Men Benefit from Male-Focused Therapy for Childhood Abuse

Childhood maltreatment takes many forms, including physical neglect, emotional abuse, physical violence, and sexual abuse. Men and women who experienced childhood abuse may struggle with the negative consequences of the maltreatment for years, even decades. Victims of such abuses are at increased risk for a host of psychological problems, including aggression, anger, rage, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Male survivors are more likely than female survivors to contemplate suicide, while females are more likely to experience posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Additionally, women tend to seek and complete treatment more than men.

There are many reasons men are less likely to get help for the symptoms of abuse—fear of being perceived as weak, for instance, or in cases where they were abused by a male, fear of having their sexual orientation questioned. Thus, interventions designed to address the needs of male abuse survivors are desperately needed. In an effort to examine the effectiveness of one such program, Jennifer L. Hopton of the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa recently evaluated the symptom trajectories of 114 men in the Men & Healing program over the course of four years. This unique approach is based on three stages of healing, stabilization of symptoms, understanding and developing narrative related to the trauma, and reintegration. The method was created to address problems specific to men and masculinity. Hopton assessed the men at the beginning of the program and every 10 weeks throughout the duration of the study period.

The results revealed that a large number of the men—as many as 38%—had significant reductions in symptoms of depression and PTSD. This finding provides support for the approach used in Men & Healing, specifically one designed to integrate trauma processing, education, and skill acquisition. Hopton noted that when she compared the participants who completed the therapy to those who did not, completers had experienced lower rates of childhood abuse and had lower levels of adult substance use than noncompleters. Because of this, she believes it is important to conduct additional work aimed at how to better reach noncompleters. “Future research examining predictors of treatment engagement and success would help direct clinicians’ efforts to engage clients who are likely to have difficulty with the treatment,” Hopton said.

Hopton, J. L., Huta, V. (2012). Evaluation of an intervention designed for men who were abused in childhood and are experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029705

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    October 5th, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    For something that can take so long (four years in this case) its always going to be better to conduct a preliminary investigation into what might work for an individual and then take it from their.Putting everybody through the same set of treatments over such a long term only to have less than half the people even complete it doe snot seem very resourceful.

  • Tyler

    October 6th, 2012 at 6:11 AM

    I was so glad when I read this because it reaffirms that one style of treatment does not fit all. I feel like for too long people have felt like this worked for someone else, it should work for you too, and that is just not how it works. People are all different so why shouldn’t the therapy styles that are used to reach them and help them not be tailored to fit those unique needs too? I am not advocating that it always has to be extremely different but sometimes just making a few tweaks here and there can make a world of difference to someone’s recovery.

  • jimmy

    October 6th, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    My guess about this would be that men feel more comfortable and gain more from therapy when they feel it is geared toward their needs over that which tries to remain gender neutral.

    Men and women always process things very differently so therefore their needs when it comes to treatment and recovery are bound to be different as well. It only makes sense to gear therapy toward one gorup’s specific needs and tailr the program to handle the very things that they are feeling, not just something that is totally neutral and does not address their specific concerns.

  • Jennifer Hopton

    October 6th, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    Thanks so much for recognizing our findings, and for helping to disseminate this important information to your network.

    Also, just to clarify, the program is not four years in length; rather, the data was collected over a period of four years (to obtain our total of 114 participants!). The first phase of the program lasts for 10 weeks, and was associated with a reduction in symptoms in and of itself; the second stage can last up to a year.

    Jennifer Hopton

  • Darren

    October 7th, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    Sometimes it feels like there needs to be a movement for men like the feminist movement.There are many legal things skewed in favor of women and even when it comes to the social issue men are always taken to have it better than women,even when the truth is far from it.Even an abuse in history is seen as a mark not on the individual but the individual’s masculinity.

    This sort of focused program are likely to engage men and help them to come forward for treatment that they may not have thought of earlier.

  • Olivia

    October 8th, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    I wonder why it is that women seem to be more comfortable with seeking out and completing treatment than many men do. Is it a macho thing? Is it that men have been made to feel that seeking out help is something that makes them look or feel weak? If so, I would hope that in the coming years they would begin to see that this is not what makes them weak, but that can actually make them stronger.

  • T Edwards

    October 8th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    While it takes work to get over something that has haunted you for years,the journey becomes even better when the road to getting better is made with you in mind. I think men focused programs have been needed for quite some time now and the need is now being fulfilled so that’s great news.Very often men find it demoralizing to take part in programs that address past abuse but if focused for men then they need not be so ‘ashamed’ of it!

  • Theodore

    October 8th, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    There are so many layers to peel away when you are dealing with men and their very specific issues regarding abuse. Like we have know =n for some time now, men and women process most things in very different ways and therefore need very different methods of treatment to address that. Men are creatures who need to feel strong and being a victim is something that tears you down and makes you feel weak. I think that many of us have a hard time facing those kinds of fears and acknowledging that we are scared and that we need help.

  • kris

    October 9th, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    abuse is abuse, right? so why does the treatment for it have to be different simply because it is one sex or another? hurt is hurt and that is what has to be acknowledged

  • Lou

    October 31st, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    In answer to Olivia (and others), there are several reasons why men do not seek out treatment as readily as women do. Men are taught to, and are expected to, be strong, rugged individuals who can take care of themselves. Also, men are generally considered to be the aggressors and abusers, not the abused, and so there are few services for men. Erin Pizzey, the woman who began the women’s shelter movement in England in 1971, has stated that she initially knew that there was a need for a men’s shelter as well as a women’s shelter. However, she got no donations for a men’s shelter, but lots of donations for the women’s. Also, Myriam Denov has documented that fact that men who have reported being abused are often not believed, but are ridiculed. Sometimes they are arrested as the abuser. So, there are disincentives for men to report abuse by women. These are long-standing prejudices and stereotypes which the women’s movement has reinforced. Consider that the US law against domestic violence is called the Violence Against Women Act (rather than the Domestic Violence Act). I agree with Kris that “hurt is hurt” but it seems to me that the differing social attitudes concerning abuse of men, especially when abused by women, require more work to overcome in treatment than abuse of women requires.

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