Conferences have always been the highlight of the research calendar in my academic world. I have always left them feeling excited about new research ideas, new collaborations, and with a renewed buzz to go home and write. I hadn’t realised pre-pandemic how important these in-person events were to creating the atmosphere, and the ease of networking and collaborating over coffee on the session breaks – or wine receptions!
The virtual conference and events I’ve attended since, including from the Section, have been fantastic and carried many advantages in terms of facilitating attendance. But it was fantastic to be able to organise my first conference as chair and welcome people in person for the first time since we became an official British Psychological Society Section.
The keynotes were selected to represent a range of expertise in the areas of male psychology. Martin Seager was a founding member of the original Male Psychology Section and had fought tirelessly for nearly 10 years to have the Section recognised by the BPS. His presentation specifically addressed our cradle to grave lifespan theme. He covered themes around young children, school and education, adolescents, and early adulthood into other key life stages.
Professor Niki Graham-Kevan later the same day discussed the impact of the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy on how we work with men and boys who are victims of domestic violence. Her analysis highlighted the issues with the way the strategy is presented and the minimisation of men.
On the second day, our final keynote Dr Naomi Murphy discussed the stereotypes that impact men within the criminal justice system. Her analysis of the ways in which this can impact their treatment was powerful and left us with a message about the importance of creating hope and possibility, and working in a trauma informed way.
The programme speaks for itself in detailing what a range of issues were covered. The sessions were all well-received and there were lots of audience engagement through the questions after each talk. Some standout examples included a powerful and emotional discussion by Professor Ben Hine about his autoethnographic account of men’s experiences of abuse involving children. Ben shared the research context around the ways in which fathers can have their relationship with their children manipulated and discussed the experiences of himself and his father in how their relationship has been disrupted earlier in his life. Ben’s description of his experiences and the quotes he used from their shared experiences left many of the audience in tears.
The recent high-profile Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial meant anticipation in the audience for the talk by Liz Harper and Dan Gibbons from the University of Cumbria. They discussed a critical discourse analysis of the news media surrounding the earlier UK libel case. Their descriptions of the way in which the two actors were portrayed through language was thoroughly engaging; they described the discursive strategies that were used to discredit the experience of Depp and create ingroups and outgroups.
Dr Emma Langley discussed her work exploring the role of fathers raising children with intellectual/developmental disabilities at different life stages. Fathers in this study described wanting to play a bigger role in their children’s lives but were juggling multiple responsibilities. The framework presented showed the multiple layers of support fathers were offering to the child, their partner, and the family. Her participants described key challenges at various life stages including adjusting to the role, pressure to make things OK and feeling overwhelmed by navigating the systems.
Dr Kennath Widanaralalage discussed his phenomenological analysis of the experiences of male-on-male survivors of rape and sexual abuse and highlighted the emotional, behavioural, and cognitive effects of victimisation. The quotes from men’s accounts were really powerful to hear and his work has significant implications for what service providers and practitioners should consider when working with male victims and survivors.
As predicted, one of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to see old and new faces in person. The wine reception at the end of the first day was full of lively discussions about the day’s events and individual sessions and talks. It was great to see practitioners and academics coming together and discussing ways to work together and collaborate in research and practice. I know it was the first conference experience for many of the PhD student attendees and it was good to see them network and sharing their research with other academics and practitioners. It was full of non-stop chatting and networking, so much so we ran nearly half an hour over!
The Twitter activity both during and since the conference has been positive and encouraging, and shows the engagement of attendees and the thought provoking nature of much of the content (see #bpsmale2022). We have also received some really positive feedback since the event; this included about the content and presentation of research:
- ‘The first in-person Male Psychology Section conference didn’t disappoint, and showed the breadth of the discipline and the quality of research and practice coming from those at the forefront of the field.’ – Dr Craig Harper, senior lecturer in psychology
- ‘A fantastic event. Great opportunity to hear evidence-based research focusing on men’s experiences. A wide range of topics was explored, including domestic abuse, mental health and emotional and cognitive effects of victimization and much more. An insightful event with an engaging audience, with the opportunity to meet and discuss future research needed to support men.’ – Natalie Quinn Walker, lecturer/PhD student
- ‘I was extremely lucky and grateful to be chosen to present my research alongside other fantastic academics at the BPS male psychology conference. It was factual, interesting, at points emotional, but most importantly needed! Thank you #bpsmale2022.’ – Kealey Jayes PhD student
The feedback also included the importance of the opportunity to come together with people who have the same interest and passion to tackle issues affecting men and boys:
- ‘In an area where people often question why we do what we do, it was so reassuring to be around others interested in the same questions, and passionate about issues affecting men and boys. I feel like I have so much energy now to move forward!’ – Professor Ben Hine (newly elected chair elect of the Section)
- ‘I’ve had the most awesome, inspiring 2 days, thinking about how we can best support men and boys. I’ve cried, laughed, met new people, hugged old friends, and feel even more in love with the work I do.’ – Dr Jenny Mackay, lecturer in forensic psychology
- ‘For those touchy feely people at #bpsmale2022 @katebentleykb described being there as having a warm hug … I concur!! Validating our difficult work and sharing the evidence base that indicates the experiences & needs of men & highlighting gaps in provision.’ Dr Sue Whitcombe, psychologist
It bodes well for next year’s event that so many also went away excited about their own research:
- It was an invigorating two days, with excellent presentations and fantastic networking opportunities. I came away excited about my own research and how I could implement the issues raised within other’s talks. The event was extremely well coordinated, and I cannot wait for next year!’ Alexandra Kirkby, lecturer in psychology
There is already an appetite for next year’s event and the planning is already in motion and we will announce details about this soon – save the date 19th and 20th June 2023!
Elizabeth Bates, PhD is a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Cumbria. She is the current chair of the BPS Male Psychology Section.