Although some men start therapy on their own volition, a majority is often ‘encouraged’ (and some demanded upon) by their spouse or partner. Thus, it is important that we remove the barriers that prevent many men from getting the help they so desperately need.  In most situations, there is usually a ‘tipping point’ or critical incident that has occurred that brings a person into therapy. As such, men are no different than women – it just takes them longer to get there.

Which begs the questions: ‘What does hold men back from seeking therapy?’ ‘How do men think of themselves if they receive therapy?’ ‘What if their spouse or paramour didn’t encourage or demand they go to therapy to get help, would they still go?’ The answers to those questions are complicated.

Roadblocks to Therapy

Ronald F. Levant, EdD, President of the American Psychological Association (APA) President, coined the term, “normative male alexithymia”. It literally means “without words for emotions”. Levant postulates that “many men are socialized to ignore their emotional sides and therefore struggle to express or understand their feelings.” Further, University of Missouri Counseling Psychology Professor Glenn Good, PhD, who studies men, once said, “I don’t think that it’s biologically determined that men will seek less help than women. So if that’s true, then it must mean that it’s socialization and upbringing: Men learn to seek less help.”

By and large, men are taught to be stoic, soldier on, and not to ask for help – the exact opposite of therapy. Imagine their paradox. Some men experience cultural pressure to bottle up problems and emotions because expressing them is viewed as a sign of weakness. Rather than risk exposure or judgment by engaging in therapy, many men turn to alcohol and drugs to combat their emotional and mental health issues and have higher uses of prescription medication. Research has indicated that men equate getting help with being weak or unable to handle their own problems. These views have greater negativity in their relationships, debilitating illnesses, and earlier death. This direction lends itself to comorbidity issues, which only complicates matters further.

How To Make A Difference (because we can do a better job)

  • Using Solution Focused Therapy(SFT). SFT focuses on what people want to achieve rather than on historical problems. It works by creating forward momentum building to a person’s ideal future. Utilizing this type of therapy invokes words such as plans, goals, and outcomes. Men relate to these words.
  • Making a connection, hearing and listening to what they have to say while not judging, and giving them something small to take away makes them feel that you, as the therapist, understands what they are going through and provides some relief and comfort they desperately need. This will make them want to return.
  • Because men already feel emotionally isolated and biased against when seeking therapy, its important to understand what they want to fix in their lives, as well as learn what is and isn’t working. Sensing that they have much to gain through this process encourages a greater investment in therapy for them.
  • According to Rebekah Smart, PhD, “many men want to be challenged on their ‘stuff’, but not put down. As a woman therapist, what helps to engage some men is to be empathically confronting in a way that doesn’t demolish their self-esteem.”
  • Participating in therapy is difficult enough; a little validation and support goes a LONG way. Offer it. Give it. Freely.
  • Providing a safe and nonjudgmental place to help each person traverse down a more honest path of living and taking a collaborative approach to uncovering their issues and reasons for their behaviors, will ultimately help each person find and use their voice – whatever that might look like.

This post originally appeared on DivorceForce.com

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