Counselling and men
I want to try and reflect upon how men’s experience of counselling may differ from women, the triggers for them to want to seek a counsellor and their possible reasons for choosing one.
In my experience often when men seek counselling their personal situation can be very precarious, and they may view counselling as a last resort to help them address their problems. To cope with their problems men can use various coping strategies like alcohol, drugs, exercise or work. While these strategies may help mask their psychological problems they themselves can bring further problems of dependency, health risks and behaviour issues, the result being they could lose something they hold important, like a relationship or a job.
Women may seek help and support from family and friends for their problems and tend to seek medical and psychological help sooner than men, while a lot of men will inevitably try to keep their problems to themselves and deny how difficult things are.
The macho culture of keeping everything inside that would appear to be a weakness can be a real struggle for any man, especially if they have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or other psychological issues. Cultural and social conditioning provides strong messages about how men should be men, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man or a mouse’, ‘ be a real man’, which can be very harmful if a man tries to live completely to these conditions, and could stop them admitting to themselves they need help, let alone seek it.
I sometimes see the partners of men who recognise that their man needs to seek help, yet is reluctant to do so as it doesn’t fit in with the self image that they have constructed and are trying to portray to the world. However, this inability to address their problems jeopardises their relationships and while women come to counselling for psychological help to cope, they may have to choose between staying with someone who isn’t prepared to face their personal difficulties or to leave them to save themselves.
Okay the man gets himself to the counselling room because the triggers have been so great or they could have been pushed there by their partners. Perhaps this is their last chance saloon, they’re behaviour is too great a cost and they are in danger of losing their relationship, job or are in fear of serious mental health problems.
They are faced with a counsellor and they may feel ashamed, defensive, depressed, anxious, angry or just plan lost. Do they choose a male or a female counsellor? I believe this is pretty subjective as what they are fundamentally looking for is a counsellor that they feel does not judge them, who does not make them feel less of a man than they may already do, and someone that can stay with them psychologically while they wrestle with their problems.
Some men may not seek a male counsellor because they feel they may be judged by the counsellor as being less macho and not representing how men should be (that unspoken pact). This may be a very unconscious process and could be to do with their relationship with other men, particularly their father.
They may choose a male counsellor as they feel they may be better understood by them or perhaps their relationships with women are very difficult so they dare not see a female counsellor to face their shame and discomfort (this could reflect a difficult relationship with their mother).
Now if they commit to counselling and are going to face their psychological pain, what then do they want and need from a counsellor? They will need the same qualities yet more of them, that made them commit to counselling, those of empathy, acceptance and a willingness of the counsellor to stay psychologically close to them no matter how painful that may feel. They will want to feel that they can trust the counsellor implicitly and not feel they will be judged.
How will you know that a counsellor is right for you and that you will be able to work through your problems? All counsellors have training in what we call a theoretical model, what I have been describing in this article is the person centred approach. In this approach it is very much about the relationship between counsellor and client that is the therapy, so addressing relationship problems through a healing relationship is fundamentally what you will experience.
If you are either a man or woman and are unsure as to what counsellor and theoretical model would be right for you, in all the research the best outcomes, despite what counselling approach a counsellor is working from, is to do with the relationship the client experiences with the counsellor. I am therefore advocating that you as the client are best placed to know what is right for you.