“I try not to think about my life. I have no life. I need therapy.” – Keanu Reeves
When some men hear the term “men’s counseling”, what do they imagine? Woody Allen whining to his psychoanalyst? Nick Nolte in Prince of Tides, crying unabashedly over his suicidal sister? Bill Murray as an absolute nut job in What About Bob? Yes. Exactly. This is what and who they think of. Not Clint Eastwood weeping on the couch. Not Bruce Willis telling his therapist about his childhood through his tears. And certainly not Sean Connery getting anywhere NEAR a counselor’s office, much less actually talking to one. Men’s counseling drums up all kinds of imagery for some men… and it’s not pretty.
Masculine sterotypes have long held rule over men. These stereotypes have socialized males to believe that to be “men,” they must be strong. Emotionless. Touched by nothing. Impenetrable. Completely self-sufficient. Talk to a complete stranger about my problems? No thank you.
Of course, there are many men in counseling right now. What made it okay for them to go? Perhaps a parent or parents modeling that therapy is a positive, acceptable option. Perhaps a wife or partner asking them to go. Or, in many cases, the pain just got to be too much. But the more traditional males, the ones more concerned with appearing “masculine” and “manly,” – the prospect of counseling just compounds their current state of anxiety, depression, or helplessness.
Therapists are familiar with this resistance and often the very first thing they will do for their new client is to assure them that ALL men have these issues; that they are not alone. This is why so many men gain great comfort from group therapy with other men. They find it a “soft place to land” when issues such as anxiety, stress, anger, and mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or depression become threats to their functionality or quality of life.
If they find the right kind of counselor at the right time, men often experience great relief, discover tools for a healthier life, and repair broken relationships. The irony here is that men who undergo counseling often discover that it took great courage to do so. James Bond would be proud.