A Guide to Men's Groups
If you’re reading this, you may be considering joining a men’s group. Congratulations! Men’s groups can provide you with support, connection, guidance, insights and understanding, new knowledge and points of view, and a host of other benefits.
Yet, perhaps you’d like a little more information. You may be asking, “What, exactly, is a men’s group?” Men’s groups, like men themselves, can be a lot of things, which is why the list of potential benefits could go on and on. This is partly due to the fact that different groups’ stated intentions and goals can be quite diverse, and it’s partly due to the fact that the men who participate in the groups can be even more diverse.
However, knowing a little more about groups in general may help you have a better understanding of what you may be signing up for when you decide to join a men’s group.
Who can join a men’s group?
The simple answer, of course, is men. For me, this means anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is male.
Inclusivity vs. exclusivity
Groups may vary in terms of other ways of navigating identity: some groups may be intended for a certain age group, religious affiliation, or sexuality. While this may seem exclusionary, a group may benefit from having certain similarities. For instance, if a group’s intended mission is to support men in being upstanding Christians, it may not be helpful to have an atheist in the group who wants to debate the basis for Christianity. (However, this dynamic might be great for a group in which members wish to explore and challenge their spiritual beliefs.)
Groups may also be targeted towards a specific issue, condition, or life-experience. Therefore, you may find groups for men experiencing anxiety, depression, or anger – or you may find a group for new fathers or men going through divorce.
The groups I run are typically designed to be as inclusive as possible, depending on the goals of the group. Diversity in a group offers the benefits of multiple points of view as well as more opportunities for different types of work within the group.
Aside from identifying or expressing as a man and fitting any other criteria of the group, it also helps if you’re open to learning something new, either about yourself, others, and our culture and society. From my experience, men who get the most out of groups are those who are ready and willing to take some risks. In my groups, you’ll never be forced to take risks that you aren’t willing to make. For some men, taking a risk might mean asking for help. For others, it might mean listening to others’ experiences with open ears and an open heart.
Types of groups
One way to have some idea to know what to expect from a group is to know what type of group it is. The type is going to give you some clues to the goals of the group as well as its format. A few notes: 1) even if you sign up for one type of group, it still may borrow aspects of other types; 2) definitions of groups (and even the categories) are not standardized, so definitions will vary; 3) the following are the definitions that I use. That said, here are some common types of groups:
Psychoeducational group – the goal of this group is to provide information, such as an overview of anxiety, from the biological effects to coping methods to options for treatment. The group may offer some time for sharing experiences, but the focus will be on the facilitator providing information to the participants.
Support group – in this type of group, members share their life experiences with the group. Members may ask for feedback, advice, or empathy from the group. The facilitator’s role is primarily to ensure that the rules of the group are followed, foster a feeling of safety in the group, .
Skill-development group – the focus of this group is to learn specific skills and to practice them in the group and get support in practicing them in your life between groups.
Interpersonal process group – this type of group helps members gain a better understanding of themselves and their relationships by paying attention to the relationships and dynamics within the group. For instance, if a member of a group becomes irritated because another member often interrupts, the group will discuss this dynamic openly so that members can explore their patterns of, associations with, and feelings around interrupting or being interrupted.
Psychotherapeutic group – a psychotherapeutic group is likely to include many aspects of the others listed above here, yet it will also go a bit deeper. A psychotherapeutic group may ask members to look more closely at their emotional wounds and work with other members of the group to create healing experiences.
Open vs. closed…and semi-closed
Groups can also vary in terms of when members are allowed to join, which can have a significant impact on the dynamics of the group (and your experience).
An open group allows members to come and go from meeting to meeting or session to session. Because new members may start at any time, the group may not develop the feelings of safety in the same way as a closed group, but it offers flexibility, constant availability, and potential for more diversity.
A closed group only allows members to join at the very beginning, allowing the same men who start the group to complete it the whole way through together. This can increase safety in the group, and it’s more likely that a closed group will develop in a predictable way (see Stages of group development below). However, because the group has an agreed start and end for everyone, this type of group is most successful when participants make a strong commitment to the group.
A semi-closed is a mix between open and closed. Sometimes, a semi-closed group begins similar to a closed group, yet it has planned opportunities to join or leave the group. For example, at the end of 8 meetings, some members may choose to continue, some may choose to leave, while others are given the opportunity to join on the first meeting of the next round of 8 meetings. Conversely, a semi-closed group may begin as an open group and build slowly, so that a group can start without having full membership. Once the group hits its cap, the group closes, meaning no new members can join unless someone else leaves.
Why join a men’s group?
It’s true that the support you may be seeking can be provided a number of forms, including a group that does not exclude genders other than men. And, just like men’s groups, these other options will all have their own benefits and drawbacks. As I have written in response to the question, “Why do we need ‘Therapy for Men’?”, identifying or expressing as a man in our culture carries with it certain expectations about all aspects of our lives, all of which can become internalized and dictate how we, as men, define ourselves.
One of the expectations that men internalize is that we should be able to take care of ourselves without any help – that we can go it alone. Therefore, seeking any type of support can be difficult, let alone within the context of a group of other men, who we may be afraid will judge us for being flawed, weak, or simply ‘not man enough.’ However, many men who participate are surprised at how open and vulnerable men can become when they look at their issues together. They find that men’s groups allow them to evaluate the expectations they’ve internalized, see the impact these cultural expectations have had on the choices men make in their lives, and support one another in shaping a personal male identity that is more realistic, flexible, and better fits with our own desires for ourselves than perhaps adhering strictly to the ‘traditional male’ role does.
If you would like to discuss joining a men’s group, please contact me.
Action figure men photo courtesy of JD Hancock.
Group of men eating melons photo courtesy of simpleinsomnia.