Don McPherson”s Response to Toxic Masculinity

Don McPherson’s You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity (2019, Akashic Books) is a reflective memoir of how one man learned to be a man and what that means for society. A former star quarterback, the author tells how he learned to talk with boys and men about how to prevent violence against women by claiming themselves as people first and men second. McPherson shows us how men are restricted by social expectations and how this restriction leads to the dehumanization of those who are not Men. Importantly, he teaches men how their ideas about their roles as protectors and warriors harm themselves, as well as those they love most.

For those who are interested in promoting self-exploration, McPherson introduces tools like “The Man Box”, which encourages the deconstruction of social messages about gender. We all internalized ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman; sometimes, these ideas get distorted, leading to imbalances in our identity and our relationships with others. Vulnerability, not generally considered a male trait, is displayed on the pages of this book with significant effect.

His idea is to be a whole person, not a one-dimensional notion of gender, and through the process of becoming whole to discover fuller, equal relationships with others. When men step down off their self-created pedestals and model equality with women, then boys and girls will be emotionally and physically safer. The correlation between power and violence is a message that women have discussed for decades. In this book, we hear from a man, trained and reinforced with male privilege, speak to men about power.

Applying the man box tool—often used as a gender box—to addiction treatment is a topic for exploration sparked while I read this book. Here is a tool for understanding identity, including an addict identity. Each of us is constructed using multiple identities, so there is a lot to explore in how an individual’s identity directs their behavior—and how identity change is part of behavior change and healing.

I would like to see McPherson go further in his social criticism. Yes, men are trained to “not be women”, but there are whole other groups out there that deserve equal treatment from men. As society grapples with gender fluidity and gender identity, how do folks who are not men or women feel safe as they struggle to define affirming identities? An identity built on not being something still ties that identity to its mirror image; identity built on approaching an idea leads to more powerful change. Casting off the old mold is only a first step. It would be interesting to continue the discussion begun in You Throw Like a Girl onto what it means to be a whole, vulnerable, emotionally aware person.

This book caught my imagination and I recommend it to coaches, teachers, parents, and those who influence the psychological development of boys and adolescents. McPherson uses his story of transformation from sports idol to social activist to highlight lessons and tools we can all use to live a better life. Maybe the most essential message of this book is the author himself—he walks the walk to learn how to live the life he models.

The Counseling Process: 4 Tasks for Change

The counseling process can be mysterious. The popularity of books about counseling and change–there is a whole publishing industry for self-help–tells us that people want to know how counseling works. Clients’ curiosity centers around the process of becoming vulnerable and trusting another person while counselors look for a trustworthy model to use to guide their work with clients.

Counselors learn different counseling theories and models in graduate school. Later, through practice and experience, they develop expertise in one or more of these models. Some counseling styles are based in the application of theory to practical, real-life situations while others are research-based. In all cases, competent counselors only practice using theories, models, and techniques that they are appropriately trained to use.Quotation-Alice-Walker-No-person-is-your-friend-who-demands-your-silence-or-30-53-08

As counselors gain experience and confidence, they often begin to adapt their working style to fit their evolving personal and professional values. Such development is an expected and natural process in a profession where the counselor is the primary tool for helping clients change. Counselors learn from experience, continual study, and from reflection on the work they do with their clients. Their professional growth then informs their ideas about how they work. This feedback loop concept is known as the counselor-as-instrument or the self-of-the-therapist.

Many models exist to help clients move from possessing a problem to possessing a solution. Some of these models are stage-based, like Egan’s 3-stage model or Roger’s 7-stage model. The model that I learned and practiced for many years is Roberts’ 7-stage ACT model for crisis intervention. It is a good model, and because much of my work has been one session crisis intervention work, Roberts’ model is a good fit.

Albert Roberts, PhD developed his model in the early 1990s while working with a domestic violence crisis response hotline. His model is grounded in humanistic counseling theory and the early crisis intervention theory laid out by Caplan and his contemporaries. Roberts’ seven sequential, often overlapping, stages are (a) assessment of biopsychosocial and lethality components presented by the client, (b) rapidly establish a collaborative relationship, (c) identify the major problems, including those that led to the client presenting at this time, (d) explore the client’s feelings and emotions related to the problem, (e) develop a set of options to respond to the problem situation, (f) take appropriate action to respond to the problem, and (g) create a follow-up plan.

Now I find that a one-session model is inadequate for deeper, multi-session work outside of the crisis intervention arena. Through teaching and practicing multi-session counseling, I am questioning how to evolve my counseling guidelines to fit a wider variety of counseling situations. A 4-task model of the counseling process is beginning to clarify in the muddy waters of helping people be their best version of themselves. Tasks is a better way to look at counseling than stages because change usually follows a winding path rather than the artificial linearity of stages.

The four tasks are information gathering and relationship building, application of clinical interventions (e.g., education, empowerment and encouragement, problem-solving options, behavioral experimentation), evaluation of the results of interventions, and termination.

During task 1, information gathering and relationship building, the client is encouraged to tell their story as it relates to their reasons for entering counseling. Through storytelling, the client presents their strengths and provides clues to the solutions they seek. This task is the basis for the working relationship and the tough emotional work that comes later.

Task 2, application of clinical interventions, the counselor does any number of intentional actions to shift the client’s thoughts and actions in the direction of a different way of being in the world. Through new thoughts and actions, the client tests possible solutions.

Task 3, evaluation of the interventions, is intermingled with Task 2. Try something and see what happens; if it works, try something else until there is an acceptable change and resolution to the problem. The stepping stone metaphor is useful here: to get to the other side of the river, there are many choices to be made about the path. Some choices lead to a quick crossing while some choices lead to deadends and backtracking to find another way. I also find playing Solitare helpful for learning patience for coping with dead ends.

Task 4, termination, although it sounds final, is a time for the client to live as a changed person. It is a time for some celebration, although sadness is often part of the hero’s journey, and harvest of the rewards.

If I can be of service to you or your family, please feel free to visit my PsychologyToday listing and contact me.


What I Learned at ACA

Sharing some thoughts about the 2019 American Counseling Association annual conference in New Orleans.

First, NOLA is such an interesting place. Full of variety in people and food and ways to live. A few days in this city is refreshing.

Picked up some information to share about social media as a process, or behavioral, addiction. The internet, social media especially, provides stimulation to our brains and some folks develop a compulsion to check their feeds that can be intrusive. The presenter stressed the role of self-awareness in both understanding and changing relationships with our connected devices.

Discussed the promotion, prevention, treatment, and recovery continuum of care for SUD treatment. This model starts with the normalization of responsible substance use; the key component is responsible use, which is how most people use. From this responsible use concept grows ideas about de-stigmatizing use and also the idea that not using is okay also.

We talked about the effect of use on families, across generations. Turns out, many people are not aware of how use affects their children and grandchildren. Some mentioned how hidden groups that support Adult Children of Alcoholics and minor children in substance involved homes have become. This supports my thoughts about the limits of education for counselors and the work still left to do.

My Counseling LibraryThing

This post realizes a long-held dream of mine.   A dream that was alternatively nursed and neglected, but not forgotten over the years of professional practice.  I’ve always been a bit of an explorer and more than a bit of a collector.  Ephemera, books, music, video are all over my house.

This collection includes a selection of psychology and counseling books and textbooks.  There are several books on group work and several on substance use disorders.  I collect self-help books and books about understanding personality.  I have several books about research design and statistical analysis–although I am a novice at both of these.  And, last but not least, I collect books about writing.

Today I am introducing my buy/sell/trade/lend library of counseling-related materials.  This library is housed on the website  LibraryThing is a cataloging database and social media site for book lovers and collectors–and libraries.  Here is the link so you can view the dynamic listings for items of interest in my counseling library.  I will continue to update my catalog as I expand the collection.  Some items may be available for sale and will be listed on my eBay page.

If you want to borrow something, then email me and ask.  I am open to lending everything in my library, with a few exceptions.  Because of the nature of lending books–and them never being returned–I will sell the book to you and refund the price once the book is returned in good condition.  We will each pay shipping costs on our end.

If you want to trade or sell a book you own, then email me with the condition, price, and why I should have the item(s).  Let’s talk; I’m always ready to listen.

If you are on LibraryThing, we can communicate directly through the site.  If you are local, perhaps we can negotiate a better way to share than waiting for the USPS.

SMART Recovery Charlotte

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a peer-supported program for promoting change from dysfunctional behaviors that are blocking you from being your best.  SMART offers an alternative to 12-Step programs.

SMART follows a 4-point program:

  • Building and Maintaining Motivation;
  • Coping with Urges;
  • Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors;
  • Living a Balanced Life.

Tools and techniques are readily available on the website to help you discover your power to choose to change.

SMART Recovery is a science-based program focused on each individual’s ability to understand how their perceptions affect their actions.  Empowerment and choice are keywords in SMART Recovery.

The underlying theories include the Stages of Change model, Motivational Interviewing, Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), and relapse prevention.

There is a companion program designed to support the concerned significant others of people with substance use disorders and other dysfunctional behaviors (like disordered eating, sex addiction, problem gambling, over-spending, and more).  This companion program is called, naturally enough, Friends & Family, and is built using the Community Reinforcement Approach & Family Training model developed by Dr. Robert Meyers.

SMART Recovery can be found locally and online using the meeting locator.

Two face-to-face meetings are available in Charlotte:

Tuesday 600p-700p
200 Queens Road
Charlotte NC 28204

Friday noon-130p
1515 Mockingbird Lane, Suite 300
Charlotte NC 28209

To learn more about SMART Recovery–because this is a stub page that will be updated as I go–follow the link to the SMART Recovery website.

Relapse Prevention Plan

relapse prevention plan (ARRAY version)

If you are looking for a simple worksheet to create a relapse prevention plan for yourself, with a family member, or a client, here is one I developed.  It is designed to work with the Adult Recidivism Reduction Alternative (ARRAY) program.  If you like this worksheet, please let me know with your payment.

For more information about this and other worksheets, or the ARRAY program, please email me.

Relapse Prevention Plan Worksheet

This one-page worksheet is useful as a tool for thinking through a possible relapse. It includes space to start with your recovery vision, highlights common stressors, includes space for your favorite stress responses, and finishes with reminders of the consequences of using.



Begin With the End in Mind

One of my favorite self-help books is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Habit 2 is “begin with the end in mind”.  By this, he means to take a moment before the start of a journey to get a picture of your destination, to help you visualize where you are going, how to get there, and when you arrive.

What does Covey’s second habit have to do with helping addicted families change? Well, I’ve come to believe in the power of positive change. By positive I mean figuring out how I’ll know when I get where I’m going. Too often people tell me they want to “be happy” or “not be this or that way any longer” without first taking time to visualize the end before they start the journey. I get it, we recognize our current unhappiness and discomfort and want a life. Understandable. However, one of our first recovery tasks is defining how our new, improved life will look. That way, we can avoid creating a different version of the life we are trying to escape.

Visualizing our destination is what I call a positive approach because of the focus on moving toward change, and not just away from discomfort. An added benefit of taking a positive approach is that we recognize our destination upon arrival and can stop looking for what we have. It is easy to focus on the getting there and overshoot the goal.

So, I’ve been thinking about what a healthy family looks like in preparation for this blog post. Actually, I’ve been thinking about what it means to live in a family that was formerly SUD-affected. How does a healthy family look? Once a family member stops drinking or drugging or whathaveyou no switch gets flipped, and suddenly the family is just fine, a model for others to follow. No, that takes some time, commitment, and persistence.

Stopping using from an individual perspective is a different process from a family adjusting to sobriety because there are multiple layers to work through for the family. After all, addiction is a family disease, which means that the substance use occurs within a family system.

Family systems theory begins with the assumption that all the members of a family are affected by the actions of every other member. Like a wheel in motion, the family system seeks a state of balance, called homeostasis, where the system adapts to the behaviors of all members. For a SUD-affected family, the SUD behaviors become the center or hub of the spinning wheel. Later, when the SUD behaviors stop the family can create a healthy value to center around.

The research and the folk wisdom of recovery discuss the long-term effects of living in a SUD-affected family, from mild co-dependency to intergenerational mental illness. One can look at the Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)/Dysfunctional Families website and review the Laundry List of 14 common traits learned in SUD-affected families to get an idea of some long term effects.

Although most of the energy focused on SUD treatment is burned to achieve and sustain early abstinence, supporting a family’s transition process to health is the work of a mental health professional using a systems perspective. White (1996) suggests four dimensions to consider in family-oriented SUD treatment: the needs of the individual family member(s), the adult-adult relationships, parent-child relationships, and child-child sibling relationships. Of course, there are generational layers to consider as children mature and start their own families.

So, what is the end? If we assume that living in a SUD-affected family is an example of a poor-functioning family, then we can look to definitions of well-functioning families for guidance in developing a vision for a potential future.

Gladding (2015, p62) lists the following characteristics as common to well-functioning families: “Commitment to the family and its individuals, appreciation for each other (i.e., a social connection), willingness to spend time together, effective communication patterns, a high degree of religious/spiritual orientation, an ability to deal with a crisis in a positive manner (i.e., adaptability), encouragement of individuals, and clear roles” for members.

And, really, this is the place to start: what is the family’s vision for their future?

Desistance, long-term recovery, and second-order change are terms used to categorize the changes families make over time after they stop centering activities and values on the maintenance of SUDs and begin focusing on living healthy values.

Cox Family Wellness can help you visualize the end and the path to that end. We are licensed to provide counseling services if you are in North Carolina or Tennessee. If you live somewhere else we can help you develop a wellness plan for your family and help you locate a knowledgeable counselor near you to bring it to life.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Thanks for your time.