Men often don’t ask for directions, even when they are lost. I was one such man. Until 2012, I thought I had everything figured out and even though my mom is a psychotherapist, back in India, I didn’t think I needed therapy. In my opinion, therapy was for people who didn’t have their shit together.
Then I hit a patch of existential anguish in late 2012, compounded by a difficult break up. Questions such as, what am I doing with my life, why am I working at a bank, what is my purpose in life, kept me tossing and turning at night and gave me depressive symptoms. I finally decided to reach out for help and see a therapist.
I liked therapy. I liked it a lot, actually. So much so that I transitioned out of my banking career to become a psychotherapist, practising in Toronto, Canada and focusing on working with men in the realms of workplace mental health and trauma.
Men could really use therapy, they say and I agree. But how do we get them into a session with a therapist and then how do we keep them invested and motivated within the therapeutic process? This is one of the million dollar questions in the world of mental health. Our machismo, socialization and stigma associated with therapy, keep us locked in our own heads, stewing in loneliness and the hollow ideals of “Suck it up. Be a man”.
Given my own story of reaching out for help and the fact that for about 90% of my male clients, I am their first therapist, I have some ideas. Note, that these are based on my clinical observations, while working with men and not peer reviewed research. So take it with a grain of salt.
[pullquote] But when one man is courageous enough to take off his mask, then it gives the others permission to do so as well [/pullquote]
Being a role model for men around you
Men, young men especially, look up to their male peers to identify what is appropriate for them to express. As men we hide our vulnerabilities behind these masks of toughness. But when one man is courageous enough to take off his mask, then it gives the others permission to do so as well. Hence role modeling healthy emotional intelligence and an openness to share about one’s vulnerabilities, mental health challenges and experiences in therapy, can give other men a template on how to behave or express these things. It can be scary, but this might be the best gift that you can give your bros.
[pullquote] If you can sell the concept of therapy and make it sound less ambiguous and vague, the more will men buy into it, see the value in it and commit to it [/pullquote]
Lots of psycho-education to help men buy into the process
Men like to research their product and read the reviews, before committing to a purchase. Given their goal-oriented nature, they want to know how a product or a service can meet their needs. I spend a good deal of time in explaining aspects of psychotherapy, trauma therapy, fight and flight mechanisms, the window of tolerance and some of my modalities and show my male clients exactly how these concepts and techniques can help them. If you can sell the concept of therapy and make it sound less ambiguous and vague, the more buy-in you will receive from men, as they see the value in it and commit to it.
[pullquote] a male therapist can bring that male-to-male relationship into the healing process and that can be extremely transformative [/pullquote]
Men working with male therapists
I have nothing against men working with female therapists and I think they can receive great value from it. My first and longest therapist was a woman and I am forever grateful to her. But in my practice, I have realized that a male therapist can bring that male-to-male relationship into the healing process, which can be extremely transformative.
A lot of the harmful socialization that men receive is from other men and they often carry shame derived from relationships with other males, such as fathers, male bullies, brothers, etc. Working with a male therapist gives men a safe training ground, where they can relearn how to relate to men in a healthier and more intimate manner and heal from any shame that they might be carrying.
[pullquote] Therapy then feels like an adventure, a treasure hunt, and it makes them look forward to the next session [/pullquote]
Therapy as a form of the Hero’s Journey for men – Active, Adventurous and Focused
In my practice, I like to keep my clients on their toes, challenging them compassionately and bringing a laser focus onto their issues. I tell them right away that I am not that therapist who will let them ramble on for an hour, while I doodle in my notepad. I bring in exercises and modalities and make the therapy sessions more active and creative. I have found that my male clients really dig that. Therapy then feels like an adventure, a treasure hunt, and it makes them look forward to the next session. I do my best to help my client see that therapy is a form of the Hero’s Journey and that he is the hero, riding out to slay the dragon. I also like to remind them of their accomplishments in therapy and tie all the processing back to their goals.
Psychotherapy is always evolving and instead of forcing men to swallow a particular type of psychotherapy, we can add more value as therapists, by tweaking our styles and our mindsets to make psychotherapy more palatable and hence more effective for men. I would love to read your comments and perspectives, as clinicians, as well as men who have experienced therapy.