One of the best answers we have found to this question was written by Irvin Yallom, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy . The first edition came out in 1970, and the 5th new and updated in 2005. It details the positive results from the all the best research studies, and has analysed in depth the experience of participating in groups. Yallom identified 12 positive factors, through which groups impact on our “mature adaptation” (increased well-being, happiness and health benefits):
- Feeling of having problems similar to others, not alone (= ‘Universality’)
- Helping and supporting each other (= ‘Altruism’)
- Encouragement that positive change is possible (= ‘Hope’)
- Nurturing support and assisting each other ( = ‘Guidance’)
- Being given new information and sharing this critically ( = ‘Learning (input)’)
- Finding out about ourselves and others (= ‘Learning (output)’)
- Feeling of belonging and valuing the group (= ‘Cohesion’)
- Opportunities to express and release emotions (= ‘Catharsis’)
- Explore life and death realities (= ‘Existential’)
- Identifying and changing dysfunctional roles from early life (= ‘Family re-enactment’)
- Imitating effective skills and modelling on others in the group (= ‘Identification’)
- Gaining insights and wisdom from the group experience (= ‘Self-understanding’)
However, the most important thing is that being in men’s group is GOOD FUN! As Kenny D’Cruz writes of the men’s groups activities he has run in London for the last 10 years, it is about being able to “listen to ourselves and one another, get real, hang out, and have a laugh”.
Hanging out as men together, openly and honestly, going deeper at times and developing trust – are there any additional or particular features that distinguish Men Beyond 50 groups? Exploring life and death realities (see 9. above) may have more edge and meaning for us as we encounter ageing and look at our own mortality. As older men we may also want to explore aspects of our invisible position in society and to challenge stereotypes such as ‘grumpy old men’. We may want to engage in specific person-centred planning, looking more deeply at what we want to do to give back to others, for example through mentoring or voluntary support work. We may want to look at our role in community, including how older men can inspire leadership and empowerment, work with the disadvantaged and mobilise support. And we may want to explore spiritual dimensions of ageing, including for instance elderhood and rites of passage, challenging taboos and speaking out against the silence.
However, there is no specific ‘one size fits all’ model for an older men’s group. Not for or against anything, the men present in each group will create their own unique supportive environment, and find out for themselves along the way what they want to make it.