Mike Archer, 2007

PsyD, Clinical Psychology

"After my first quarter, I knew this was the place for me. There’s a depth to the work we do. It’s a student-centered environment here that’s more experiential."

Body image. Everybody has one. Some people gaze in a mirror and see themselves clearly and honestly. Others might as well head for a circus fun house the way they distort the reality of what they see. It’s called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) when people become preoccupied with their imagined imperfections. Frequently you hear about women who suffer from this offshoot of obsessive-compulsive behavior and the eating disorders they develop as a result. Yet men are vulnerable as well.

Mike Archer, the first graduate of Antioch’s PsyD in Clinical Psychology program, wrote his doctoral dissertation on factors that affect the development of BDD in males. His was a phenomenological study. According to Archer, BDD can afflict male body builders who have a distorted view of how they see themselves. Archer wanted to know why an increasing number of body builders become obsessed with developing muscle mass and exercise compulsively. Men with this disorder see themselves as frail and undeveloped, no matter how much muscle building they do.

Changing Cultural Definitions

Archer suggests the cultural definition of the ideal male has changed in recent years. “Six-pack abs and metrosexual are terms we’ve only heard in the last five to 10 years,” he says. “The original G.I. Joe doll wasn’t bulked out. Today, he’s humongous. The same holds true with the ‘Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker doll. I had one of the originals and he didn’t look like what he does today.”

Archer describes a study of what women find attractive in men and what men think women rate as appealing qualities in men. “Men think women want a guy to have 20 percent more muscle than women actually find attractive,” he notes. Archer cites two case studies involving doctors and lawyers who not only think they’re out of shape, but also quit their jobs and became personal trainers so they could justify spending more time in the gym. “I want to increase awareness of BDD for both the general public and mental health professionals. Among men, it isn’t OK to say ‘I’m not leaving the house because I’m not a strong enough man’ or ‘I need to spend six hours a day at the gym.’ Creating an awareness might help them self-gauge and alter their perceptions,” he says.

A Perfect Fit

Archer set out to determine what factors impact men the greatest and what common or unique themes emerge for those with BDD. After earning his master’s from AUS’s psychology program in mental health counseling, he entered Antioch Seattle’s PsyD program in the hopes that after graduating he might establish a body image disorder clinic in Seattle.

In 2002, Archer talked about why he chose Antioch. “I think my decision to return and attend the PsyD program would be the best endorsement and statement on Antioch I could offer,” he noted, adding that he chose Antioch because of his interest in clinical work rather than research. “Antioch turned out to be an especially good fit for me, but I had concerns at first because I’d come from a traditional undergraduate program with grades.

“After my first quarter, I knew this was the place for me. There’s a depth to the work we do. It’s a student-centered environment here that’s more experiential. The faculty is great for being available, being supportive and for giving me insights into myself. I’m not just being lectured to, I’m contributing.”