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Tailoring Services for Men: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

When I tell people that one of my areas of interest in research is the use of social services by males, I often get strange looks. While many people have thought of researchers looking at the use of services by many different groups—including racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups—many do not think about how males use these same services.

It is often believed that males are less likely to use services than females, but the question of why is something not really known. It is possible that services designed to effectively meet the needs of females may have less relevance for males. Indeed, perhaps the way we deliver services to males should be different from the way we deliver services to females.

I first became interested in this area when I was in middle school, and at an organized walk for awareness of rape and sexual assault. When talking with the coordinator, I noticed that all of the speakers were focusing on female survivors. I asked about doing something around male survivors, but was advised that the focus of the event was on women. I thought, “where does that leave men?”

Are males just averse to use services, or are we, as practitioners, failing to create programming that is of interest to males?

Many years later, several of which I spent practicing as a social worker in New York, I started to expand on this question. Are males just averse to use services, or are we, as practitioners, failing to create programming that is of interest to males? So what do we do?

Over time, I found myself considering the question from two perspectives: the researcher and the social worker.

As the researcher, I’ve explored what programs are already in place that either target males or have found success in working with both males and females. I’ve come to believe that for males who are seeking treatment due to their experiences with sexual abuse or rape, a joint program (of both males and females) may not be realistic for several reasons. First, females in a similar situation tend to look for a female-focused program. Furthermore, the way both males and females react to rape and sexual assault, and the way society reacts to males and females who have experienced rape and sexual assault, may lead to different experiences.

As a social worker, when starting a new program, my first thought would always be “what programs are already around and what can I steal from them?” No reason to reinvent the wheel. For example, 1in6.org has an online peer support group where men help each other; not just receive help, but also provide guidance. This gives men the opportunity to help support each other in a safe environment.

Others have explored programming that would be appealing specifically for male clients. For example, researchers examined a parenting class focused on fathers said they were less interested in traditional parenting classes than mentor and community-based programs. With that focus, creating opportunities for males that are more social and less structured might provide a strong therapeutic opportunity. Men would be able to have a mentor through a difficult time, and then mentor other males who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

One thing I have learned, as a social worker, is that social services are not a one-size-fits-all process. I had vastly different considerations to take into account when starting a support group in Montana than when I started a support group in New York. The same is true about people of different genders. What one takes into consideration when working with males may be different from what might be useful for working with females.

Furthermore, males from different groups may have different reactions to issues such as sexual assault and abuse. Therefore, instead of creating a program that would work for all males, understanding ways to support, as best as possible, different subgroups of men can help create more interesting and meaningful services.

Seth J. Meyer

seth_meyer_thumbSeth J. Meyer, LMSW is a PhD Student at Rutgers University, Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration. His research interests include the use of social services by males, organizational management, and multisite nonprofit organizations. He can be reached at seth.meyer@rutgers.edu or followed on twitter @sethjmeyer.

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