Men and Therapy

Working with men in a therapeuticcontext can be challenging due to social, psychological, cultural, and ethnicfactors that define “manhood.” Growingup male in the U.S.is a mixed privilege. In addition to many advantages, being a man can involvebehaviors that are self-destructive and/or harmful to others

Americanmen are encouraged to focus on working and providing. In the process of fulfilling these tasks, theymay ignore the damage to themselves and their families. The American concept of masculinity dictatescertain ways for men to think, feel, and behave as a male; anything else isviewed as “girlish” and therefore unacceptable. For instance, men aren\’tsupposed to like or have anything to do with Stephenie Meyer\’s Twilight series. But those that do, mayfind that they can understand women a little better. Tom Barrack, the CEO ofColony Capital LLC certainly had a creative point of view change when he daredto read Twilight after he had nothingto do after a business meeting. You can read the full lstory here.

Womentend to enter therapy at a younger age than men, and are more receptive tojoining support groups, due to cultural conditioning. The traditionally weaker sex is, bydefinition, viewed as needing help, whether that help is physical or emotional. Boys are taught to be strong, brave,independent, and fearless. Boys grow uplearning to identify with action and sports heroes as their ideals. Living up to these images prevents men fromadmitting a need for help or any display of pain; either of these can beinterpreted as signs of weakness. Theprevious models of manhood were fathers of the “Greatest Generation.” These men tended to suppress softer feelings,deny emotional needs, and be invulnerable.

Menand women demonstrate significant differences as to why they enter therapy (orparticipate in a support group). Whatbrings men to therapy and what they end up talking about are often two entirelydifferent matters. At the beginning oftherapy many men don’t talk at all-at least about anything significant orinteresting. Men may come to therapy because they don’t talk, possibly at therequest of a significant other. Menoften go into therapy the same way they drive: rather than ask for directions,they just keep going until they reach a dead end, are completely lost, run outof gas, or have an accident. Even thenthey may avoid asking for help.

 

Menmaintain a “stiff upper lip” at times of emotional stress and often refuse toacknowledge fear, weakness, physical vulnerability, and fatigue, which add to theirunwillingness to perform preventative health behaviors. Why therapy threatens masculinity is a verycomplex question. For most men, therapyis the opposite of masculinity. Althoughthe act of entering therapy requires courage, it is also an act that challengesthe foundations of what most consider “masculine.” Until recently, the traditional man has beentrained to view expressions of emotional needs as “sissy stuff.” Men tend to overvalue self-reliance andemotional stoicism. Therapy involves avulnerability that goes against the male gender role. Society has played a role in defining thisgender role, which is why some aspects of today\’s society need to change inorder for therapy to be more male-welcoming.

What ultimatelytriggers a man to decide to enter into therapy or join a support group is oftena crisis of some kind. This may involve a failed relationship or aseries of failed relationships, career burnout, or some other traumatic eventwhich leads to depression, anxiety, isolation or loneliness. For many men this happens in mid-life, when aman approaches the age of forty, the classic “mid-life crisis.” It is a time when men may come to therealization that their life is half over, many of their dreams are still farout of reach, and other obligations have taken over. Havingspent all of their time trying to find fulfillment outside themselves, they discoversthat it has not worked. For the firsttime they may turn inward for answers.

A manmay begin to realize that the source of his dissatisfaction might be who he isand the way he is living his life. Hemay come to the conclusion that he needs to change and develop greaterself-awareness before he can have the life he imagined. This is a very difficult and courageous stepfor a man to take. Having successfullymastered his life on the outside, he is now forced to acknowledge that he needshelp exploring his inner life. A goodtherapist can provide guidance and support to help a man navigate themine-field of emotions he may never have noticed, or admitted to noticing,before. Therapy also provides a safeenvironment where a man can explore deeper aspects of himself. In discovering the full extent of hisemotional and spiritual nature, he may learn to express his own authenticmasculinity more clearly.

Finally,testosterone diminishes feelings. Men tend to stifle their feelings. Women seemnaturally more in touch with their emotions, while men have to work at it; butwhen they do, it’s a remarkable situation. They discover a whole new facet ofthemselves so that their relationships are happier, and they are happier too.

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