Men and therapy: It can and does work well

Let’s be honest, one of the biggest challenges for guys and “doing therapy” is making the decision to go in the first place. Many men are sceptical that “talking about stuff” can be of benefit. In part, this is due to learning experiences that may have promoted the message that men cope and just get on with things. This can make it hard to consider that psychological health is relevant and that very idea may bring up a clash with some of the masculinity scripts identified with here in New Zealand. These include the belief that men are meant to tough things out, not seek help and never show that they are struggling – for these are surely signs of “weakness”.

There is some truth that women have an advantage over men in terms of their comfort with verbal communication and that they are more practised at talking about personal stuff. However, this just means that the genders may enter the therapeutic setting on a different footing. There is no evidence to show that they will leave therapy with different outcomes and that only women will benefit. The issue isn’t that men can’t talk about challenges and problems; it’s just that they aren’t so used to it i.e. it’s more of a familiarity issue rather than being about ability. Similarly, clinical experience shows that, if the therapist uses mutually understandable language and terms, men can communicate confidently and knowledgably about personal issues.

It can be helpful to understand that talking issues over with a therapist is not about handing over power or control. Good therapy is about working together to make sense of challenges and then generating options for addressing these. Sometimes it is an unfounded worry about being embarrassed or not being in control that can be the barrier to making contact. There can also be concerns around issues of status and fears about not being viewed as good enough e.g. being in a managerial position may come with some pressures (real or imagined) to always be in control and able to deal with situations. It is important to realise that mental health issues/challenges and life problems are not limited to one “type” of man. There are plenty of top sportsmen that work regularly with psychologists to enhance their understanding of themselves and how can better respond to challenging situations. Additionally, there are men in senior positions in large companies that have experienced anxiety, depression, challenges with stress or difficulties with burnout. I can assure that none of these guys got to the top by being incapable, weak or unable to cope.

One of the realities of men and psychological help-seeking is that they often make contact as a result of external factors/forces. This may be due to the fact things are falling apart at work and the boss suggests seeking some help or it (more usually) is due to partners encouraging their menfolk to get “some help”. This fits with the general male approach to health and wellbeing – keep going till the wheels fall off. Perhaps adopting more of a preventive maintenance approach may be of greater help? Just as a regular tune up or oil change for the car or motorbike helps performance and promotes long-term reliability, the same may be true for yourself. By adopting this preventive maintenance approach, you may be able to identify ways to address problems and challenges before they become overwhelming and have a negative impact on more areas of your life.

It’s not just the talking bit that brings about change. It’s about working collaboratively with another (objective) person to figure out why the issues are happening and then what the options are to bring about a positive change. By being open to this, men will find that they can have more meaningful engagement and levels of achievement in important areas of their life. This can be around learning how to maximise your performance on the sporting field or in the work place. It can be about learning how to deal with issues such as depression and anxiety or working through challenges within relationships. All of these areas have the potential to enhance one’s sense of personal control, help to achieve aims and also enhance quality of life. Not bad outcomes from taking the risk of talking to someone huh?

Blog written by Mike McKinney

Clinical Psycholog

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