Men in groups
by Steven Krugman, Ph.D., CGP

Men's groups have become increasingly popular over the past decade as men from all walks of life have begun to recognize their need to connect with other men.  Last year'sPromise Keepers gathering, and before it The Million Man March, demonstrate that many American men feel the need to address personal concerns about being a husband or a father, or feeling isolated or too angry, in a larger social context.  In communities around the country men have also formed groups at churches, synagogues, and mosques; they have gone to men's weekend retreats with Robert Bly and others; they have joined men's therapy groups.   This impulse to come together with other men reflects important changes in men's relationship to themselves and to other men.

The growing interest in men's groups of all kinds is a product of the significant social and economic changes our culture has undergone during the past generation.  The women's movement has changed social expectations of men's and women's roles.  Men are challenged by a generation of women seeking more egalitarian relationships at home and in the marketplace.  Men are being asked, and are asking themselves, to be more flexible, more communicative, and more caretaking than ever before.  Some of these roles carry with them contradictory demands, e.g., roles which may require aggressiveness in one situation and nurturance in another.  At the same time, many more boys are growing up as children of divorce.   Raised by single mothers, these boys may have little or no intimate contact with an adult man.  In order to adapt to the increasingly complex contemporary demands men need help and support from one another to expand their images of themselves and learn and practice new skills.  Men's groups can provide an important resource for men interested in self development.

Independent men's groups, like those formed around churches or which have come together on an ad hoc basis, offer their members a sense of belonging and an opportunity to share their life experiences and struggles with other men like themselves.  The stresses of being a breadwinner, the demands and frustrations of intimacy, the trials and tribulations of being a father and a son, are commonly discussed issues.  Many of these groups incorporate contemporary critiques of the male role.  They support men's wishes to let go of the "strong, silent and self-reliant" stereotypes that many strive to live up to.  By encouraging mutual self-disclosure these groups often provide men with a sense of connection and a feeling that they can reveal themselves and be accepted as a man, by other men.  These groups are usually initiated by an individual man or small group of men seeking to create an ongoing group.  Like the therapy groups described below, these groups are usually limited in size, meet regularly, but may or may not have a formal leader.

Men's psychotherapy groups offer an additional dimension to those above.  These groups are organized and led by a trained group psychotherapist interested in men's issues.  Groups are often organized around needs for social and emotional support, or around particular issues such as fathering, being gay or trauma.  The therapist brings together a group of 6 to 8 men seeking to explore in depth their experiences of being men.  The groups usually encounter familiar male concerns about trusting other men, revealing the self, and anxiety over competition and shaming.  As the group develops, the therapist supports the members' exploration of their conflicts about dependingon one another (and other people), their need to grieve lost relationships with fathers, friends, and lovers, and their hopes and fears about measuringup to their own and other people's standards of what kind of man they are to be.  More specialized groups bring together men who share a common experience, such as being traumatized.  In these groups there is often an enhanced sense of mutual identification and a feeling of safety and familiarity.   This may lead to a deeper examination of the common issues.