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Keywords:

  • counseling men;
  • developmental relational counseling;
  • relational-cultural theory;
  • Enneagram personality;
  • creativity in counseling

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Developmental relational counseling (DRC) is a conceptual model designed to help people gain a deeper awareness of their relational functioning. DRC is informed by relational-cultural theory and influenced by the Enneagram personality typology and cognitive and narrative theories. This article outlines the DRC model in counseling practice with men. Men involved in counseling services may use this approach to expand their personal awareness and promote mutual understanding in their relationships.

The male experience is framed by context, power, character, personalities, and relationships, which are interwoven in complex ways. Within these contexts, men navigate their professional and personal relationships with varying levels of awareness of their personal qualities and competencies, impact on others, psychological limitations, and interpersonal power and influence. This article applies the Developmental Relational Counseling (DRC) model (Duffey & Haberstroh, 2012) with men. Two de-identified case examples illustrate a counselor's work using DRC. Some details have been altered to protect client anonymity. As men develop the capacity to see others and themselves more clearly, they may become better positioned to participate in and enjoy their important relationships, using feedback, self-reflection, and a balanced self-perception.

DRC is a conceptual model designed to help clients (a) perceive themselves and others more accurately, (b) gain awareness of their degree of power and influence, and (c) deepen self- compassion and compassion for others (Duffey & Haberstroh, 2012). DRC is significantly informed by relational-cultural theory (RCT) and influenced by the Enneagram personality typology, cognitive theories, and narrative theories. We provide a review of RCT and a brief summary of how the other theories influenced the development of DRC. These summaries give context to the rationale and structure of DRC and its application with male clients. For a more thorough review of each of these theories, the reader is referred to Jordan (2010), Beck (2011), White and Epston (1990), Daniels and Price (2000), Duffey and Haberstroh (2011), Riso and Hudson (2000), and Palmer (1996).

Men in Counseling

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Although men seek counseling services for myriad reasons, they tend to be less inclined to attend counseling than are women (Kakhnovets, 2011; Mahalik, Good, & Englar-Carlson, 2003). Given that some men are reluctant to seek help when experiencing distress, they are more likely to experience isolation, which may result in greater mortality and lower quality of life (Bonhomme, 2007). Reasons for male help seeking range from personal concerns; relationship issues; family dynamics; career situations; and various developmental, transitional, and, at times, debilitating crises (Mahalik et al., 2003). Although some men enter counseling voluntarily, other men do so in response to partner or family urging, or they are mandated by courts or human resource departments to attend counseling. As men navigate these experiences, many also negotiate relationships with partners, family members, coworkers, and friends (Greif, 2006).

Societal expectations of masculine self-sufficiency can complicate matters for some men (Mahalik et al., 2003), making support seeking and sharing of personal experiences challenging. At the same time, making oneself amenable to support and appropriate self-disclosure is an important aspect of deepened intimacy and increasing well-being (Uysal, Lin, Knee, & Bush, 2012). Developing these capacities is an important relational skill to explore in the counseling setting.

Counseling work with men is unique in some aspects (Good & Robertson, 2010). Counselors who effectively work with men seek to understand the unique social and cultural factors that influence masculinity (Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005). They work to clearly understand their male clients and their experiences (Good & Robertson, 2010). Counselors also appreciate the strengths of their male clients and the value of many socially sanctioned masculine norms (Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010), while challenging male clients to develop greater relational awareness and consideration of themselves and others (Jordan, 2010). Counselor genuineness, poise, and use of action-oriented strategies may help men assuage their preconceptions of counseling (Good & Robertson, 2010; Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010).

Masculinity is clearly a facet of a man's development and is a compelling influence in the counseling relationship (Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Shepard, 2005). Traditional, and perhaps stereotypical, views of masculinity characterize men as enduring, action oriented, and challenged to express emotions and vulnerabilities (Shepard, 2005). Although many men are encouraged through socialization to meet these masculine norms, most men do not (Smiler, 2004). Thus, masculinity itself is a multifaceted concept, and men vary in their responses to this socialization. Counselors who seek to understand their male clients as unique human beings while being aware of the multifaceted aspects of masculinity can better conceptualize their clients' needs and respond with accurate and genuine empathy. Therefore, (a) accurate empathic listening, (b) conceptualization of clients as unique individuals, (c) discussion of the goals and process of counseling, and (d) relating from a collaborative stance are fundamental counseling practices that work well with men (Good & Robertson, 2010; Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Shepard, 2005). In addition, the following are principles, distilled from the literature, that describe additional considerations for work with men (Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Good & Robertson, 2010; Shepard, 2005):

  1. Understand masculinity and societal expectations for men.
  2. Recognize that some men may belong to a dominant gender group and a disenfranchised group concurrently (e.g., a homeless man).
  3. Normalize men's experiences, socialization, and the counseling process.

In summary, men develop within diverse contexts. These contexts are multidimensional and include social, historical, familial, geographical, and socioeconomic factors. Thus, men's needs, capacities, expectations of power, vulnerability, and relationships vary. It is important for professional counselors to work from paradigms that support men's capacity to develop a balanced self-perception, incorporate interpersonal feedback, and compassionately consider their needs and the needs of others. The DRC model provides a structure for counselors to conceptualize men's growth through the self-awareness they derive from their interactions and relationships.

DRC With Men

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

DRC considers how self-awareness and deepened understanding of others develop. It provides context for how relational connections are formed and illustrates the role of feedback and awareness in the connection and disconnection process. Figure 1 provides a graphical overview of the DRC model. DRC focuses on human growth across several spectrums. Key concepts in the DRC continuum include awareness of oneself and other people, connection and disconnection, perspective taking, and integration of feedback (Duffey & Haberstroh, 2012). Connection is a fundamental concept in DRC. In the DRC framework and within the context of this article, men connect to one of three broad perspectives on the basis of their level of personal awareness, relational maturity, and understanding of others. These perspectives are identified as (a) the self-denigrating perspective, (b) the clear and balanced perspective, and (c) the self-aggrandizing perspective. When a man is connected to a self-denigrating or self-aggrandizing perspective, he loses connection to a clear and balanced perspective of himself and others. As a result, he runs the risk of disconnecting from authentic relationships and losing opportunities for relational mutuality. Therefore, therapeutic goals in DRC involve using feedback to help men connect to a clear and balanced perspective of themselves and other people and develop mutually empathic relationships (Jordan, 2010).

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Figure 1. Developmental Relational Counseling: The Spectrum of Self-Understanding in Relation to Others

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Theoretical Influences

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

DRC was founded on concepts from the Enneagram, cognitive therapies, and narrative therapies and was based on RCT. This integration of ideas illustrates the interplay between relational contexts and the development of personal awareness and deepened awareness of others. DRC integrates the intrapersonal and interpersonal components of self-understanding to include the (a) accuracy of awareness, (b) perspectives to which one connects, (c) integration of feedback, and (d) use of power in relation to others.

RCT

RCT is a model of human development first introduced by Jean Baker Miller (1976) and colleagues at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College. RCT is a life span model that discusses the role of context and how human growth occurs in relationship with others. This model provides a paradigm shift from the traditional models of development that emphasize individuation and separation as central to human development (Jordan, 2010; Miller, 1976).

According to RCT, isolation is a painful source of human disconnection (Comstock et al., 2008; Duffey & Somody, 2011; Jordan, 2010; Walker, 2004). Therefore, helping clients move out of a place of isolation is a primary counseling goal. RCT also acknowledges the role of power and privilege and the diversity that exists within society, including within-group and between-group factors related to gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, and religion (Comstock et al., 2008; Duffey & Somody, 2011; Jordan, 2010). RCT counselors consider these and other sociopolitical dynamics in their work. When working with men, an RCT-focused counselor seeks to explore dynamics such as power, privilege, connection, and mutual empathy to guide counseling and other relationships in men's lives (Vasquez, 2006).

Fundamental RCT Beliefs

According to RCT theorists, connection is an innate need (Jordan, 2010). However, there are times when individuals assume attitudes and engage in behaviors (also known as strategies of disconnection) that distance them from others and keep them from experiencing the connections they want (Jordan, 2010). RCT refers to this experience as the central relational paradox. For example, Brad, 23, and a recent college graduate, believes that his brother, who is starting a new business, is receiving an unfair financial advantage from his parents. Brad paid for college on his own and does not understand why his brother, who did not finish college and has been unsuccessful in business, is receiving support. Feeling uncomfortable and convincing himself he does not need this uncomfortable situation in his life, Brad withdraws from his family. In his withdrawal, he may communicate indifference toward his family or a lack of care. In reality, the motivating factors behind Brad's withdrawal have little to do with feeling genuine indifference. Rather, Brad is uncomfortable discussing his concerns with his family. He does not want to appear petty or jealous and is upset with himself when he experiences these feelings. Despite Brad's often unspoken desire to feel connected to his family and to truly believe that he matters, Brad withdraws further. Brad's strategy of disconnection—withdrawal—becomes chronic, and in time, Brad experiences a quiet and unspoken feeling of loneliness.

Unfortunately, when people do not represent themselves genuinely in relationships, they often conceal salient parts of their experiences (Jordan, 2010). In this case, Brad hid the fact that he resented the financial support his brother enjoyed. He also hid feeling taken for granted by his family. According to RCT, when important aspects of people's experiences are habitually hidden, individuals may become increasingly disconnected from themselves and others. When these strategies become chronic, people may enter into a state RCT refers to as condemned isolation (Miller et al., 2004; Miller & Stiver, 1995). Conversely, as people more fully represent what they think, need, and feel in important relationships, they become increasingly authentic and move out of isolation (Miller & Stiver, 1995). In Brad's case, it was important for him to come to terms with his expectations of his parents and to acknowledge his awkward feelings related to his brother's position as a “prodigal son.” In counseling, he came to see that his feelings were motivated not simply by his family's financial support of his brother, but also by his perception that because Brad was self-sufficient, he did not need their support or appreciation. Brad's socialization as a strong, independent man was in direct conflict with these feelings. Sorting through his feelings in ways that supported reentry into his family was an important step in his work. Although the goal of RCT is mutual growth and connection, this theory acknowledges that disconnections are a natural part of the growth process. Such was the case with Brad.

According to RCT, prior relationship experiences often serve as a relational template, leading people to expect current and future relationships to follow the template. Miller and Stiver (1995) defined these expectations as relational images. Relational images are schemas that create expectations of what relationships will look like and how people in relationships will respond. These expectations guide people's interpretations of others' behaviors and the interpersonal dynamics they experience. Brad's relational images involved seeing himself as invulnerable and ultimately in control of situations that affect him. Feeling vulnerable and jealous of his brother suggested weakness and triggered feelings of shame. Brad's pattern of behaving when he experienced shame was to passively punish the other person through his withdrawal and rejection. In time, Brad would reframe his positive experiences and memories into pejorative ones. This would help him remain disconnected from the other person, feel justified in his decision, and appear seemingly in control. This disconnection generally reinforced Brad's relational image that people would disappoint him. To maintain his relational image of himself as a person who asserts his power and has control in his relationships, Brad would have to ultimately reject the conflicted relationship.

Counselors can use RCT principles to help men distinguish their relational images from their actual experiences. Men then have an opportunity to deepen and clarify their perspectives, which can support their relational resiliency. According to RCT, resilience is more than a quality of personal strength; it is a relational dynamic. Relational resiliency involves the capacity to “form connections, [make] reconnections, and resist disconnection” (Jordan, 2005, p. 83) in the face of adversity and involves both maturity and mutuality. According to Jordan (2010), mutuality and maturity are critical to growth-fostering relationships. In Brad's case, he was able to connect with his feelings of rejection, anger, and disappointment within his family. Although his family did not easily understand Brad's concerns, they were eventually able to do so. Brad was also able to deepen his understanding of the various contexts and experiences of others. The therapeutic connection provided an avenue for Brad to reconnect, not only with his experience but also with his family.

RCT and Men

RCT scholars first examined the complexities of women's development and the experiences of subjugated groups (Jordan, 2010). Although RCT was designed to explore women's growth in relationships, RCT also discusses the role of growth-fostering relationships in the developing male (Dooley & Fedele, 2004; Duffey & Somody, 2011; Jordan, 2010; Lombardi, 2012). Shepard (2005) discussed the contradictory messages men receive as young boys, and the consequences many incur as a result. According to Shepard,

the old rules defining masculinity have created profound disconnections for men, which involve: (a) disconnection from vulnerable feelings like sadness and fear, which are normal and appropriate parts of life; (b) disconnection from nurturing, soothing, and caregiving capacities; (c) disconnection from the vocabulary of emotions, which many men have never adequately learned; (d) disconnection from one's children, despite desires for close relationships; and (e) disconnection from capacities for intimacy, and concomitantly, disconnection from those whom men love. (p. 135)

Men develop their relational skills in various contexts. They experience a broad range of professional and personal relationships, which may reinforce or challenge their relational templates. Men function in many roles (e.g., son, sibling, friend, romantic partner, father, employee, employer). Within each of these roles, men relate to others using various strategies of connection and disconnection. Male-to-male friendship is one notable example of how men experience relational life. In a study involving 386 men, most participants described honesty, trust, and dependability as important man-to-man relational qualities (Greif, 2006). In another study involving men and their female romantic partners, attempts at what RCT would describe as mutual empathy were critical to relational satisfaction (Cohen, Schulz, Weiss, & Waldinger, 2012). RCT is clearly an applicable framework for conceptualizing the male relational experience.

How RCT Influences DRC

DRC is based on the premise that context and relational connections form the foundation by which men gain personal awareness and deepen their understanding of others. That is, when men relate to others authentically and with consideration, they see themselves more clearly and increase their openness to feedback. When engaged in bidirectional empathy, men can receive and be open to feedback about their impact on others. From a relational context, DRC considers feedback as information given from another person's range of experience and awareness. Although the intent of some feedback can be to hurt, shame, or dismiss another, DRC feedback is given to help individuals in a relationship better understand each other and develop their connection to a clear and balanced perspective of themselves and each other. Opening oneself to feedback, within the DRC context, is considered a caring act.

The appropriate use of relational power is central to RCT and DRC. RCT addresses power regarding diverse relational, social, and cultural contexts. It also describes the nuanced way people use power with others (Jordan, 2010). According to DRC, men demonstrate various ways of relating and using their relational power. In a grounded theory study on relational competencies and creativity in counseling involving 21 men (Duffey, Haberstroh, & Trepal, 2009), participants described the responsible use of power as deepening personal and relational growth. Participants described responsible uses of power as attending to and interacting with others authentically, providing and receiving constructive feedback, and sharing mutual support.

Thus, the ways that men use power demonstrate their connections with others and to the DRC perspectives. DRC purports that when men disconnect from others and instead connect to self-aggrandizing or self-denigrating perspectives, they lose opportunities for relational mutuality and growth. In the first instance, men use their power in harmful ways to exploit, dismiss, or control other people. In the second instance, men yield their power and responsibility to others. In each extreme, this kind of disconnection can lead to increased isolation, emotional numbness, and feelings of depression. Conversely, DRC suggests that when men are connected to a clear and balanced perspective, they can use their power to empower those with less power, relate with respect, consider the influence of their actions, and seek to create relationships that are mutually beneficial.

The Enneagram Personality Typology

The Enneagram personality typology is a system of self-discovery and personal growth with roots in ancient Eastern spiritual teachings. Diverse scholars have studied and developed Enneagram theory, particularly within the past 3 decades (Daniels & Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). The Enneagram is used as a tool to understand the diverse expressions of human nature by describing nine fundamental worldviews. This model provides a framework for observing people's automatic responses to life's experiences and illustrates productive road maps for personal growth for each type. According to the Enneagram, each type has a unique focus of attention and a corresponding strategy for managing life experiences (Daniels & Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). It can help individuals increase their level of self-awareness and their understanding of others by discovering the motivations behind their behaviors (Daniels & Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). The Enneagram also provides a framework for increasing compassion and empathy (Duffey, Comstock, & Reynolds, 2004). These motivations become unconsciously driven patterns of behavior. Broadly speaking, people of the same type have similar motivations and worldviews. However, the Enneagram allows room for variation on the basis of individual talents, abilities, experiences, and maturity. Furthermore, Riso and Hudson (2000) identified a continuum of nine levels of development within each type, making the structure of the Enneagram a popular diagnostic tool for counselors and life coaches working with clients motivated to deepen their self-awareness and relational capacities.

How the Enneagram Influences DRC

As previously stated, the Enneagram personality typology is a dynamic personality theory and speaks to core worldviews, fears, and pathways for growth (Daniels & Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). Specifically, the Enneagram informed the development of the spectrum of self-awareness in the DRC model. This spectrum corresponds with the Enneagram levels of development. The principles of the Enneagram also informed the notion that the development of a clear and balanced perspective is a multidimensional process unique to each person. Furthermore, the Enneagram personality typology provided a nonpathological framework for understanding dysfunction, development, and growth.

Cognitive and Narrative Approaches

Generally speaking, cognitive and narrative therapies both address the beliefs and stories that clients use to organize their worlds (Beck, 2011). Contemporary cognitive therapy involves helping clients assess their automatic thoughts, the accuracy of their beliefs, and broader cognitive schemas that have developed over time (Beck, 2011). In addition, cognitive work can help men expand restrictive notions about masculinity (Mahalik & Morrison, 2006). Cognitive and narrative theories differ, however, in key fundamental ways. Whereas cognitive theorists conceptualize clients' concerns as consisting of faulty thinking, narrative therapists consider problems as socially constructed and best approached by externalizing them through restorying (White & Epston, 1990).

How Narrative and Cognitive Approaches Influence DRC

The self-denigrating and self-aggrandizing perspectives mirror the extremes of distorted thinking proposed by cognitive therapists (Beck, 2011). Similarly, cognitive therapies discuss how new evidence and feedback inform a man's understanding of himself and others (Beck, 2011). In the DRC model, feedback is considered evidence of one's relational functioning. Thus, this evidence, when integrated, will expand a man's awareness. Unlike cognitive therapies, DRC places irrationality in a relational sense and externalizes (White & Epston, 1990) these thoughts and schemas as perspectives. This model expands on traditional cognitive approaches because it considers self-perspective in the context of disconnection from and connection with others. In addition, rational self-understanding is not the final goal of DRC. Rather than viewing a man as consumed by irrational thoughts or unmet needs, DRC considers how a man connects in his relationships and to the various perspectives that frame his personal awareness and understanding of others.

Similar to narrative therapy, DRC externalizes many relational and personal issues (White & Epston, 1990) as connections to specific distorted perspectives. Unlike narrative therapy, where clients are asked to name their problem, DRC names these relational problems as connections to self-aggrandizing or self-denigrating perspectives. In Brad's case, he was upset by the extra support his brother received and was somewhat jealous. On the one hand, he felt capable of earning his own living and seemed to be connected to a clear and balanced perspective of his earning power and professional competency. However, Brad also appeared to be connected to a self-denigrating perspective with respect to the power or influence he held within his family. Brad ignored his feelings of resentment and disappointment. Then, he passively related to his family members by seemingly supporting the plan to again help his brother financially. By connecting to this perspective and by withdrawing from his family, he lost a genuine connection with them and the opportunity for mutual empathy. In time, Brad's family became perplexed and confused by his absence.

Alternatively, when a man is connected to a clear and balanced perspective, he is better poised to connect with others dependably. There is little need for manipulation, passivity, aggression, or indifference. A man connected to a clear and balanced perspective demonstrates genuine compassion, consistency, courage, and confidence. An important DRC goal is to help men connect to this perspective. As observed in Brad's case, once he was able to identify his resentment and articulate it, he was better able to come to terms with the situation. Brad did not like the facts, but he was able to accept them by seeing the situation more clearly and thus act with compassion toward himself and his family. He learned to be compassionate toward himself by connecting relationally and breaking the connection to the self-denigrating perspective. Brad could then say what was important to him and give his family an opportunity to respond. He also learned that compassion toward others involved frank communication. This allowed Brad to maintain clarity and presence rather than retreat and withdraw.

Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

DRC defines self-awareness as the capacity to perceive oneself realistically, compassionately, and in relation to others. On the basis of this capacity, male clients may connect to self-perspectives that range in accuracy. The self-denigrating and self-aggrandizing perspectives are based on inaccurate self-awareness, incongruence with facts and feedback, and distortions of one's worth and the worth of other people. Notably, when a man connects to either of these perspectives, DRC suggests that he disconnect from others. Alternatively, according to DRC, when men connect to their clear and balanced self-perspectives, they incorporate feedback to both deepen and broaden their understanding of themselves and others. DRC contends that this growth, which results in relationship, fosters greater confidence, reliability, compassion, and courage.

The Clear and Balanced Perspective

One aim of DRC is to help men develop clarity and balance in their understanding of themselves and others. Seeking connection to a balanced perspective increases their capacity for relational objectivity. In addition, it demonstrates realness, vulnerability, strength, and compassion. A man connected to a clear and balanced perspective of himself and his partner will listen to feedback and attempt to respond in a mutually supportive manner. He recognizes both his strengths and vulnerabilities and considers more productive ways of managing a stated concern.

However, DRC recognizes that men are complex and multidimensional and their connections to perspectives are often fluid. Clear and compassionate feedback from respected others may help them reconnect to a balanced self-perspective and understanding of others. Men's groups may offer a context for them to explore sharing power, developing intimacy with other men, and gaining greater awareness (Garfield, 2010). Alternatively, when men engage or collaborate in contexts (e.g., bullying, hazing, classist) that are ridiculing, denigrating, or abusive to themselves or others, their self-perspectives may move toward dehumanizing extremes. When a man spends time with friends who ridicule others who are different from them, or who make sexist or racist comments, he may begin to connect to a self-aggrandizing perspective. Then again, when a man is connected to a self-denigrating perspective, he may be disturbed by his friends' comments but remain quiet. This may create conflict for him and keep him from experiencing balance or clarity. In each of these cases, men's perspectives position them to experience dehumanizing extremes.

The Self-Aggrandizing Perspective

Men who connect to the self-aggrandizing perspective dehumanize themselves and others by denying personal vulnerabilities and exploiting weakness in others. Men who organize their lives from this perspective do so on the basis of inaccurate awareness. By connecting to a basic mind-set of preeminence and entitlement, they abuse their power, which results in a disconnection from growth-fostering relationships (Jordan, 2010). In this case, a man may perceive vulnerability as weakness and view control and exploitation as strength. Understanding himself from this perspective may create an avoidance or active resistance to feedback from others, especially from those perceived as weaker or threatening. A man connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective may discount another person's concerns and act without consideration for how his behaviors affect the other person. Counseling goals for men connected to this perspective are for them to gain a realistic appreciation for their limitations and to value others as human beings who have unique strengths and flaws. A man may also grow by using power compassionately to promote and support the well-being of others.

The Self-Denigrating Perspective

Men connected to a self-denigrating perspective may question their worth and fail to give their own value credence. They may experience profound loneliness because they see themselves as disconnected and different from the rest of humanity. A man connected to this perspective may dismiss or denounce his own worth. He may be unaware of his worth or fail to consider how his presence would be missed. Authenticity and compassion as expressed by others provide a context that challenges the self-denigrating perspective. When men discover that they are not alone in their flaws and mistakes, they may move toward connecting to a more flexible and balanced self-perspective. The task for men who have a self-denigrating worldview is to develop balanced and compassionate beliefs of their worth and recognize their importance and influence in their relationships. RCT would say that these beliefs are balanced through an individual's growth-fostering relationships with others (Jordan, 2010).

Aspects

There are many aspects to a man's life. These are defined as a man's individualized personal, professional, and romantic relationships; competencies; skills; and talents that occur in the contexts of his life. For men, masculinity can be seen as an important aspect of their lives (Good & Robertson, 2010; Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Shepard, 2005). In DRC, connections to the self-aggrandizing, self-denigrating, and clear and balanced perspectives can vary with regard to specific aspects and contexts. Therefore, although a man may be connected to a self-denigrating perspective related to one aspect, he may be connected to a clear and balanced perspective about other aspects of his life. For example, a man connected to a clear and balanced perspective of his family dynamics may also be connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective with respect to his work relationships and performance. This component of DRC captures the complexity of connections and disconnection in a man's life. Furthermore, this idea can be used to help plan for change. That is, a counselor and male client may (a) seek aspects where the client is connected to a clear and balanced perspective of himself and other people, (b) assess his connections to self-aggrandizing or self-denigrating perspectives involving other aspects, and (c) draw on the strength of his connection to clear and balanced perspectives as they exist.

Feedback

DRC purports that authentic feedback is essential to relational growth and for developing a balanced perspective of self, others, and life situations. Relationally competent men take risks to provide others with productive feedback. They are also open to feedback. In the DRC model, receptivity and incorporation of feedback are central to self-awareness and authentic connection with others. Still, DRC recognizes that feedback can trigger a number of reactions. A man who seeks balance and clarity may first experience a mix of embarrassment, anger, and defensiveness upon receiving feedback. However, he will ultimately try to incorporate this feedback with compassion for himself and others. From this perspective, feedback is seen as a caring act.

In contrast, when a man is connected to an underconfident state but seeks a balanced perspective, he may initially feel discouraged because the feedback may seem to support his perceived flaws. Seeking a balanced perspective allows him to reconsider that position. Alternatively, an overconfident man who seeks a connection to clarity and balance may first be surprised and angry to hear others' feedback. However, he may use this feedback to rebalance his perspective. In each case, compassionate, authentic, and honest feedback supports and reinforces the development of flexible, accurate, and balanced self-perspectives.

Men connected to either extreme of the continuum are challenged to achieve balance. Men connected to self-aggrandizing perspectives may experience brief moments of accurate self-awareness during authentic feedback, moments of reflection, or loss. They may react to this accurate self-appraisal by first denigrating themselves. Later, they may defend their self-perceptions, dismiss the feedback, and strike out. If they dismiss the feedback, they may then more rigidly adhere to their aggrandized self-perspective. Confident humility may appear, to them, as weakness. Some may choose to remain in denial of their behaviors to avoid adjusting their behaviors and may characterize their dismissiveness, degradation of others, control, and exploitation as strength.

Conversely, men who connect to self-denigrating perspectives may focus only on the negative aspects of the feedback and minimize supportive messages. They may become defensive and strike out passive-aggressively if they perceive the feedback to be purposely harmful. Some men also succumb to shame because the feedback may buttress the idea that they are fundamentally flawed. Sometimes men connected to a self-denigrating perspective misperceive their power and misuse it with others. Hence, feedback involves a delicate balance and must come from a place of care or it can be unproductive. If feedback is delivered by someone the man respects, and if he seeks self-understanding, integration of feedback is more likely to move him toward connection to a balanced perspective.

Counselors using DRC principles provide feedback from (a) a clear understanding of their role; (b) a compassionate understanding of themselves and their clients; (c) a place of genuine confidence; and (d) a sincere desire to know, understand, and connect with their male clients. This is in contrast to the “expert,” who can be detached, relationally disconnected, and superior in his or her authority. DRC purports that counseling, when experienced in a direct, albeit restorative, context, can be a forum for examination, reflection, connection, feedback, and integration of new learning.

DRC in Action: A Case Example

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

In the following section, we apply DRC in counseling work with a male client with the pseudonym George. This case discussion includes a conceptualization of DRC principles, the counselor's role, and the process of change.

George

George came to counseling because he had been laid off for failure to attend work. He gave a number of reasons for his absences, and after several discussions, his supervisor recommended termination. George knew he had missed work, acknowledged not liking his job, and expressed indifference toward the termination.

George continued counseling as he sought employment. Eventually, he was hired as a telephone marketer with a large company. Known for his larger than life personality and quick wit, George was surprised that his new peers and supervisors did not appreciate his personality and expressed concern about his work. George remarked, “I'm the best person there, and they all have to know it. Too bad my group is full of douche bags.”

George was upset and angered by the feedback he received and described how diplomatic he generally was during meetings. He added that his psychology major was a tremendous asset to him in his work and relationships. Still, George was amazed by his supervisors' and coworkers' inability to understand him. George spoke rapidly as he communicated his misfortune in working with such stale, unhelpful, and ignorant coworkers who failed to see his desirable qualities. Truly perplexed, George was disturbed when the counselor interjected thoughts or questions into the discussion.

DRC Conceptualization of George

George was connected to the self-aggrandizing perspective related to his professional performance and resisted feedback from his supervisors, coworkers, and counselor. He was challenged to integrate feedback into his awareness or consider why he sabotaged his opportunities for successful work. As a result, he disconnected from a perspective where he could perceive himself and others at work with accuracy and consideration. From the self-aggrandizing perspective, George did not consider what it might be like for his coworkers to carry his load when he would regularly call in sick. George could not entertain the idea that his performance, when he was present, was under par in some respects. The counselor conceptualized that, at his core, George defended against feeling shamed, experienced a lack of belonging, and carried a fear that acknowledging limitation or weakness could increase his vulnerability to attack and rejection.

For George to establish a connection to a clear and balanced perspective, his goals involved (a) acknowledging his legitimate strengths, (b) recognizing the personal value of realistic feedback, (c) diffusing his resistance to hearing feedback that contradicts his self-perception, (d) considering the aspects of his life to which he connects from a clear and balanced perspective, and (e) considering alternative perspectives to his current issue and to others.

DRC recognizes that feedback can be threatening to self-perception, pride, and a person's sense of self. To accept feedback such as DRC proposes, clients must want to develop their capacities to relate reliably with others, have confidence in the counselor, and trust the counselor's intentions. In this case, the counselor reflected George's strengths and skills and normalized the challenge and concrete value of self-reflection and personal awareness. For example, George had learned to relate genuinely with his partner and children and to speak directly about unsettling situations. Speaking in clear, nonjargon language, the counselor and George discussed George's current state and clarified his goals. Using Figure 1, George reflected on the various aspects and contexts of his life and identified the spectrum of his understanding of himself and other people. As he moved toward the center of the spectrum, George increased his potential for self-compassion and respect for others.

Growth for George involved stepping back from his self-protective patterns and allowing himself to listen to and receive feedback. Not surprisingly, George was at first resistant to seeing a perspective that collided with his self-perception and his perspective on the situation. However, he trusted the counselor, who attempted to strike the balance between providing support for George while also offering perspective shifting as a potentially freeing and illuminating act. Through practice, George learned to consider other people's feedback and genuinely reflect on the impact of his behaviors on others. Moreover, he became more able to identify the self-protective motivations to his actions. George had an opportunity to gain more clarity, greater self-compassion and understanding, and a more sustainable connection and camaraderie with his peers. This was a desire he had often voiced.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Men come from a rich variety of backgrounds and experiences and vary in their accuracy of self-understanding and perspective on others. We believe that counseling can serve as a forum for men to develop and deepen these important relational competencies. Counselors practicing from a DRC framework strive to help men become more realistic about their situations and identify feedback as central to this work. At the same time, DRC recognizes that feedback can be threatening in the best of contexts. However, DRC posits that, when given within a trusting relationship where mutual respect exists, feedback can be received, explored, and integrated.

This model recognizes that some men connect to a clear and balanced perspective of themselves and others and exemplify the best of masculinity with their compassion and courage. However, DRC also recognizes that other men are challenged in their perspectives. Men entrenched in the furthest extremes of these perspectives may not integrate feedback or value the mutual benefits involved in egalitarian relationships.

Limitations

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Men connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective in their overall management of life may be particularly challenged in using this approach. In addition, men who connect to a self-denigrating perspective may be equally challenged. Furthermore, some men may not want to see a concrete and visual depiction of their relational connections and disconnections or hear candid feedback. Finally, although there is available research on the contributing models, this approach has emerged from our clinical practices and has yet to develop a distinct research base. Future research could explore and report on DRC training, and clinical outcomes of DRC are needed.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

The DRC model, as used with men, outlines a method to conceptualize self-understanding and relationships in an integrated fashion while considering the intersection of masculinity and clients' personal development. Men participating in DRC-focused counseling are made aware that counseling will involve looking at the presenting problem; considering contributing factors, including their role; receiving and responding to feedback; exploring their perspectives; sifting through potential scenarios; and taking action. The DRC model encourages men to connect to a clear and balanced perspective of their own functioning while considering how their perspective both shapes and is shaped by their important relationships. To help clients connect to a clear and balanced perspective, counselors who are cognizant of these factors may help men evaluate the reciprocity and respect within their relationships and deepen their accurate awareness of themselves and those around them.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Men in Counseling
  4. DRC With Men
  5. Theoretical Influences
  6. Perspectives and the Accuracy of Personal and Other Awareness
  7. DRC in Action: A Case Example
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations
  10. Conclusion
  11. References
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