Never in the history of the world have men had more “how to” information available. When lost, we’ll gladly use GoogleMap’s voice search feature before using our voice to ask for directions! Mental Health for most men is no different. WebMD, Mental Health Net, PsychCentral all represent the “how to.” The “self help” section of Amazon has more than 60,000 books related to mental health. Men know the who, what, where, when and how of almost everything, and if we don’t, we Google it. Yet men continue to struggle in isolation with relationships, job performance, sexuality, home roles, finances, friendship, and happiness.
When I first started billing insurance, I got the software, specialized forms, and the “how to” book. I even lurked in an online forum on filing the oddly named HCFA (Hick-fuh) 1500. Yet for six months my claims kept getting denied. Friends and family kept asking how “the practice” was going. I’d smile and brush it off with something like, “it’s really rewarding to be doing something I love.” Initially I thought I was ashamed about not knowing what I was doing. I bravely faced my insecurity and called the help line to “ask directions.” Yet, even after I “fixed” the problem I still would put off billing.
Finally I brought it up in clinical supervision (a kind of self reflective process for therapists to be their best). I thought he would tell me what “I needed to do.” In short I thought it would be a pointless conversation. Still, as I shared my thoughts and feelings related to billing I was surprised that I started see rationalizations (money shouldn’t matter) and justifications (there are more important things to do) as “thinking errors.” I started to wrestle with the real discomfort that I didn’t want to admit to myself. It was the first time that I didn’t have an employer to tell me what I was worth; I had to set my own fee, and I was uncomfortable with that. We talked through the value of my work and what it costs to provide that help. My awareness grew and my discomfort ebbed away.
Regardless of the type of problem men have, until we can share our problem with another person we remain blind to the rationalizations, thinking errors, and justifications. Without supportive inquiry from another person, the light of awareness may never expose the thinking errors in our own self-critical dialogue. In order to do this, we need to be free to think and talk fluidly – something men are not always comfortable doing with other men or women. To create this environment for self-exploration men must know
– our vulnerability won’t be exploited
– what we say will be confidential
– what we think won’t be attacked
– we won’t have to defend or prove our feelings
– we can admit we don’t know something, and
– we can change our mind freely
– our past thoughts or thinking won’t be held against new ideas
This is what counseling has to offer men in the information age. Counseling for mental health isn’t about learning how-to. It is beyond DIY. It is about discovering the feelings and thoughts that hold us back. It is about self-discovery to take away the shame, guilt, fears, and self-criticism that drain our vitality. As Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War is quoted as saying, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle… [but] if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”