Experience of men in counselling
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Michael Betts MSc, MBACP (Accred), MBPsS
24th October, 20110 Comments
Good, Thomson and Braithwaite (2005) conducted an extensive review on men, masculinity and considerations for psychological treatment, they point to growing research acknowledging multiple evolving conceptions of masculinity and identify that psychology currently faces the important question of how we can assist male clients to undertake a process of healing within therapy.
They describe a gender socialisation process whereby crying is frowned upon and considered ‘feminine’ or ‘gay’, and therefore an unacceptable sign of weakness or vulnerability. Good, Thomson and Braithwaite (2005) discuss how some of these factors may be present within the therapeutic relationship and how some masculine qualities may lead to resistance in expressing emotions. Addis and Mahalik (2003) argue that this resistance may be due to feelings of shame at being vulnerable and intimate within relationships. Good, Thomson and Braithwaite (2005) also argue that because a number of men attend therapy for external reasons e.g. due to an ultimatum from a partner, they may be even more resistant to showing their vulnerability to the therapist, leading to further challenges within the therapeutic relationship. Psychologist’s abilities to work with the large variation in men’s behaviour still remains very limited (Addis & Mahalik, 2003), therefore an exploration of how men experience the counselling process may provide some insight in to whether they felt that their experience was affected by being a man and how they experienced the therapeutic relationship.
Other aspects of the therapeutic relationship includes issues of the potential countertransference from the therapist. Good, Thomson and Braithwaite (2005) express the importance of both male and female therapists being aware of their attitudes and beliefs about men in therapy and how this may affect their practice. They distinguish between more obvious reactions such as projections resulting in past experiences with men and ‘blind spots’ based on shared assumptions about masculine constraints such as emotional restrictiveness. This could impact on the course of therapy, for example if emotional expression is considered inappropriate by the therapist, this may lead to the client not getting in touch with emotional parts of the self that he has disowned (Good, Thomson & Braithwaite, 2005). As such they argue that individual interventions ought to be developed during sessions when men express difficult emotions and recoil, in which the therapist can help the client explore the meanings and potential consequences at the root of their resistance to expressing emotional vulnerability. Allen and Gordon (1990) believe that the goal of the therapeutic process with men is to aid an understanding that interdependence and connectedness are positive values that will improve the quality of their lives. Good, Thomson and Braithwaite (2005) highlight the need to give greater attention to building sound empirical knowledge of masculinity concepts, problems related with masculinity and the dynamics within the counselling process.
The gender of the therapist may also be something that impacts upon clients in therapy,
Gehart and Lyle (2001) conducted a qualitative study of 15 participants who had seen male and female clients and they found no consistency with preferences for either sex. They found that participants experienced male and female therapist’s behaviour as consistent with gender stereotypes but there was no consistency to the perceived strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. They found that all participants described male therapists as more problem focused in their approach and experienced the female therapist as more open and empathic, but the preferences for either approach amongst any of the possible combinations appeared to be evenly spread.
Wong and Rochlen (2005) review research on men’s emotional behaviour and the implications for future interventions with men, they argue that emotionality is a multidimensional construct with different consequences and modes. Wong and Rochlen (2005) highlight new questions about emotional inexpressiveness and question whether inexpressiveness in itself is a direct correlate to psychological difficulties, but the relationship the individual has with their own expressiveness e.g. if there is excessive conflict or rumination over expressed or unexpressed emotions, then this may be at the source of psychological distress. Clinical implications could involve counsellors helping men to resolve conflicts about their emotion related values.
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