Dr. Steven Hanley diffuses some of the ideas that hold many men back from seeking professional help.
I’ve been a psychologist and psychotherapist for over a decade now. In the last five years alone I have had about 6000 appointments with individuals struggling with a wide range of mental health issues. About 60% of those appointments have been with men. For both personal and professional reasons I’ve had hundreds of hours (maybe a thousand?) of my own psychotherapy, with both male and female therapists. And, I am a man.
I know what I am talking about.
In all that experience, several common myths about men and psychotherapy regularly come up. I will address some of those myths here.
You have to be crazy to see a psychotherapist or counselor.
One definition of “crazy” is: “mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way.” If guys feel this to be true then it makes sense for them to be reluctant to set up an appointment with a therapist. Who wants to be labeled like that? In my experience, men worry about this more than women.
The truth is that psychotherapy can address all levels of emotional difficulty, from mild everyday stressors to debilitating and profoundly difficult conditions. There is still a stigma, especially with men, about mental health issues and psychotherapy, though that stigma is changing. Most men I work with come to understand psychotherapy as a proactive step of good self-care. An empathic therapist will help you through this.
Psychotherapy is too expensive.
Yes, usually psychotherapy does cost money. And yes, there are therapists who don’t take your insurance and who charge fees that might be prohibitive for your particular financial situation. I have found, however, that if you want it you can find it for a fee that works for you. Even if you are on an absolutely bare bones budget there are options. Many psychology graduate school and counseling programs (e.g., my alma mater, The University of Detroit Mercy) have treatment clinics where newer therapists in training (supervised by fully licensed professionals) will see you at a nominal fee.
Working through difficult feelings also helps men chart a different course in the relationships they have with their sons and daughters. Left unexpressed, sadness and feelings of disappointment can go underground and eventually cause more serious problems.
You should also consider the cost of not going to therapy. When issues aren’t addressed difficult (and expensive) things can happen. It is estimated that the average “simple” divorce costs between $2,500 and $10,000. The average cost for a “non-injury, non-property damage DUI is between $5,000 and $12,000.”
Does going to therapy guarantee that these expensive life events won’t occur? No, but it could significantly decrease their likelihood.
All I am going to do there is complain about my “nagging” wife.
I’ve actually been surprised by how often this issue comes up with men. First, let’s clarify something. What you call “nagging” is probably your wife trying to tell you something very important about the state of your marriage. You need to listen. Could she say it differently or better? Perhaps, but so could you.
Second, what you call “complaining” I would rename “expressing.” It’s important to be able to express your thoughts and feelings about a difficult marriage. That may feel impossible to do with your spouse when tensions are high.
A therapist can provide a safe spot for you to feel heard and understood. He or she can also provide you with an alternative perspective and some tools to help improve the communication with your wife. You might be surprised by how much individual therapy can improve the state of your marriage.
Talking to my buddies over beer is just as good as therapy (and cheaper.)
By all means, go out with your buddies and enjoy their company and support if you are going through difficult emotional times. That is an important part of emotional self-care but it shouldn’t replace professional help when needed. You can sit with your buddies and commiserate but that probably isn’t going to solve anything long term. A therapist has the training and professional distance to provide a perspective that your friends often cannot.
The therapist is just going to blame all my problems on my dad who never played catch with me.
I call this one the “Cats in the Cradle” myth. In Harry Chapin’s mournful ode to fathers and sons, he poignantly describes the pain and regret of missed opportunities.
Many men have complicated relationships with their fathers (and sons). Of course, many men have had painfully absent or neglectful fathers too. These are often issues addressed in therapy.
The myth here is that talking about it is not going to help. It is actually the opposite. Many men have the “I can’t change it so why bother talking about it” philosophy. What many men find, however, is that talking about it with a therapist can help you understand the loss in a fuller way. Working through difficult feelings also helps men chart a different course in the relationships they have with their sons and daughters. Left unexpressed, sadness and feelings of disappointment can go underground and eventually cause more serious problems.
Though many of these myths can apply to women and psychotherapy as well, I’ve tried to focus on the more specific ways they impact men. Do you have other beliefs or concerns about psychotherapy that you would like me to address? Leave a note in the comment section below and I will try to respond in a future post.
Previously published on STAND Magazine