Men and therapy go together about as well as cheese and peanut butter. Both taste great on toast, but just not together… not that there’s anything wrong with that. In the same way, most men don’t mind the idea that therapy exists and might help some guys. Just not me.
I know, because I’ve been there… and I’m a therapist.
Whether we know it or not, men have a relationship with therapy. Just thinking about therapy means that we know it is out there. Like any relationship, knowing the other individual is in the room means that there is potential. So why do men so easily give therapy the cold shoulder? Probably for the same reasons that most men won’t see our doctors or other health specialists.
Men and women need different kinds of support
The numbers have been out there for a while, so I won’t bore you with an exhaustive breakdown. According to the American Psychological Association, men are 25% less likely to see their health professional and almost 40% less likely to get their cholesterol checked. Being a man can stack the odds against good health because many men have poor overall health behaviors and then we prefer to see our local bartender rather than our local doctor.
When it comes to mental health, things are not much better for men. According to one of the best man therapy websites I have found, men don’t like to talk, but we account for 78% of suicides and we are 4 times more likely than women to die by suicide.
Men make up the bulk of first responders in the military, police and fire departments. Many of us assume that psychological trauma can only occur if you are a victim. It turns out that if you are a first responder or someone in the health care field, you are prone to a greater psychological burden because of repeated exposure to other people’s adverse experiences. A career of helping people who are suffering will leave you with more than a pension. It will generate psychological and physical stress and suffering for most of us.
In an article that I wrote for The Good Men Project’s Health and Wellness section, I found that men literally heal differently than women. When it comes to our psychological needs, men seek out therapy half as often as most women. Surprisingly, when we give it a chance most men like therapy (90% of men report feeling that counseling helped).
Around 16 months of age, we learn that men and women are different. Then we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what the hell that means. Men are complicated and therapy for men should never look the same as therapy that women receive. In reality, therapy should look different for each gender and for each person.
Modern men are getting the message
I will call him Jim. Jim calls himself a Caveman. For him, Caveman means being conservative, a redneck, opinionated and a tradesman. But he likes therapy. Each week, Jim sits in my office with his wife and his daughter, and he talks about his pain and why he smokes too much weed.
Honestly, when I first met Jim I was biased. I picked up on his body language and I wasn’t sure that he would be open to talking. But he is completely the opposite. He gets it. And Jim is not alone. More and more guys are getting the importance of talking about what is going on inside of our heads.
“Men who must always get their way, who can’t ask for help and who can’t ignore the little hassles of life may have the worst health outcomes,” says Ronald Levant, EdD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Akron.
The idea that self-reliant men are prone to be the strong, do-it-yourselfer is a myth. Where men get into trouble is when we avoid. Avoidance will push our emotions under the surface and we will become prone to drink too much, use drugs, gamble or pretty much do anything we can to cope. The key factor is to not try to change our sense of self-reliance, but to shift our mindset to recognize that strength means taking an honest appraisal of our health. Other factors that help men to improve our mental health include:
1.A solution mindset and letting things roll off… in other words, not sweating the small stuff.
2.Emotional maturity. Maturity is a mindset. It means taking an honest look at our unhealthy behaviors and limiting our use of alcohol and other substances. It also means that we take don’t take disappointment and stifled goals personally.
3.Realizing that manliness is an asset. You are different than your dad and being a modern man is an asset. You are not weak, you are different. You are more open, you see gender, and gender roles differently.
4.When men reframe how we think about our healthcare provider it is a game changer. Healthcare providers may be our doctor, our dentist or our therapist. When we see them as a teammate, a coach or health co-strategist we will consult with them more often.
5.Don’t go to therapy and assume that it’s all about your emotions. Expect that your therapist should ask you “Where do you want to start?” This approach will set up a collaborative relationship. Therapy can be an opportunity to actively problem-solve with practical tools and strategies. If a therapist doesn’t offer it immediately, I suggest that you ask for it if that is what you want. Asking for what you want means that you are more likely to get what you need.
6.Mental health is a call to action. It’s about you and it’s about the future generations of the men that follow in your footsteps. It’s time to redefine things: Mental health does not mean sickness. Mental health is just another word for our well being. It’s time to put our testosterone to work and make our well being work for us.
Where should you begin?
For starters, you can look at the six factors above and choose one. The first three relate to how you think about yourself and the last three are about how you think about your healthcare providers.
- Begin small. Work on your mindset. Get out and go for a walk more often.
- Take stock of your strengths and also about the habits that kick you in the ass. Be honest with yourself. You don’t need to jump to a therapist’s office, you begin by being honest with yourself.
- Choose a reframe and then go and see your healthcare provider. Ask them for tools and strategies for how to handle your stress, your cholesterol, your teeth. Practice seeing your healthcare provider as part of your team.
- When you are ready to consider a therapist, you can ask around. If you prefer not to tell other people about your business, access your companies Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if they have one. If you prefer private therapy, a google search of your area will help, or you can search the Psychology Today therapist finder. If you cannot afford the full price of therapy (which can be very expensive), ask if they have a sliding scale or look up “affordable counseling + your area“.
- Consider alternative therapy. You can also consider an innovative approach to therapy and access online therapy through an organization like Talkspace. I am a contributing writer at Talkspace, however, I receive no compensation for my writing there. I suggest their work because they are one of the top providers and it is an option that may meet your needs.
- Go for a little Man Therapy. If you want to take a step and explore therapy, I suggest that you check out this website by Man Therapy.
So how do you like your bread? Do you like your cheese and your meat… or do you prefer peanut butter? Either way, go for it. What I hope is that you are thinking about improving your well being. I hope that you have some practical strategies. And I hope that if you are interested in therapy, you know where to begin.
If you liked this article, you will want to check out some of my other work:
I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.
Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.
Keep it Real
Photo source: Mantherapy