Men and Therapy: Get Past the Stigma and Feel Better!
Men benefit from therapy just as much as anyone else, but are generally very apprehensive about actually going to see a therapist. Only 2 out of 100 men seek outpatient help for depression, for example; the other 8 are more likely to rely solely on medication for their mental health problems.
Let’s unpack this apprehension, and suggest some of the immediate, positive benefits men will find from therapy:
1. Men don’t want to admit they need help.
Talking about feelings is stereotyped as a “feminine” activity, something shameful for men, that’s at odds with the prevailing cultural view of men as aggressive, and not motivated by emotions.
Many men have sought therapy only at the insistence of someone else, such as their wives. Fortunately, this damaging notion of masculinity is becoming less pervasive, and now many men are starting to reach out on their own for help, particularly when it comes to couples’ counseling.
2. Many men don’t know they need help.
Men have not traditionally been encouraged to be in touch with their emotions, to the extent that some men are unaware they have mental health issues, or have no words to describe them.
From a very young age, males hear that “boys don’t cry,” and they learn to suppress emotional responses. APA President and Nova Southeastern University psychologist Ronald F. Levant, EdD, developed a term for the male disconnect from emotions: “normative male alexithymia.”
3. Men don’t want to “pay some guy $300 an hour to massage [their] issues.”
Therapy can be expensive, which can dissuade folks of any gender from seeking the help they need. For many men, money is associated with power and pride (and shame, when it is in absence or decline), and giving someone else money to “talk about their feelings” is akin to giving that person power over them.
4. Men sometimes would rather see a male therapist, but can’t find one.
Only one in five master’s degrees in psychology are awarded to men. Whatever this may say about the appeal (morally or financially) of the profession to male practitioners, this statistic does suggest that if a man would like to see a male therapist, he’s going to have a harder time finding someone of his own gender, than a woman seeing help would.
Certainly, it’s not necessary for a therapist to have experienced the client’s own issues, but for gendered problems, a therapist who can relate to some of the issues on a personal level might be helpful. And just like some people are more comfortable seeing an MD of their own gender, a man in therapy may just feel more comfortable opening up to another man. It’s probably not true that “only another man” would be able to help, but if the perception is there, not being able to find a male therapist could certainly be a deterrent for men on the fence.
What’s the common thread in most of these male objections to therapy? Pressure to conform to a social norm or stereotype. Sometimes men work so hard at blocking things out, they can become depressed, violent, anxious, or get involved with substance abuse. Even a more minor issue, like becoming phobic of driving after an accident, can take years to overcome on your own.
Anger, family issues, depression, stress… it’s perfectly normal for a man to experience these problems, but there’s no reason they need to be permanent fixtures in your life. Therapy can be a liberating experience, and allow you to enjoy life more fully.