Therapy is about doing something about the problems in your life. It’s not sitting around and talking about them. It’s about solutions.
Men in therapy.
With over 20 years of being a psychologist, I have worked with many. Some have prospered. Some have not.
Like Randy. A highly respected bank executive. He had been treated for years by medical doctors for severe recurrent Major Depression. He was still at times suicidal and on a bunch of medication. His wife had been seeing me and asked him to come. She had learned that he had had an affair while in the military. She then had discovered he was having “one night stands” or what I defined as a possible sexual addiction.
When he came, he uncomfortably but honestly stated he would call prostitutes every month or so. Not to have sex necessarily. Sometimes just to hold him.
I suggested an intensive outpatient program at a facility well-known for sexual addiction treatment. Perhaps he might finally feel like living. We also talked about their relationship. We focused on tangibles of improving their marriage.
He googled it. Discovered there was one program that only lasted for a week.
Randy had shared very little about his past in the three or four sessions he attended. I tried to make some connections between his need to be held and what he did reveal. He would not consider them. His wife needed to accept him the way he was. He could make no commitment to try to change, because he felt as if it was futile.
“I have tried to stop. And I can’t.”
He was bitter. Defensive. Hopeless.
They left therapy.
Then there was Jesse. A retired coach.
Sexually abused by a grandfather. Had watched his sister die in a tragic accident as a young child. His mother had blamed him. Alcoholic father.
Jesse married. Had children. Worked hard.
“I have had an okay life.” His best friend had committed suicide. Jesse had found him a few minutes after it happened.
Jesse divorced. Didn’t see his grown children very much. Nor his grandchildren. Had remarried. Fairly happily but was beginning to drink. Stayed to himself.
Jesse had never talked about any of it. With anyone. Had never felt that he was valuable enough to fight for himself. Fight for the idea that his life was important. Or that he had the same right as anyone else to be happy.
He used every minute of the therapy hour. Took notes. Wanted books to read. Began regularly exercising. He wrote down recommendations to follow in-between sessions. Came maybe 10 times.
He got better. We talked about his childhood. The things he had had no control over but had taken responsibility for. What his parents did not have the capacity to do. What impact all that had had on him. The influence of his first marriage and his friend’s death. What was behind his distancing from his children.
He contacted his kids. Talked with them about what he considered his mistakes. Made plans to see them. Told me he was actually beginning, for the first time in his life, to “have fun”. To feel that he was looking forward to the day. Started volunteering with adolescents in his church. Went on dates with his wife. Laughed.
His depression was lifting.
What’s the difference between these two men?
Both were demoralized. Why could only one open himself to this kind of learning?
Randy was using an addiction – Jesse, withdrawal – to try to cope. Randy’s depression was out in the open but he still had many secrets. He had never made a possible connection between the addiction and his depression not getting better. Jesse had never even considered that he might be depressed.
One huge difference? Jesse had come to me himself. Randy came because his wife had asked him. Randy had not invited me into his life and seemed to resent me being there.
I think Randy’s statement, “I’ve tried to stop and I can’t“, is illuminating. He seemed to feel that he could do this on his own. That if he was going to change, he had to come up with the answers himself.
Strength of character… Maybe strength of character is knowing when to listen to others. Even if they have another viewpoint.
You can try to hide or deny depression. Anger of never having lived up to your potential. Gotten a chance. Been happy in a relationship. Whatever. You may try to cope using the same strategies Randy and Jesse did.
I hope you don’t.
There are three simple ways therapy can help.
1) Therapy is about discovering what’s affecting your behavior.
Therapy is about understanding yourself. How your past and present are connected. How what happened to you twenty years ago may still be affecting you today. It’s not about blame. It’s about acknowledgment. What could be governing your behavior will no longer be lurking around in the background.
2) Therapy is about creating more options. More choices.
Once you get the connections, you can see what other options you have. You are not stuck doing the automatic thing you have always done. You won’t be bound because you have freed yourself from old feelings and thoughts that were controlling your behavior.
3) Therapy is about taking action.
Therapy is about doing something about the problems in your life. It’s not sitting around and talking about them. It’s about solutions. Confrontation of issues. Movement. Getting on with it!
You don’t have to deny your depression. But seek help. Take action.
Dr. Rutherford is asking for your help:
I have designed a survey. It’s anonymous. It will only take a minute or so. I want men to tell me if they believe that they can be depressed. And if they would get help. I am hoping that if we understand more of the reason that men do or do not make certain choices, that we can reach out differently. Ask ourselves questions about how treatment is designed. Look for answers to the problem.
Here is the link to the survey:
Just click and it will take a minute or so to take.
Photo: Chris Connelly/Flickr