The social work discipline has been around for a century. But, in all that time, researchers and practitioners alike seem to have overlooked an important fact: men and women are not alike.
A new book by UW Tacoma Associate Professor Rich Furman, published this month by Columbia University Press, explores the role of social work in working with men. Social Work Practice with Men at Risk is the first scholarly book to treat men as a culturally distinct group with unique problems and behaviors.
“Most social work theory is gender neutral,” Furman said. “The social work field has no conception of how to use gender in working with men and women.”
Furman, director of the Social Work program at UW Tacoma, was inspired to research and write the book a few years ago while teaching at the University of Nebraska.
“I had some students who were working with male veterans, but there was a lot missing in the practice books,” he related. “The books never talked about working with men as men. Working with men’s issues necessitates different intervention models and techniques.”
Men at Risk focuses on working with men who are veterans, displaced workers, substance abusers and mental health consumers, as well as older men. All of these populations are less likely than women to seek help. Furman uses empirical research and case studies to probe into social work practice with at-risk men, taking into account how men’s lives are affected by globalization, alternative conceptions of masculinity and relationships.
“Masculinities are now constructed in a global arena,” Furman said, “where diverse expectations, norms and processes all influence the complex expectations and possibilities that men must negotiate.”
Risk factors, including physical and mental health concerns, compulsive disorders, addictions and violence, play out differently between genders. Recognizing that can affect the outcome of social work interventions.
Lauren Dockett, executive editor at Columbia University Press, who specializes in social work, psychology and gerontology acquisitions, said the book acknowledges that some within the social work field are starting to question the effectiveness of practice interventions with vulnerable men.
“Those people also recognize that there can be a relatively minor emphasis on the psychology of men and on men’s issues during teaching and training,” she said.
Social work, Dockett said, often focuses on historically oppressed and neglected populations, such as women, children, ethnic and cultural minorities, LGBT people and people with disabilities.
“The needs, the psychology, the disenfranchisement of vulnerable men can sometimes get lost in that emphasis,” she said. “So a trained social worker who, say, steps into a role as facilitator of a male-only group in a veteran’s center may not have the training she needs to meet those men where they are.”
She added that she considers Furman a self-aware feminist and she trusted that he could write a first-of-its kind text that wouldn’t be divisive.
“There has been writing in this area on specific male populations, but none that asked the field to take a real look at the training it’s doing regarding interventions with men more generally,” she said. “I think the field is ready for this book.”
This new view of social work could be especially important in the South Puget Sound region, with its large populations of military personnel and veterans, Furman said. Although he has written and edited books before and has another coming out this summer, Furman is particularly proud of Men at Risk. “It’s the first thing I’ve ever done that had this much impact,” he said.
See excerpts from Social Work with Men at Risk here.