Counseling Men

Reviews of “Counseling Men: A Caregiver’s Guide To Men In Crisis”

Counseling MenAd-copy:

Male social roles-both what is expected to men and what they expect of themselves-are changing. As a result, men are increasingly seeking to examine their confusion about vocational goals, family connections, and friendships – male turning points or crises.

But listening to men is not always easy for clergy and pastoral counselors. For example, in discussing their exhaustion, isolation, failure, and lack of power, men seem to overlook their powerfulness and privilege. Philip Culbertson, a noted scholar in pastoral theology and male spirituality, provides a helpful strategy for assisting men in moving feelings by means of discussion.

In Part One, viewing such men as “shamed” or “losing face,” Culbertson asserts, offers a threefold way of entering into conversation. The counselor needs to look at the person and observe how the male is covering up his fragile ego. Then, the counselor assists the man in talking toward his fears and losses.

Part Two discerns and addresses the typical presenting issues that men bring: employment and retirement, being parented and a parent, marriage and communication, and friendship and love. These issues provide the context and language for caregiving.

Part Three concludes with a pastoral theology of masculine spirituality and creating communities of men.

Philip L. Culbertson is Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality and coeditor with Arthur Shippee of The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period. ISBN 0-8006-2786-5.


A. D. News, Auckland, New Zealand

The phone rings; I am asked to read and review this book. I am intrigued; only that morning I had finished reading A Woman’s Work by Marianne Williamson. Is there a connection? I soon find it-it is liberation, the freeing of persons from the bondage of the gender expectations of a culture which is patriarchal and seemingly male-dominated. I write “seemingly” because Philip writes of the feelings of powerlessness of so many men. While both authors write from their experience as white, “middle-class” Americans (USA), I believe readers from most of the cultures represented in Aotearoa/New Zealand will resonate with ideas that are expressed. Both books have general interest, but I note that Philip does not aim his book towards counselees. Rather, Counseling Men….”focuses on the typical concerns that men raise and how ministers (male and female)-pastoral counselors, clergy, or commissioned laity-can fruitfully address these” (Foreword).

The ways “the typical concerns” are expressed are dealt with in Chapter 1 as counselors are encouraged to develop “Gender-Specific Listening Skills.” From his wide field of reading, indicated by the Bibliography, Philip draws freely to tune the reader into the language and worldview of men. It may be in part the way the quotations are type-set that cause me to experience them as interruptions. I was aware also that I valued so much the points Philip was making, e.g., “To secure healing, men need to find the courage to open their eyes to their inner landscape and their psychic surroundings, to force the resurrection of entire parts of themselves that have been denied or dead for years, to honor feelings as being as valuable as measurable external reality” (p. 14). When Philip uses examples from his own counseling experience, the reading seems to flow more freely.

With less quotations I read on with interest “Facing the Masculine Ego.” Then came four studies, each of which I found very helpful as I related what was written to my own experience, “Employment and Retirement,” “Being Parented, Being a Parent,” “Marriage and Communication” (there is a bold attempt to answer “Why do men get married?” p. 59ff), “Love and Friendship.” Reading the last chapter, “Masculine Spirituality,” which contains a section “To Ministers who offer Spiritual Direction,” caused me to want to read Philip’s earlier book, New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality.

I warmly commend the book to any involved in counseling. It is a small volume with valuable ideas. I like the way, at the end of each chapter, the section “What the Minister Has to Offer,” provides ready reference. I give a sample of the text of the end of chapter 1: “Counseling Men demands perceptive ministers who are committed to the transcendence of gender stereotypes and the liberation of both women and men from oppressions and manipulations that hold them back form living into the fullness and health of God’s love for the humbled and powerless”; and the concluding sentence of the book (the last section is entitled “Liberating Men: A Challenge”): “The challenge to the creative minister today is to play out the exciting new possibilities of gender-specific care giving.”

Douglas Kidd, A.D. News, New Zealand
June, 1994


The GTU Book Report

This new book, the latest in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling series, is also the most recent release of Philip Culbertson, author of New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality. Meant to help pastor counsel me in these time of changing roles and identities, Culbertson addresses the following topics: Gender-specific listening skills; Facing the Masculine Ego; Employment and Retirement; Being Parented, Being a Parent; Marriage & Communication; Love and Friendship Needs; Masculine Spirituality. I expect this book will fill an important gap in the market!

Debra Farrington, July 8, 1994


From the Fortress Press review of New Books

As more and more attention is paid to the differences which exist between human beings, more and more books will inevitably be published, specializing in appropriate approaches to particular individuals. It’s no surprise therefore, that commensurate with an increased attention to gender issues in general, and to men’s issues in particular, that a book like Counseling Men would appear. This book is published in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series, co-edited by Howard W. Stone and Howard Clinebell.

Counseling Men briefly visits the issues of male/female communication and the male ego, and then helps the reader to look at a number of issues (employment, unemployment, marriage, family, and even friendship), particularly as a male in our culture typically confronts them. The special contribution that Culbertson makes to the discussion is his presentation of a variety of counseling theories. Though his editor writes that the book “aims to help concerned men achieve a clearer identity in the whirlwind of change that is occurring in family and relationship structures,” it seems actually to have been written more “as an important resource for those seeking to minister to men,” whether they be lay or ordained, male or female.

The approach to pastoral care is one by which middle class white American men learn to break away from old stereotypes with an eye to “the inbreaking of God’s realm and the free working of the Spirit in the Christian community….the freedom of the future.” This liberation comes as the bondage of old stereotypes and role models are named and new models are tried. For Culbertson, the two patron saints for men now in their forties, have been Vince Lombardi…”winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing;” and the Lone Ranger, “who always kept secret his true identity.” The difficulty of breaking away from those stereotypes is immense. While Culbertson is primarily objective in the presentation of his material, even his Lone Ranger mask slips, and his own personal issues surface: “we must individuate…if we are going to find peace with the men in our history” and “men who fear women-and I believe that, down deep, this includes almost every man.” These subjective, yet revealing insertions, seem to be out of place in an otherwise objective presentation.

Without citing the specific studies, Culbertson observes that “men cover more topics more quickly, and at less depth, in a given conversational period than do women…” That truism is reflected in this book. The 83 pages of text cover 109 subdivisions within 7 chapters! The middle five chapters have within them 8 divisions titled “What the Minister Has to Offer,” suggesting that perchance a male, wandering through a shopping mall, might drop in to visit a minister’s shop…and here’s what the minister may, or may not, have to offer.

Pastor Jim Gearhart
King of Glory Lutheran Church
Arvada, Colorado


From New Zealand Journal of Counselling, Vol. 16, No. 1, June 1994, pp. 39-40.

This book is notable because of the timeliness of its contents, and because the author is Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist in Auckland. Its purpose is to “…open the way for men to discuss and discover their fears and losses with clergy, pastoral counselors, and lay caregivers” (back cover of book).

It commences with a discussion of gender-specific listening skills, common resistances, and specific process tasks for clergy involved in counseling men. This is followed by a consideration of major themes faced by males in the church, including their ego, the phenomenon of shame, and their fears. Then Culbertson devotes separate chapters to issues associated with employment (or its lack) and retirement; with being parented and parenting; with marriage and communication; and with love and friendship needs. The book concludes with a chapter on masculine spirituality.

In this slender volume Culbertson has packed a great deal of universally valuable information, drawing on therapeutic and research literature, on Western cultural history, and on his own experience as a pastoral counselor. While illustrations and references are North American, they are very relevant to New Zealanders as Culbertson describes problems created by conservative, stereotypical male attitudes and behaviors. Because of this emphasis, however, the book should not be seen to speak on behalf of all men in all circumstances.

Culbertson addresses church-based pastoral caregivers as his primary audience, and has frequent suggestions for them. At the same time the book’s challenge to male stereotypes, its holistic/spiritual perspective, and its constant reference to counseling implications are of great value to secular counselors and to members of the general public. Commendably, it offers alternative perspectives and constructive action suggestions throughout.

This is not a facile do-it-yourself manual, nor an integrated training program for counselors. It is an articulate and tightly-packed overview of the traditional male stereotype and the challenge that it poses to pastoral caregivers and counselors. As such, it speaks directly to many of the issues that exercise us in New Zealand today.

Johannes Everts
Senior Lecturer in Education
University of Auckland


From The Beacon Hill Books Reviewer, Sydney Australia, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1995.

There are very few books which pick up issues specifically related to men. It is not a large tome but contains a lot of sound and helpful suggestions. I was pleased with the way the author tried to refrain from generalizing to all men; he says: “some men,” “most men,” “if men,” “men who have….” Too many books when writing about men or women group everyone into the same category. Culbertson has endeavored to be sensitive to this issue.

His initial chapter raises a very important point for anyone who is going to counsel another, that is to be aware of our own feelings in relationship to the issue. We all come to counseling with particular feelings and ideas which have been part of growth and education. Culbertson suggests some questions for both male and female clergy to consider. Working through these questions could prevent either collusion or transference taking place. Although the author refers in his book to ministers I would not see it limited to ministers and is useful to anyone who is involved in counseling or pastoral care.

Each chapter has section headings which are helpful if you want to come back to a particular aspect. One such heading in each chapter is: “What the minister has to offer.” In this section there are practical suggestions based on either a case that has been referred to earlier or indeed suggest that the man may need therapy if he is willing and it is available. These sections show in practical ways how the skills and knowledge of the counselor can be of specific use in this situation.

The book covers a number of areas which may be the source of men who seek counseling such as “employment and retirement,” “shame which arises from a loss of self worth,” “man as father,” “marriage and communication,” love and friendship needs,” and “masculine spirituality.” Although the book refers to other methods of counseling and uses ideas from other writers, the author does not get bogged down with them and we are not left feeling helpless because we don’t know this particular system. There is a comprehensive bibliography if one needs to follow up on ideas.

As a woman who counsels men on occasions I found it a very helpful book and would recommend it to anyone who is involved in care or counseling. Please do not let the title of “counseling” make it seem beyond your gifts. It is a book well worth looking at.

Rev. Anna Catlin
Parkin-Wesley College
Adelaide, South Australia


From Critical Review of Books in Religion, 1995

This book by Philip Culbertson, Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand, appears in the Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series published by Fortress.

He takes as his point of departure the difficulty many ministers have in listening empathically to men. As he says, “Men are presumed to have power and privilege, yet confess…their exhaustion, isolation, failure, or lack of power.” (9) In order to help caregivers understand this apparent paradox and find ways of assisting men in their spiritual and psychological journeys, Culbertson develops a liberation model for working with men in counseling or other ministry settings. Rather than encouraging men toward psychological adjustment to an unjust, patriarchal social order, counselors working from this model help men discern the working of the Spirit toward the freedom of a more just future. In that movement, the author believes that men need support in breaking “the bonds of the powerful structures that unsettle and abuse them,” as well as in freeing themselves from “crippling stereotypes of masculinity.” (10) The goal, then, of nonsexist therapy “is to transcend gender-role expectations and their resulting oppression.” (18)

To help caregivers reach this goal, Culbertson begins with two chapters describing strategies for getting through some of the obstacles masculine socialization poses for therapeutic work. Chapter 1 offers tips on listening skills that help men recognize and articulate their feelings and overcome resistance to therapy. In Chapter 2, he explores ways of getting underneath men’s fears of shaming, losing, ambiguity, and dependency. In the following five chapters, he explores various issues that are particularly important in a ministry to men-employment and retirement (Chapter 3), familial responsibilities (Chapter 4), marriage and communication (Chapter 5), friendship with other men (Chapter 6), and spirituality (Chapter 7). To give a flavor of Culbertson’s analyses and prescriptions, I mention only a few examples from these chapters.

Culbertson’s use of family systems theory and attention to various expressions of men’s grief are promising in helping men deal with issues related to their family of origin. The treatment of the dynamics for men around intimacy and individuation is very perceptive. He explores why intimacy sometimes feels like a negation of autonomy and individuation sometimes feels like a negation of closeness. His suggestions about how to point men beyond these false alternatives are, alone, worth the price of the book. Finally, he describes spiritual disciplines (e.g. centering prayer and guided meditation) which counter some of the habits that stifle men’s spiritual lives.

The men to which the title refers are middle-strata, heterosexual, Euro-american men. Although Culbertson does not treat the many other dynamics that shape working and owning class men, gay and bisexual men, and men of other ethnic and racial groups, many of the issues he does address affect those men in one way or another. Therefore, caregivers working with those populations will find much that is useful. However, a little more discussion of the dynamics and effects of heterosexism and homophobia would have been useful.

For persons working with men in Culbertson’s target audience, this book is an extremely helpful primer. His liberation approach enables the counselor to help a man sort out ways in which he has been hurt and has hurt others by the coercive practices of sexist gender conditioning. This approach and the skills elucidated are invaluable in aiding men toward both intimacy and individuation, as well as toward social and personal well-being.

By covering so much of the waterfront in a fairly short book, Culbertson can only describe some of the most important dynamics and briefly sketch appropriate approaches to them. He does provide, however, in his references and bibliography rich resources for those who want to follow up on the topics he treats. For those interested in the theological framework of Culbertson’s approach, I recommend his New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Fortress, 1992). This is a very helpful book that deserves a wide reading not only by pastoral counselors, but also by pastors, Christian educators, and anyone else involved in ministry to men.

Stephen B. Boyd
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC 27109


From congregations, March-April 1996 (Washington, D.C. The Alban Institute), p. 22

This is an easy to read and thought-provoking book. It will appeal especially to pastors and men’s study groups. Culbertson points out that from the outside men look to be dominant, self-confident, and in control, but the reality is very different. The majority of men are cogs in an impersonal system, mortgaged to the hilt, and fearful of losing their jobs. Many men-and women-are caught in a destructive and abusive system. Culbertson describes his model of counseling as liberationist; counseling that liberates people from present tentative oppressive social structures to a new future of freedom.

Culbertson discusses gender-specific listening skills, facing the masculine ego, employment and retirement, being parented and being a parent, marriage and communication, love and friendship needs, and spirituality. I did not always agree with him, but I always found his position stimulating.

This is a solid work, especially helpful for those who work with or counsel men.

Rev. Gerald A. “Rusty” Butler
Eureka Presbyterian Church
Eureka, IL 61530


From Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 44, No. 2, November 1995, pp. 126-128

A recent experience accentuated the need for Culbertson’s book Counseling Men. In directing a Sharing Life Stories class in a parish, a 60 year old man offered serious resistance to any self-disclosure. Recently retired as CEO of a large corporation he epitomized “the crippling stereotypes of masculinity” which Culbertson attacks. However, when he agreed to remain in the group as a “listener,” he later shared his deep fear that he would outlive his wife, and be subject to old age loneliness and depression.

The author attempts to help concerned men achieve a clearer identity in the whirlwind of change that is occurring in family and relationship structures. He tries to help men move beyond the “mythic image of masculinity” which thrusts upon men the demand to “perform, pay and pursue,” and calls on the institutional church to formulate a male liberation theology for “disenfranchised men on the margins.”

Culbertson, Director of Pastoral Studies, College of St. John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand, is author of The New Adam: The Future of Masculine Spirituality (Fortress Press, 1991). This book, however, seeks to help clergy know how to minister to the modern man, and ends almost all his chapters with a helpful section, “What the Minister Has to Offer.”

Each chapter addresses some of the concerns facing the liberated man and how ministers-pastoral counselors, clergy, or commissioned laity-can address these needs. In chapter 1, gender-specific listening skills are discussed, so that the minister or counselor can tune into the language and worldview of men. One helpful task is for clergy to model those emotions which men are tempted to repress. Chapter 2 addresses the masculine ego, and ways that ministers can respond to it are suggested. The importance of work in men’s lives is the focus of Chapter 3, especially when a man loses his work through unemployment or retirement. Special concern is given to the sense of powerlessness that accompanies these life transitions. Culbertson offers concrete help to clergy/counselors who must help men deal with the feelings of being “no one” or as one retired banker expressed it, “I have gone from Who’s Who to Who’s He?”

Chapters 4 and 5 concern marriage and being a parent. Since one half of marriages still end in divorce, and most divorced men remarry in a short time, the author offers constructive help for preserving marriages and avoiding some of the pitfalls of divorced men who “rush back into marriage again to find a new mate who will solve their problems for them.”

Chapter 6 addresses friendships among men, while deploring the fact that the “majority of adult males do not have close friends.” Chapter 7 addresses masculine spirituality (opposed to muscular Christianity) and makes suggests about how this greatly ignored area can be developed.

The book, though short in size, offers immense contributions to those who need to understand contemporary men, and develop ways to help them with their issues. I concur with Culbertson’s statement that “the commission of the church has ever been to defend and renew the apostolic faith, but not to place it in a museum, or make it the darling of the conservative right, or use it as an escape from the painful realities of men’s and women’s daily living” (p. 92). For the church to cling to “the mythic image of masculinity” that makes men into “Iron Johns” from Mars, is to surrender to the Traditionalists and be oblivious to the changing world in which men find themselves.

One wishes that the author dealt in greater depth with some of the issues the book raises, viz. homosexuality, older men, masculine spirituality, and men’s groups. Although the author explicitly says he “neither advocates or justifies homosexual relationships between men” (p. 74) he seems to set aside the issue. Having been accused of writing “gay theology” by reviewers of his earlier book, he artfully dodges the issue which clergy must increasingly face in counseling situations.

Men are living longer in our society, which forces new issues for those who would minister to older men. Culbertson does hint at some of those issues when he discusses the retirement syndrome, where “the incidence of men who die within a year of retirement is disproportionately high.” Loss of income, structure for the day, purpose, and masculine identity are major issues for older men. More and more men are seeking new directions in their retirement years (see Richard L. Morgan, I Never Found That Rocking Chair, Upper Room Books, 1993). Retirement is seen as an opportunity, not a fate; an enrichment, not a diminishment; the beginning of a new phase of life.

If spirituality is seen not as a separate compartment of life but a deeper dimension beneath all experience, then the section on Masculine Spirituality needs to be expanded. Becoming a spiritual director or soul friend to men demands skills usually not found in traditional clergy. Beyond centering prayer, guided meditation and community building there needs to be the healing relationship that encourages men to talk to other men (or women) about their emerging identities and inner needs.

Community building deserves more than one page. The emergence of support groups for men (like Us Too Groups for men recovering from prostate cancer or Reminiscence Groups for Older Men) offers hope that men can gather to do more than “eat, meet, and go home.” Rather these groups can become microcosms of the early koinonia, where “they had all things in common.”

I heartily recommend Counseling Men not only for clergy and pastoral counselors who seek to minister to men, but to men themselves and women, too, who want to get back in touch with a creative vision of the new man in our society.

Richard L. Morgan, Ph.D.
Parish Associate/Older Adult Ministries
Lenoir, North Carolina


From Reality, April/May 1996, p. 37

Counseling Men is written with the intention of identifying issues that men face. The issues dealt with are Gender Specific Counseling Skills, Facing the Masculine Ego, Employment and Retirement, Being Parented, Being a Parent, Marriage and Communication, Love and Friendship Needs, and Masculine Spirituality.

The book is not intended to provide solutions to specific issues, but rather is an overview of typical concerns men face. As such it runs the risk of making generalizations that will be “spot-on” for some but miss the mark for others. With this proviso, Culbertson has outlined well how men communicate, what their concerns are, and how these concerns affect their relationships.

Culbertson notes that most men have been trained in their families of origin to suppress their feelings and emotions. Along with this can be an inability to notice bodily needs, such as rest or stress-reduction. In exploring the male ego, the author proposes that a key issue men face is the shame of seeing themselves as less than adequate in the roles of procreator, protector, and provider.

He proposes that many men find it difficult or uncomfortable to talk through their concerns, leaving them often feeling the burden of responsibilities coupled with great loneliness and self-doubt. This is compounded by an unwillingness in many cases to seek help. The book provides a backdrop to this of changes in gender roles in society that often bring confusion or threaten men’s understanding of themselves and their roles.

The book is painted with broad brush strokes, perhaps too broad! You will need to decide for yourself if there are greater or lesser extremes or variables associated with different cultures. Regardless, this thought-provoking book brings the reader up to date with some of the issues that men may be facing as they seek pastoral help.

Joyce Carswell


From Ad Clerum, The Anglican Diocese of Waiapu, New Zealand, August 1997

Do you find in many pastoral situations the women talk freely and its hard work to get much from the men?
One of the key issues today is the changing roles of men. Some men have sought to take on board the criticism leveled at them; while others have sought to re-group to perpetrate the dominant culture. It is good to find a book which deals with issues for men sensitively. I took some time getting into this book, but I am glad that I persevered. Philip Culbertson, a lecturer at St. John’s College, Auckland, feels that men also can benefit from a liberation model which focuses on community and the future.

The book is written to help counselors in their dealings with men. The author observes that women are far more likely to seek help, so getting men to talk is the topic of his first chapter, Gender Specific Listening Skills.

For men, conversation is more likely to be the transfer of information (I think… ) rather than the communication of feelings. He gives a few clues to help men talk about feelings.
Facing the Masculine Ego in chapter 2 deals with the nature of shame. The traditional males roles of procreation, protector and provider gives some rationale for masculine behavior and their dislike of being “feminine”. This logically leads to the third chapter on Employment and Retirement. Work gives men identity and takes up much of their waking hours. Culbertson deals with unemployment, job selection and moving from work to home.

The next three chapters deal with roles and relationships – father/son relationships in Being Parented, Being a Parent, marriage and family life in Marriage, and Communication and Love and Friendship needs.
The final chapter, Masculine Spirituality, confronts the question of humility in a performance oriented society. Muscular Christianity is challenged and I found support for my own thoughts that many of our environmental problems stem from an attitude of domination or conquest.

A brief review of a book that has much packed into its 90 odd pages. I feel that it is a book that I shall refer to from time to time. Opinion is well supported by research.
In the meantime, it challenges me in my own humanity and hopefully will be beneficial to others.

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