P. Gregory Guss, L.C.S.W.
Three years ago, a pilot project, titled the Davis Community Men’s Talk Circle was
started in Davis, California, as a free service to address the profound patterns of male
isolation that occur for men of all ages. As a Social Work clinician, I have seen first hand
the deleterious effects of isolation in men’s lives. Isolation contributes directly to
depression, job dissatisfaction and loss, increase in violence, numbing behaviors, and
alienation from loved ones. Moreover, isolation fuels male suicide, which is at an all
time high for boys, men and our elder males.
Our Community Men’s Talk Circle project draws from the wisdom of a 25 year on-going
annual men’s conference, held in Mendocino. The Elders at this conference structure
the talk so men can enter the deep and painful ills and the subsequent judgements of
themselves, which they have carried alone. The men attending come to feel a great
support, a deep trust, a brotherhood and a safety affording them a way to utilize the
communal experience. Their vulnerabilities, now shared by others, deepens the
possible that they don’t have to go it alone any more! Here the needed healing from
years of exiled pain begins.
This has been our model, in bringing the Talk Circle project to the men of our
community. Each month we intentionally create a Sacred space, where our Circle, our
container for our talking, welcomes men to talk aloud and discover. Men often surprise
themselves, as aspects unbeknownst, are revealed which they did not expect to share.
But this soon becomes a known and valued process, affording men a communal
unfolding, revealing new feelings, new insights, while clarity is advanced. This work
requires that Sacred space must be created, drawing a significant distinction from how
men typically relate to one another, as in the masked cautionary jokes, or the blind-eye
to dismissive behaviors toward others, or the impulse to-fix another man’s experience;
all which are recipes for an unsafe environment, prohibiting any deep and important talk
The Talk Circle is designed as a primer, for men who have never done men’s work
before. The Circle is larger in number (17 – 22 attendees), in contrast to a traditional
men’s group (smaller, 5 – 8, and with greater expectations to share). The Talk Circle
intentionally allows for men to ease their way into their held-back experiences; being
invited to talk, only as they feel ready. To further underscore emotional safety, this
project holds an open-door policy regarding attendance, furthering to lessen the rigors
and demands of the intimacy that usually arise from small and weekly men’s group
work. The Talk Circle also fosters the option for men to begin their own support group.
Contrary to belief, the inherent deep hunger for men to talk communally, once initiated
and structured, is almost unstoppable.
The Talk Circle utilizes a five man committee for planning and sharing the duties with
each monthly event. Responsibilities include establishing ground-rules, underscoring confidentiality, calling in the five directions including the inward direction (toward our
hearts and our truths), providing some music and some poetry, (the language of the
heart) and monitoring the group’s process ensuring that men’s voices of their internal
experiences will be both heard, seen and witnessed. As men gain both a new familiarity
and an emotional safety in this sharing-aloud, they cultivate skills toward new and
potentially meaningful friendships for themselves.
The Talk Circle meets monthly, in donated space (Davis International House), it is open
for all men, ages 18 years and older. Two licensed clinicians serve on the committee,
helping to monitor and assist in the group’s process.
This project is part of a new paradigm of community men’s work. One that is unique, in
its structure to create a culture that is relational and non-competitive; a departure from
our current known sense of masculinity. Ours is a community project whose intent is to
welcome men to know their interiors, thus promoting a maturing of our masculinity from
what is described as our current boy psychology, towards a man psychology. Our hope
is to afford men a reclamation in their lives of wholeness, of vitality, of tenderness, and
of stewardship. We strive to nurture creativity as integral to the aging process, and
embrace the honoring of our Elders, whose resources are currently under utilized and
often discarded. The Talk Circle fosters a culture of honoring our differences, as our
differences lead us into our humanness and our ability to connect.
Creating such Communities is not only very doable, it is teachable, affordable and
would be a significant developmental asset for both boys growing-up, and for men
throughout the course of their lives. It is a significant antidote to the stark aloneness,
(non-relational pattern), that our male culture has inflicted on itself for generations. Men
are too often unaccustomed to being in such groups, and do not know that emotional
safety is possible, and that deep sharing can be structured, leading men into support as
they find their own healing process. Talk Circles foster experiences that welcome men
into greater connection with themselves and then with others while factors contributing
to isolation are kept in check.
Our hope is to share this model with other social workers or mental health workers who
might choose to begin a Talk Circle in their own community.
More information is available regarding this project by calling: (530) 758-2794.
P. Gregory Guss, LCSW, (BA, Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont; MSW, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California), a psychotherapist for 33 years, specializing in family, adolescence and men’s work, practices in Davis, CA. As a community organizer, he developed and coordinates the Davis Community Men’s Talk Circle project, and sits on the Redwood Men’s Conference Planning Committee. He and his wife have two adult children; he is an avid letter writer, poet and loves character driven movies.