When I first started looking into “men’s issues” in therapy the responses that I first received were discouraging. Now, after some years and experience I feel confident I can address some of those myths about men and therapy.
Myth #1 – Men don’t seek help. Mentorship, coaching, and trainers have been long-standing masculine traditions in help seeking. The real statement is that men just don’t seek therapists for help. Why? Out of curiosity about a year ago, I did some research on therapists in the area who self-identify as having a clinical focus on “men’s issues.” Of the five (two men and three women) that came up in my various yellow pages and online searches four seemed to define men’s issues as problem behavior in men. Rather than other population specific training that focus on how that population copes with societal pressures, men issues therapy seems to focus on how men are problems. No wonder they don’t seek help!
Myth #2 – Men don’t talk (about their feelings). True, men do tend to put their feelings in the back seat when there is a team goal to be achieved. However, aside from the temporary “for the team,” situation, men tend to be very clear about how they feel. Also, current therapy models move quickly to what one “thinks” and what one “does.” In my experience talking about what they think and do is very comfortable terrain for men.
Myth #3 – It’s a man’s world (so they don’t have gender related issues?) The assumption is then that 1) all men function fine in that culture and 2) that the outcome of being male in a “masculine” society is always beneficial. I would take exception to both. Society has some harsh realities for men too, particularly young men, elders, and men who aren’t among the rich and powerful. I would argue that “society” is gender neutral and uses both men and women in beneficial and harmful ways.
Myth #4 – Therapy models are based on research by men (so specialized knowledge is not needed). Early research was biased in several ways. The most frequently cited examples are research done by men who assumed feminine behaviors were pathological. But research that assumes feminine behavior is pathological does not mean it is by default a good treatment model for men! Second, masculinity today has changed significantly from the time that research was conducted. Men now face multiple jobs and possibly multiple careers in a lifetime. Also, domestic roles have changed such as living in dual income families, blended families, and in recent years, stay-at-home dads.
Myth #5 – That’s why we need male therapists. I initially took this to be a positive remark. In the mental health field, women outnumber men five to one. My personal experience would suggest more like ten to one. The problem is that just being male doesn’t make one competent regarding masculinity and mental health. It takes some thought and effort to understand male behavior in context of societal expectations, media caricatures and personal relationships. Thoughtful training should be sought just as with women’s issues, disability issues, etc.
Men’s counseling can be a coaching process that focuses on action. Counseling doesn’t have to assume that “men’s issues” are code for “fixing” problem men. Therapy shouldn’t start with the assumption that because it is a man’s world, men have it easy. If you have stress from a situation and you need to bounce some idea’s around in a confidential, safe place call today.