Men are not born with a resistance to seeking certain kinds of help, including working with a therapist. There is no biological basis for being less open to therapy than women.
As they grow from boys to men, the world and people around them produce a clear rhetoric: strong men overcome obstacles on their own and suffer in silence.
Why are men reluctant to get therapy?
It could be watching brooding male characters refuse to shed a tear. Maybe their parents yell at them when they cry, telling them to “be a man.” These types of incidents add up and convince them that wanting help and expressing emotions are signs of weakness.
The men who conform to these ideas of masculinity are less likely to seek treatment from therapists, according to this study from the University of Texas. They also view therapy as less favorable than forms of coaching that do not address feelings as much.
Some of these men continue to resist or ignore the idea of trying therapy, feeling like it’s not worth the time or money. If their mental health isn’t interfering with their lives, they don’t think therapy could provide any benefits. This is usually because they have a limited understanding of what therapy is.
Then there are the men with mental health conditions and symptoms that force them to consider therapy and rethink their ideas of masculinity. It could be fatigue, sleep deprivation, panic attacks at work, or new outbursts of anger that are threatening their relationships.
Some start by seeing a doctor or psychiatrist because taking a pill isn’t the same as asking for help. Listing symptoms is less awkward than talking about feelings or revealing sources of pain.
But maybe the medication doesn’t produce results. Their significant other might demand they work with a therapist.
Nonetheless, there are men who absolutely refuse, even in the worst circumstances. Sometimes it is because they can’t imagine the therapy making a difference.
What happens when men finally decide to take the plunge and get some help?
When Bob Smith (pseudonym) was suffering from prostate cancer, his loved ones urged him to talk through the issues with a professional. He refused, saying any sort of mental health treatment would not help his medical symptoms.
Regardless of the reason or path to treatment, there is a small portion of men — small compared to the number who report dealing with mental health conditions — who finally look for a therapist. They either did not conform to the masculine norms that would hold them back or they felt there was no choice but to go to therapy. The journey doesn’t necessarily become smoother, though.
Women dominate the field of psychotherapy, so it can be difficult to find a male therapist who is a good fit. There is no evidence suggesting male therapists can provide better treatment to male clients. Nonetheless, it is easier for men to open up to male therapists, especially about issues such as sex and infidelity.
For many of the guys I see, it’s the initial contact that helps them lower their guards,” therapist Patrick Bryant wrote in an article on the topic of men and therapy. “Their perception is that I look like them, talk like them, and, in some ways, think like them.
When men find the right therapist and start sessions, there are more challenges.
I’ve found that many men find it difficult to dig deeper and openly speak about emotions even in the context of therapy because they’re unsure how I might react,” said Talkspace therapist Jor-El Caraballo. “As a male therapist, it also can be reflective of a dynamic of demonstrating bravado that exists socially for many men.
Men are even more resistant to couples therapy. They worry the partner and therapist will gang up on them, especially if both are women.
It is particularly difficult for men whose wives believe shaming them is an effective way to motivate them to try couples therapy, according to therapist Traci Ruble, who specializes in helping men feel comfortable in therapy. The wife might criticize the husband by labeling him “emotionally impotent,” Ruble said.
Investing in therapy will make you a better man
To help more men become open to therapy, we can start by encouraging them to share feelings and seek help. We can do this by telling them — starting when they are boys — it actually takes strength and courage to confront emotions and to be vulnerable.
Framing therapy as an investment in becoming a better, more competent, happier and more productive version of oneself can appeal to some men more than the “seeking help” angle. People should keep this in mind if they want a family member, friend or significant other to try therapy. Emphasizing possible results and benefits is more effective than dwelling on shortcomings and problems.
More than six million men suffer from depression and other mental health conditions, but less than half of them seek help. By understanding the obstacles men face when considering therapy, we can more effectively guide them toward treatment that can make them happier and — in some cases — save their lives.
Photo by The Mighty Tim Inconnu