I want you to imagine for a moment you sell ice-cream. You have been selling ice-cream for a long time and you have broadly categorized your buyers into two categories. They are the summer people and the winter people. The summer people come out when it’s warm, all happy and laughing, and they buy lots of ice-cream. So much so when the summer people are out you often sell out. The winter people on the other hand only come out when it’s cold. They walk by briskly, often with frowns, blowing on their hands, rugged up in their coats and they simply won’t buy ice-cream, not at all. There is something wrong with winter people, they should be like the summer people and eat ice-cream all the time but they don’t. It’s cold and delicious and they would be a lot happier if they ate ice-cream. There are ways you should be able to increase sales of ice-cream to these people but no matter what you try they don’t seem to work. You increase your advertising; you offer special deals, even hire a van with a catchy jingle playing through a megaphone but alas, it’s all to no avail. Winter people just seem to prefer being unhappy and miserable.
Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out what is wrong with that picture. The problem isn’t with the winter people, the ice-cream vender would fare a lot better with warm crepes, waffles or jacket potatoes than they would selling ice-cream. Blaming the winter people is pointless and it still won’t increase sales or a winter person’s happiness.
With that in mind I stumbled across this article today Helping men to help themselves. It’s published by the American Psychological Association about why men don’t want to seek help. To summarize it replace winter people in the first paragraph with men and ice-cream with therapy. It details all the ways men aren’t acting like summer people, why winter people aren’t happy like summer people and all the ways therapy can sell itself differently in the hopes of getting more men to use it. Hmmmm. Perhaps it’s not that the entire population of men everywhere that need to change, perhaps they should be selling a different product, a product winter people might like to use.
“Try to imagine the Marlboro man in therapy. The image just doesn’t compute, does it?” This is the first line of the article and it is a very reasonable question. No I can’t imagine the Marlboro man in therapy. I can imagine this scenario though.
“Hey Marlboro, I heard you lost a friend to cancer last week”
“Want to hunt down some deer tomorrow”
Now for those of you wondering how on earth that might help the Marlboro man a lot of men communicate with silence, or rather through actions. His friend knows the Marlboro man is hurting and knows there isn’t a lot he can do or say to fix this. What he does do is through his actions tell the Marlboro man that he has his back and thick or thin he will be by his side.
For a lot of men we need action, some form of doing. We need a concrete goal, some achievement we can strive for on the path to getting better. Talking often feels empty, like we aren’t achieving anything, it doesn’t resolve our issues. For us men talking about our feelings more often than not drives the people closest to us away from us. I would personally rather hit a punching bag to express my anger then express it verbally. I’m a big guy and if I tell someone I’m angry the first thing they do is pull away at the time I need them to be closest. I don’t think there is anything wrong with expressing emotion through action, I think it is as valid as talking, if not more so. What we men often need help finding are healthy alternatives for this expression.
I’m not a psychologist, therapist or any other sort of worker in the health industry but I can tell you what I don’t want as a man, and therapy sessions don’t do it for me. It’s like eating ice-cream in the middle of winter. I don’t have the answers on what therapists should be doing for men but I can point to an example we have here in Australia that seems to offer something different, something men seem to want.
We have a group known as The Men’s Shed It’s has over 930 sheds now all around Australia but it started in a number of communities as a way for men to support each other. They do activities you would likely find in a man’s shed such as carpentry, arts and crafts and other manual activities. Their goals are to work with men on a range of health and life issues and as a network of support for men. To quote Professor Barry Golding from the Sept 2007 Men’s Shed conference: ”Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.”
Maybe it isn’t that men won’t ask for help, that they need to change so they can eat more ice-cream. Maybe men just need more places that sell jacket potatoes instead.
Photo: Getty Images
*A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. The Modern Minstrel observes the world around him and shares it with us as lyrical story. This series was inspired by Luke Davis, whose eye for story and ear for lyrical prose are featured here.
Also by Luke Davis
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