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Relational Cultural Theory and Men

November 12, 2010
by Dan Griffin
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The next piece, which is connected to male psychosocial development, is relational cultural theory (RCT). Let me start with a disclaimer: I am far from an expert in this area yet some of the core ideas seem to be in alignment with the basic human experience, particularly through the lens of personal growth. RCT is moving away from the traditional western and patriarchal paradigm of the individuation of self and focusing on relationships and connection between individuals. Relational cultural theory (RCT) was originally created for women by women in response to the overly male influenced western psychological paradigm. RCT is now being applied to all persons and all kinds of relationships, though there is currently little written about men and RCT. Essentially, RCT posits that relationships are a fundamental part of the development of human beings and that all growth occurs in the context of relationships – whether it is moving toward or away from them. Of course, addiction treatment deals with a man’s relationships; however, we believe unequivocally that relationships and men learning how to function in their relationships is central to their recovery and must be central to a man’s treatment as well.

Dr. Stephen Bergman was the first man to look at how RCT might apply to men. He worked with couples with his partner, Janet Surrey, one of the founders of RCT. While doing this work Dr. Bergman noticed a common experience with the men. He termed it, male relational dread, which essentially says that as men are invited and seek to get closer to others in their relationships they run up against great panic in the prospect of experiencing that degree of intimacy. Is it any surprise that would be case when men are trained very early not to express feelings of closeness, vulnerability, affection, and any of the other, what I like to call, the “softer” emotions. And some of us don’t just have it trained out of us – we have it beaten out of us, literally. (Bergman spoke about other areas of RCT and men in an essay in the book A New Psychology of Men, eds. Levant and Pollack.)

It is no surprise that RCT applies to men, though in different ways from women. As I always say – once you take away the drugs (or whatever addictive process is killing the man) – what are you left with? Relationships. It is about time that we started making relationships and relationship skills a primary focus of men’s treatment and then maybe men in recovery won’t have to go through as many relapses, divorces, anger management programs, and any other number of challenges that men face, often with little guidance, long into their recovery.

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Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, MA, is an internationally recognized author and thought leader on...

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