two or three relatives or friends, men’s roles required the coordination of a much larger collective.5 A large animal such as a woolly mammoth could not be killed by a lonesome hunter, no matter how good a spear thrower he may have been. Success in an ancestral male coalition required boys and men to develop a skill or set of skills (e.g., spear throwing, animal tracking) and the ability to coordinate their abilities in a division of labor within the coalition. With the added influence of intertribal warfare, it becomes clear that men evolved within the context of other men, and learning how to successfully cooperate and compete with other men was necessary for survival and, upon sexual maturation, reproduction.

This is not to exclude the desirability or utility of cross-sex friendships. Indeed, men and women can obtain valuable information about members of the opposite sex from their opposite sex friends—information that can be useful in mating contexts (e.g., who has a crush on whom, what can I do to win his or her heart, etc.) But men might come to feel incomplete or excluded if they do not belong to a relatively large coalition of other men, and therapists should take note of this when treating men suffering from anxiety or depression. As with Guideline 1, male coalitions need not conform to traditional gender norms; a man can find just as much meaning and well-being within a coalition of basketball buddies as within a coalition of guys who are into romantic comedies.

Guideline 3: Therapists should encourage men to find constructive means of hierarchical advancement within male coalitions or outside of them.

Social status striving and hierarchical advancement are necessary motivations that underlie goal-setting and achievement for men. This is because reproductive success for ancestral men required overcoming obstacles set by other men. And the evidence for this is in our DNA. The Y chromosome, which is passed down only from father to son, is a lot less genetically varied than mitochondrial DNA, which only mothers can pass down (though a recent discovery presents a rare exception to this rule). What this means is that a majority of men in our ancestral past did not reproduce and only the ambitious few who did became our ancestors. Furthermore, men exhibit distinct hormonal and behavioral signatures in response to competitive social cues—signatures that bear the marks of biological adaptation. If you are a modern man, chances are good that you inherited your forefathers’ will to climb the social status hierarchy. If you or those around you stunt your ascent, you can expect to feel stress and disappointment. If you are a modern man who encounters social or professional setbacks, feeling stressed and disappointed does not mean that there is something wrong with you; on the contrary, it means that your brain and body are working exactly as they were designed to by evolution.6   

What this means for therapists is twofold: (1) Therapists should not be averse to encouraging their socially defeated male patients to show some courage and get back in the ring. Of course, therapists should take precautions that their patients do not needlessly hurt themselves or others (ancestral and even some modern battles over social status in a male hierarchy were and often are violent). But helping patients to figure out which battles are worth fighting and which risks are worth taking is the mark of an effective therapist. (2) Because all people, whether men or women, have unique skills and talents, therapists should assist their patients in finding the competitive arena that is right for them, be it sports, finance, music, or video games.

Guideline 4: Because men’s sense of well-being is inextricably tied to their sense of sexual fulfillment, therapists should pay particular attention to their patients’ sexual lives.

Obviously, sexual and romantic fulfillment is important for men and women alike. But men might be reluctant to discuss their sexual desires with a therapist—particularly because their desires often have little to do with emotional attachment or commitment. The reason for this is that one of the most common biological characteristics of a male—and not just a human male—is reduced investment in childcare relative to the female. If given the opportunity, men could have exponentially more offspring than women. Stemming from this inequality in potential reproductive output, men evolved a more pressing sex-drive and a less discerning sexual appetite.

Even after the advent of the sexual revolution, it is often assumed that healthy sexuality involves romance and emotional intimacy. Although most men are capable of romance and emotional intimacy, they are also far more adept than women at severing their emotional selves from the sexual act.7 And such a cleavage should not automatically be viewed by society—and especially not by therapists—as pathological. As long as men are not coercive and are honest with themselves and their partners about their intentions, there is nothing wrong with sex as an end in itself.

Men differ. Some are more monogamy-oriented, others more promiscuity-oriented. Therapists should avoid passing judgments on their patients’ reproductive strategies. Instead, therapists should assist their patients in figuring out what strategy is right for them and help them to constructively implement that strategy. Therapists should also be prepared to encourage their patients to modify their strategy over time such as setting appropriate expectations with respect to a prospective partner’s mate value, and transitioning from a mating motivation to a parenting motivation, and so on.

Guideline 5: Therapists should assist men in communicating their wishes, desires, and concerns within the context of a sexual or romantic relationship.

Because they are generally more sexually driven, men are more likely to accept casual sex offers, are more likely to desire sex earlier in a relationship,8 and are the overwhelmingly majority of the consumers of pornography9 and commercial sex work. This difference in sex-drive is likewise reflected in different relationship expectations. Men should be encouraged to not be judgmental of their own desires (so long as they are consensual) and be given assistance in honestly and respectfully communicating their desires to their partners. Couple’s therapy might be especially helpful in this endeavor.

Guideline 6: Therapists can help fathers to develop healthy and happy relationships with their children based on investment and support.

Despite the fact that men do not invest in childcare to the same extent as women, humans are one of the few mammalian species where fatherhood is important. In addition to selecting strong, resourceful, and dominant men to mate with, ancestral women valued men who had the capacity and willingness to invest in their offspring.10, 11 And because ancestral men who were good fathers went on to have more surviving and reproductively successful offspring, their modern male descendants have what it takes to be good fathers, in turn. Although the provision of resources (and, today, the provision of economic resources) is an important contribution on the part of fathers, it need not be the only one. Fathers can also be protectors, teachers, and sources of social support. 

Helping men to see themselves as invaluable to their children’s lives, whether financially, pedagogically, socially, or as role models, can give men a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Therapists can also help family members appreciate their unique roles and contributions within the family unit, which can lead to a healthy and reciprocal division of household labor. Of course, no two families are alike, and therapists should be sensitive to not impose their own personal or ideological beliefs about gender roles onto their patients and their families. Moreover, not every man wants to become a father, and therapists should not pathologize their male patients who share this with them.

Guideline 7: Therapists should help men to become socially engaged, whether politically, philanthropically, or culturally.

Men derive a sense of purpose from intergroup competition, be it in the realm of sports or politics. This is because men are, on average, more groupish than women when their group is under threat. Our male ancestors evolved in an environment marked by intertribal warfare. As a result, men possess multiple psychological adaptations that cause them to be both defensive of their ingroup and offensive toward enemy outgroups. Men—especially physically strong men—are generally more militaristic than women. Although these instincts can veer into ethnocentrism and xenophobia, they can also be directed toward more prosocial ends. Starting wars is one way in which men can pursue their groupish interests. Volunteering in the community (e.g., building homes for the poor) or contributing to a worthwhile cause (e.g., waging a “war” on cancer or drunk driving) are alternate routes.

Identification with an overarching collective or cause is often obstructed if men’s sense of belongingness cannot be expressed in the context of like-minded others, whether men or women. In our world of increasing digital connectedness, there is growing social isolation. In the United States, drug overdose deaths among men are at record levels and, despite a worldwide decline in suicide, American men are taking their lives at much higher numbers now than two decades ago.12 Mental health practitioners are vital in helping to address this crisis, but they cannot do so if they do not understand the male mind. They can start by realizing that a sense of meaning, one that can best be achieved within a group of one’s own, might offer salvation to millions of men who are currently in the pits of despair. Although virtual communities certainly have a role to play, therapists should encourage their male patients to form connections with others in the real world and should not judge their patients with respect to the political, social, or cultural content motivating those connections.

Conclusion

The work of addressing men’s psychological health cannot sidestep masculinity’s ancient roots. More generally, we cannot allow transitory political commitments to obscure our understanding of human nature and how best to address its ailments. The authors of the APA guidelines failed to understand men’s evolved nature and, furthermore, sought to pathologize it. I hope that the guidelines presented here offer a more promising alternative.

 

Gregory Gorelik has a PhD in Evolutionary Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryGorelik.

References and Notes:

Lee, A. J., Jones, B. C., & DeBruine, L. M. (2019). Investigating the association between mating-relevant self-concepts and mate preferences through a data-driven analysis of online personal descriptions. Evolution and Human Behavior.

2 Madison, G., Holmquist, J., & Vestin, M. (2018). Musical improvisation skill in a prospective partner is associated with mate value and preferences, consistent with sexual selection and parental investment theory: implications for the origin of music. Evolution and Human Behavior39(1), 120-129.

3 Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (2019). Mate preferences and their behavioral manifestations. Annual review of psychology70, 77-110.

Dennis, C., Brakus, J. J., Ferrer, G. G., McIntyre, C., Alamanos, E., & King, T. (2018). A cross-national study of evolutionary origins of gender shopping styles: she gatherer, he hunter?. Journal of International Marketing26(4), 38-53.

Geary, D. C., Byrd-Craven, J., Hoard, M. K., Vigil, J., & Numtee, C. (2003). Evolution and development of boys’ social behavior. Developmental Review23(4), 444-470.

A note on mental health and evolution: A Darwinian approach to medicine sets mental health, and disorders of mental health, on a foundation of species-typical functioning. In other words, a mental disorder occurs when an evolved psychological mechanism responsible for the regulation of one or another adaptive behaviors (e.g., sleeping, socializing, mating, parenting, etc.) malfunctions in a way that would have imperiled an ancestral individual’s survival or reproduction. At the same time, a seemingly uncomfortable or even painful feeling or mood (e.g., a depressive symptom) might be experienced because it is an adaptive response to a species-typical setback, not because it is a sign of mental disorder. There are caveats, however. Otherwise adaptive mechanisms that would have been functional in an ancestral environment might not be optimally designed for a modern, post-industrial environment. Moreover, individuals may value their subjective well-being more than their reproductive well-being. But even in such instances, being evolutionarily informed may equip patients and therapists with the tools to overcome one or another ancestral burden. For review, see link and Nesse, R. M. (2005). Twelve crucial points about emotions, evolution and mental disorders. Psychology Review11(4), 12-14.

Townsend, J. M., & Wasserman, T. H. (2011). Sexual hookups among college students: Sex differences in emotional reactions. Archives of Sexual Behavior40(6), 1173-1181

8 Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: an evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological review100(2), 204.

Emmers-Sommer, T., Hertlein, K., & Kennedy, A. (2013). Pornography use and attitudes: An examination of relational and sexual openness variables between and within gender. Marriage & Family Review49(4), 349-365.

10 Winking, J., & Koster, J. (2015). The Fitness Effects of Men’s Family Investments. Human Nature26(3), 292-312.

11 Mattison, S. M., Scelza, B., & Blumenfield, T. (2014). Paternal investment and the positive effects of fathers among the matrilineal Mosuo of Southwest China. American anthropologist116(3), 591-610.

12 Hedegaard, H., Curtin, S. C., & Warner, M. (2018). Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2017. NCHS data brief, (330).

39 Comments

  1. michael farr says

    well said
    i agree , the APA guidelines were so silly and political, you have clarified the topic nicely.

  2. Jezza says

    Guideline 8 ; Encourage men to avoid toxic women. Be selective about who you allow to select you. Is she honest? Does she fall short even though she tries to be? Is her strategy in life to use you to get what she wants? Is she likely to turn around one day and say “It’s over,” and prevent you seeing the children you love? How secure is your tenure? Take a close look at her mother. That’s her in twenty years’ time. Does SHE radiate the things you find attractive? Is the daughter chaste? You can be sure that for every straying man there is a straying woman, and it will be your fault for not satisfying her and his fault for taking advantage of a vulnerable girl. Sad but true – a rolling woman gathers no opprobrium. This is the dispassionate appraisal of an old man. My days of howling at the moon are long gone and the only horny thing about me now is my toenails. I’m free and I see.

    • Is the daughter chaste? Yikes. That’s some toxic monogamy right there. Possessiveness is such an unflattering quality.

      • @Mark
        I dare you to say that to a Muslim? When’s the last time you fought against child rape? Surely FGM, you must be arguing all the time ,about little girls being stuffed up with thorns without anaesthetic?

        No ?

        Instead you want to beat up on the idea that men and women were faithful and committed to each other, and we did our best to choose the best spouse we could, within a western society of choice?

        I think you are Mark the Marxist, and your comment is insulting and disgusting to decent women.

        First the Marxists come for the family ..

    • @ Jazza
      I needed to respond, at a Christian Ladies College (That’s high school in Australia) we were taught to watch how your boyfriend treated his mother ,because this would be the way he would treat you when you were older and not as pretty.

      I have always remembered that in my marriage! We were also taught not to get into a car with a young man unless he opened the car door, we were to stand next to the car until he figured it out ,or not.

      I feel sorry for your toenails, having had a food education about husband choosing ect. I’m still married, and also old, but it’s more like, what once happened twice a night, now happens twice a week?

      I feel sorry for your experience. In Australia a large proportion of kids were educated by religious schools, the lefties are killing that of (this includes the lnp)

      Kids need real moral guidance, not lefty nonsense, I feel sorry you’ve been burdened by slags / lefties , I will say a prayer for you.

  3. Gordon Smith says

    Thank you Gregory. As someone involved in facilitating and participating in Men’s groups for twenty years this affirms the work we do inside them.

  4. D.B. Cooper says

    Erudite commentary, Dr. Gorelik. It’s nice to see a cogent treatment of the issue that isn’t preoccupied with the prevailing zeitgeist of progressive politics. When viewed against the APA’s guidelines, it becomes difficult to describe the APA’s misanthropic approach as anything but a tortured refutation of biological inputs.

    You characterize this denial of biology as a “scientifically untenable position,” and while it is certainly that, I would argue that there is an ethical component that needs to be considered as well. It would seem to be a dereliction of one’s professional duties to develop recommended guidelines for specific professional behavior, endeavor, or conduct for psychologists that don’t take or properly take into account the biological inputs that shape men’s masculine self-expression. I grant you, these are recommendations, not mandatory standards; but this is a distinction without a difference for the patient whose psychologist incorporates the APA guidelines. To the guy who’s suffering under the weight of this modern-day iridology, I doubt he would claim there’s an appreciable difference between the two.

    Maybe I’m overstating the problem, but it’s difficult to see how there isn’t a ethical concern about recommending treatment guidelines that are this far removed from the science, or as you put it guidelines informed by a scientifically untenable position. From where I’m sitting, this seems unconscionable, but maybe – or perhaps hopefully – I’m missing something here.

  5. Bubblecar says

    Uh-oh, “just so” stories in the very second line:

    “This is because the evolutionary pressures of sexual selection favored men who could outcompete their rivals and attract members of the opposite sex.”

    And it doesn’t get any better:

    “Women’s primary role was tending to the home”

    Ah, the ancestral 1950s.

    I think we can assume that psychology still has a long way to go before it leaves the realm of ideologically comforting make-believe.

    • Sebastian Winkler says

      The author is referring well established conclusions from the study of anthropogenesis.
      If you believe them to be faulty, you are free to do your own research. You will most likely find an inspiration in the early works of Margaret Mead — but don’t omit her stance later in life.

    • “Just so story”. How very Gould and Lewontin of you. Evolutionary scientists have long come to terms with the historical nature of scientific explanations.

  6. michael farr says

    Hi Bubblecar
    It seems that you have the opinion that humans are the special species. The species somehow free from biological and evolutionary pressures. May i refer you to the work of Robert Sapolsky. He provides a wonderful resource. A 25 lecture series on Human Behavioural Biology as presented to first year students at Stanford University. The lectures can be found here. Enjoy.

    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL150326949691B199

    • Bubblecar says

      On the contrary, I don’t think humans are free from evolutionary selection pressures at all, and these would have been particularly strong early in the evolution of our species.

      It’s just that modern humans, when speculating on such matters, tend to choose an evolutionary “story” that best fits their own preferred models of human nature.

      To what extent and in what ways sexual selection played a role in early human evolution, we can but guess.

      But the alarm bells in this instance really ring when we’re told “Women’s primary role was tending to the home”, presumably long before humans actually lived in “homes”, which is quite a recent development in evolutionary terms (unless you think the Flintstones is a documentary).

      Evolutionary pressures can be powerful but they’re not actually prescient.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Bubblecar

        You’re aware that a home is different from a house? People have always lived in places, I’m pretty sure.

        And my “guess” is that sexual selection has played and continues to play a huge role in human evolution as it has done for every sexually reproducing species in which mate selection occurs. Also we aren’t talking about “early” human evolution. Almost the entire history of the human species has been spent in hunter-gatherer communities. The advent of agrarian societies is a brand new development on an evolutionary time scale.

      • Jack Flanagan says

        What’s another model for prehistoric humans? Evolution psychology isn’t destiny, as this author does go someway to exploring.

      • Constantin says

        @Bubblecar – I really find no enjoyment in criticizing your comment as I have found over time and countless other contributions that you are smart and insightful. The sad reality is that, no matter how refined and practiced our intellect, all of us fall pray to influences and brainwashing and have a hard time finding the lacunae in our positions or reasoning. The sentence “Women’s primary role was tending to the home.” is obviously and one may add blindingly true. And one does not have to check in with the Flintstones to verify it. Take for example the Inuit families and their traditional division of labor and responsibility. Even there, you will find women elders who are very much respected and politically powerful, but the traditional division of responsibilities was a necessity and not merely a social construct. In our own history, there were plenty of powerful queens, but also, prior to 1950, that sentence described most closely the natural division of responsibilities. Ask yourself why and how you have been conditioned to react negatively to a true statement and why a true statement should ring the alarm bells. In a normal universe the truth should never be met with such hostility. That being said, I want to make clear that we all have our blind spots and that I have been reasonably taken to task for them in the past. Cheers!

  7. Some common sense here, but maybe too much of the ‘Tarzan Theory’, which views us as exiles from the Stone Age jungle, displaced into industrial modernity. Dr. Gorelik describes himself as an ‘Unabashed Darwinist’, and indeed evolution and neurology are factors, but not destiny. Versatility, flexibility, creativity, individuality, and transcendence are important human characteristics too. In fairness, Note 6 is more nuanced in that regard.

  8. Mr Kipling says

    Guideline 8: Therapists should encourage men to trust themselves when all men doubt them, but make allowance for their doubting too.

  9. Constantin says

    I liked most of the advice in this article but found something slightly disturbing in Guideline #4. The idea is that man naturally inclined towards a promiscuous reproductive strategy should be encouraged to do so. This sounded to me a bit extreme. I think that the author got carried away by the excitement and desire to rebut the horrible APA guideline and went a bit too far in an effort to sustain male nature. The reality, however, is that not everything that might be psychologically helpful is also socially helpful and I cannot see how or why a trained psychologist would encourage a father to cheat and threaten in this way the stability of his home and the future of his children. There are instances where social rules must take some sort of precedent over natural impulses, but without falling off the cliff in the opposite direction and turn the psychotherapy session into a brainwashing exercise. I wish the article would have been free of objectionable material and thus pose a serious counterbalance to the crazy APA social engineering project. I fear that it failed and not by much – as far as I can tell – and that’s too bad. 🙁

    • Rupert R. Mc"Rupert says

      I sort of agree – when someone is serially shagging and leaving a trail of emotional wreckage behind them, some sort of judgement is called for. Therapists can do this in a way that calls attention to consequences, without overtly moralizing I think.

    • That’s not the reading I had. I thought he said go for it if it makes you happy and you are honest with yourself and your partners, but be sensitive to your partners needs and transition to behavior appropriate to fatherhood when applicable.

  10. Jean-Pierre Demers says

    I’m so grateful to Dr. Gorelik for that essay. I wouldn’t advise uttering such opinions where I live in Feministan (Quebec province of Eastern Canada). He would be tar-and-feathered and driven out of the country instantly.

  11. F. J. JJ says

    For point 2 – get them to read “To build a fire” by Jack London (I think???). How going it alone can lead to disaster, and a very masculine story.

  12. R Henry says

    ” men face unique physical, psychological, educational, and social challenges”

    Uhm, if all men face these challenges, they are not “unique.” They are only exclusive of of women. From what I observe, the entire purpose of Feminism it so erase this dissimilarity, which helps neither group, instead hinders both.

  13. Brandon says

    Agreed on some of the details of guideline 4. However, I do see why it could make sense from a practitioner’s point of view. I believe that the near universal monogamy norm developed due to multiple types of evolutionary pressure:

    (1) Because of the large brain capacity of humans and the much longer developmental period before offspring can survive independently, there was pressure on an individual scale for fathers to put their resources into less offspring, working with a single mother. It was a viable strategy that often worked well so individuals that used this strategy (at least at some point in their life) were more likely to pass on offspring.
    (2) On a population level, populations with genes that lead to more monogamous behavior have less violent conflict between men in that population. When the most desirable men in a population spend their time mating with multiple women, it creates an environment where men then need to not just compete to have the more desirable women, but need to compete in order to be able to mate and procreate with even one woman. This higher stakes pressure to compete can lead to more violent conflict as it does for other types of high stakes competitions, like for resources needed to survive.
    (3) On a population level, cultures themselves (though they may be connected to genes) also evolve. Individual cultural traits that are beneficial to the survival of the group themselves survive. A cultural pressure on individuals to be monogamous lead to the same reduction in violent conflict between males. As such, that cultural pressure to be monogamous has survived.

    From the practitioner’s point of view their primary professional obligation is the health of the individual sitting in front of them. Since most of the evolutionary pressure for monogamy is on a population level, there is still a good chance that some individuals a practitioner works with will have a weaker genetic predisposition towards monogamy. The practitioner may feel a much stronger professional and even moral duty towards the psychological health of the individual in front of them than they do towards the health of the population the individual lives in. They may even feel that this duty is stronger than a possible duty towards the emotional health of the many women the individual male sleeping around may “leave in his wake.”

    I am by far not an expert on this stuff, so I’m sure there are contestable or misspoken details in there, but that’s my take on it.

    • Constantin says

      @Brandon – I am no expert either. However “doin what comes naturly” is not necessarily “healthy”. “A weaker genetic predisposition towards monogamy” simply does not exist. Nobody is “genetically predisposed” towards monogamy. 🙂 I think, however, that you make a valid point that the “psychological health” of the individual receiving counseling has to be central to any exercise bound by the rule “First do no harm!”. I would add, though, that encouraging people to embrace social norms is more likely to be beneficial in the long run. Also, if you push your own argument to the extreme, what should be the advice for a psychopath serial killer?

  14. Lightning Rose says

    Sooo . . . take up woodworking, join the Masons, make sure you’re getting a bit in bed, take the kiddies to the zoo, and flip burgers for the Rotary Club picnic. How very revolutionary!

    (Works for me!) 😉

  15. ccscientist says

    On Guideline 1: I note that the hobbies men and women engage in differ substantially. I know men who rebuild classic cars, one who built an airplane, who build churches while on vacation, who have a whole-room model train set. Hunting also of course. Women tend more toward crafts as a hobby. These hobbies of men allow them to express their drive to build something, to create something. Women rarely understand but men should be encouraged.

  16. F. E. says

    Again and again I am flabberghasted by how different the world I live in must be from the one some other commentators seem to inhabit, where a healthy woman will (at the bottom of her heart) desire only a single man, where a vagina is a telltale sign of a manipulator and thief, where men clobber one another mercilessly to climb ever-present and onthologically fundamental dominance hierarchies, while women wait at the side lines, hoping to be blessed with the victors genetically superior spawn.

  17. R Henry says

    The APA has no value. It functions in a counter-reality mode. How else to justify its support transgenderism?

    There is no way to change sex or gender. We are conceived as male or female, and that condition is permanent. That APA supports an alternate understanding betrays its slavish and dogmatic support of counter-reality. As such, its recommendations are worthless.

  18. Tabularasa says

    @F.E.

    In what ways does your world differ so dramatically? (l take your descriptors to be overly dramatic for style?)

  19. M Peirce says

    While Gorelik is right to advocate that men and women have different psychological tendencies and needs, due to their different biologies, the differences he lists are far far away from being well-established.

    A scientifically safe route would have been to set out the clear biological differences between men and women that have clear connections with psychological differences. Notable are differences in mood-related biochemicals, such as testosterone, progesterone, the variety of hormonal fluctuations that happen to women but not men, and vice versa, and so on. Another notable difference concerns our structural anatomies, our erogenous zones, methods of stimulation, lung capacities, muscle development tendencies, and other similar anatomical differences that also make a clear psychological difference.

    But Gorelik did not go that route. Instead, he relies here on behavioral tendencies (tending to the home) and a hotly disputed area of psychology practitioners call “evolutionary psychology.” Problem: Even within psychology, a field in which a large portion continues to be questionable as full-fledged science (re: the replication crisis), the claims of evolutionary psychology are considered to have dubious standing.

    The problems are many. A very big one concerns the difficulty, indeed, the near impossibility of adequately ruling out the range of plausible confounding explanations, which tends to be quite large. Anyone dealing with the difficulty of separating nature from nurture is well aware of how hard it is to establish that a behavior is biologically, instead of culturally inherited. One reason why evolutionary psychology is not in good repute is that rare few studies go the distance on this score by surveying the potential cultural explanations, and hybrid cultural-biological explanations that, if true, would also explain the behavioral differences, without pinning the difference on biology, and methodically ruling these confounders out.

    Another problem is roughly one of interpretation. A tendency to take care of a home region, for example, may not be what was selected for, but instead a difference in proclivity to roam (due to different relative sizes of thighs and lungs, and their contributions to endurance). It may well be, accordingly, that being comparatively less stir-crazy was selected for, but that desires to maintain a home space was not, but instead, was a byproduct of being less prone to wanderlust. If so, then men may not be psychologically suited to focusing on caring for home spaces, but it would not follow that women are well-suited. The problem, to return to the point, is that one and the same human physical event can be described with a multitude of behavioral descriptions (less wanderlust vs. proclivity to tend to a home space). Which description among this multitude, if any, has been selected for by differential reproduction needs to be attended to, but is rarely even considered, let alone addressed by those working in evolutionary psychology. This article provides one many such examples of evolutionary psychology researchers trying an end run around such difficulties.

    To sum up, it is certainly true that men and women differ psychologically. But we are a long way away from establishing more exactly how, and Gorelik’s list does not contain scientific “findings” that are yet worthy of that title.

  20. Daniel says

    In explanation of Guideline 5, you wrote:
    “Men should be encouraged to not be judgmental of their own desires (so long as they are consensual)…”
    What if the men have identified a particular desire as a problem in their lives? This reduces the near-infinite complexities of a physical relationship to the simplistic is-it-consensual heuristic. Why is this a problem, you may ask. For the simple reason that sexuality is part of the whole individual, and a healthy sexuality is one in which desire is reined in until it complements an individual’s whole health.
    Dr. Gorelik, kindly spare me your advice on nutrition, in which I anticipate you recommending not being judgmental of my own desires (so long as they are consensual). The complicated, very real chemical and energy needs of my body are reduced to the heuristic but-my-wife-will-agree-to-eat-this-with-me. According to this sloppy thinking, a diet of KFC and ice cream is perfectly healthy.

    Dr. Gorelik, what if sexual activity has consequences? Not just interpersonal consequences, where it obviously exerts a noticeable effect on a relationship, but consequences for the individual himself (or herself). What if a man has noticed those consequences, and has recognized the pathological path they lead him down? In your guideline, you are encouraging him to blindly pursue those desires, so long as they are consensual.
    Last week Quillette published an article on a male feminist sex addict:
    https://quillette.com/2019/02/11/the-confessions-of-a-male-feminist-sex-addict/
    One thing that stood out was that his habit, which he found to be so destructive to himself, met your qualification of being consensual.

  21. Brilliant piece, and an indispensable corrective to the science-free and very PC guidelines from the APA. I’m a clinical psychologist with 35+ years in practice.

  22. VictorYelverton Haines II says

    ethics may have silly consequences in the treatment of bad bad boys according to guidelines developed by a group of women. But when ethics concerns instincts for vengeance and warfare, both men and women should be collectively concerned. Yet being conscious of a feeling recognized as the expression of an instinct once effective for survival may help in its conscious and collective suppression.

  23. Anne Bossy says

    Very interesting, and provides some insight into how I might understand my son.
    I’m not entirely convinced of the quality of the science behind evolutionary psychology. In university one of my courses was called evolutionary endocrinology, and was based on hard research.
    Finally, I don’t believe that evolution necessarily created the best possible version of ourselves. The needs that may have driven natural selection in the past are no longer present. Why shouldn’t we continue to evolve along different lines? Bret Weinstein says something like “If we don’t harness evolution, it will harness us” and Sam Harris believes that in order to improve ourselves, we must overcome the monkey. I tend to agree. I’m not proud of tribalism, for instance.

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