Ever Wondered What Happens at a Men’s Group?

Integral Man was a men’s group that I used to co-facilitate.

The following is an article that was published in the Sunday Telegraph (Australia)  Body and Soul Section previously. It was written by Nigel Bartlett, who attended the men’s group.

Gentle Men

Determined to find out if it really is good to talk, Nigel Bartlett joined an Integral Man group.

We guys aren’t renowned for talking. True, it’s well into the “noughties”, and we’ve come a long way, baby, but opening up about the stuff that matters still isn’t really a guy thing. “Stuff” like commitment issues, credit card debt, or feeling crap at our jobs. We don’t want to admit that, do we? Certainly not to other guys – they’d laugh us out of town. Integral Man isn’t a course, there’s no teacher, no whiteboard and no homework. Instead, according to the description in the leaflet, it’s a “gathering of men” that provides a “space for each of us to access and speak of our experiences, perceptions and truth, and to listen to each other”.

It sounds hippie-dippy, and I’m more than a bit nervous when I turn up for the first session. I have no idea what I’m going to find. Barefoot guys in cheesecloth? Maybe there’ll be enforced hugging – nudity, even – as a way of challenging our perceptions of masculinity. I’ve heard about men’s groups like that, and I’ve a horrible feeling this is going to be one of those.

Learning to talk the talk

The line of shoes and socks outside the room doesn’t bode well. I slip mine off and enter the room, where I find a circle of cushions on the floor (oh, dear God…) and 10 or 12 guys sitting on them. A quick scan reveals no cheesecloth, just men in business gear, or jeans and casual shirts, or boardshorts and T-shirts. Integral Man is run by Paul Perfrement and Harley Conyer, who between them have multiple qualifications in psychology, counselling and life coaching. We start by agreeing on some ground rules. Not least of these is confidentiality. I reveal I’m a journalist, and the others agree they’re happy for me to write about the sessions, so long as I mention only how they affect me, not what others have to say. Fair enough.

So, what goes on at Integral Man? Is it secret men’s business? Not really. Over the next four weeks, we talk about why we (as guys) do the things we do, and why we think the way we think. And it’s pretty important stuff. After all, let’s say you’ve spent your whole life getting into brawls, or your girlfriend’s going to ditch you because you’re a workaholic, you’d want to know why, wouldn’t you?

Family and fatherhood (that is, the influence of our own fathers, or lack of them) plays a large part in our discussions. I realise, from listening to the others and from talking about my own past, that my dad has played a major role in how I view myself. So has my schooling. (Going to a rugby playing boarding school is bound to have some effect, don’t you reckon?) I have to admit that during the first session I feel mightily uncomfortable – both literally (my back aches from lolling around on these damn cushions) and because I realise how much I detest talking about “manhood”. It makes me feel intensely awkward.

Break on through

And then a weird thing happens. Midway through the session, I confess I’m really not enjoying myself right now. And as soon as I’ve got that out, we’ve discussed it a bit and no-one’s told me I’m a dickhead, I relax. I sink back into the cushion, my back pain disappears, and my intense awkwardness lifts. Huh? What happened there? Well, that’s the key to Integral Man. At least, it’s the key for me. It feels great talking with a group of guys whom I wouldn’t normally expect to be interested in listening to this stuff. It feels even better noticing a weight lift from some part of me. That might sound cheesy, but hey, it works for me. Nowhere is this clearer than during the final two sessions, when, after some general discussion, we break into small groups. Each guy is asked to talk about an “edge” in their lives – basically, an issue they feel they need to deal with – and the rest of the group is asked to give feedback. Without mentioning any details (I agreed not to, remember?), let’s just say the discussions cover the whole gamut of life experiences – relationships, commitment, work, money, childhood… Issues that have been eating away at each of us.

By the end of the fourth session, I’m astounded at how honest and intimate a group of guys can be with each other – with no enforced hugging or nudity. I feel I’ve got to know these guys a bit over the weeks and we’ve created some sort of bond. Most of the guys decide the bond is strong enough that they want to carry on meeting up each month. And that (it seems to me) is the point of Integral Man – to create a forum for guys to talk with each other, and if they want to continue doing that after the sessions have finished, so much the better. Integral Man might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. No point in going along if you don’t want to. But it taught me something I won’t forget in a hurry: it’s good to talk.

Harley Conyer



Category : Blog & Featured & Men's Groups

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