So what exactly does it mean for services to be gender-responsive for men? In the past, the term “gender-responsive” has meant “woman-centered.” This came from the need to develop programming for women in a field that assumed that male and female addicts would respond to the same type of services. In developing gender-responsive services for women, clinicians have realized that it is important to look at how the socialization process has impacted the lives of females and influenced their needs in recovery. In a forthcoming curriculum, Helping Men Recover, published by Jossey-Bass (Fall 2010), Dr. Stephanie Covington, Rick Dauer, and I have applied our knowledge of the impact of male socialization to develop a gender-responsive program for men. What this means is that every piece of the curriculum was written with the following question in mind: “What do men need?”
I have had men and women come up to me and say: “I have been doing men’s specific treatment for years – always thinking about what men need.” This is true. Many treatment providers have been providing men’s specific treatment for decades – and it continues to improve every year. This does not necessarily mean that these same providers have been offering gender-responsive services.
According to Stephanie Covington the term gender responsive “indicates the creation of a treatment environment – through site selection, staff selection, program development, and program content and materials – that reflects an understanding of the realities of men’s (or women’s) lives and that addresses and responds to their challenges and strengths.” That means every step along the way has been informed by an understanding of all aspects of male socialization – the good, the bad, and the ugly. The keys to developing effective treatment for men are acknowledging and understanding their life experiences and the impact of living as a man in a male-based society. This means exploring the challenges as well as the benefits that men experience from living in such a society.
The devil is in the details.
You have to deconstruct the “rules” for being men in this society right away. The men have to be able to see that those rules are made up – and are not very conducive to recovery. When we tell counselors that addressing homophobia is central to a gender-responsive program many of them look at us to make sure they heard us correctly. When we mention body image as part of the exploration of sexuality the common response is: “For men?” Absolutely. And when we mention entitlement – men’s attitude that we expect certain privileges just because we are men - it’s hard to tell what the reaction is but it is all over the spectrum. Those are just some of the “pillars” of gender-responsive services for men – as far as we know. We are just beginning to understand what those services look like.
For the longest time we assumed that everything we did for men applied to women. Well, that was clearly wrong. Now, we have to stop thinking we know what does and does not apply to men. When we do that, we’ll no doubt be surprised by what we find – and we’ll transform men’s services at the same time.