This is part 2 of my Blog Article about men and counselling.
For part one, please look here: http://davidseddon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/men-and-counselling-part-one.html
Let us work with the labels and say that surveys show that men are generally more reluctant than women about starting counselling. There are a variety of reasons for this. I’ll look at several of the key ones in turn and try to answer each one as I do:
- Expectations – these may be about what society expects or, often, about what men think women want from them. Sometimes these expectations have a real basis in the experience of men and sometimes they don’t and are just a manifestation of fear. Shakespeare described “expectation as the root of all heartache.” To counter-act it, I stress the need for authenticity with all of my clients – male and female. Living a happy life is largely about being true to yourself and not being limited by expectations - whether from individuals, groups or society as a whole. Frequently, the most content people we know do not conform to expectations.
- Some men think of counselling as a ‘female’ activity (a view reinforced because many more counsellors are women than men). All I can do as a counsellor is to be here to balance out that notion. There are male counsellors available and men who do go to counselling differ on whether they wish to see a male or female counsellor. In addition, there are many eminent male figures - such as Freud, Jung and Rogers - in the history of counselling and psychotherapy.
- Maintaining Control - some men may feel that going to counselling means that they will lose some sort of control over their lives. In fact the opposite is the case - they are likely to gain control over some things (and accept more easily those which they have no control over). As counsellors, we accept that we are dealing here with the element of fear, and that fear is very human but not necessarily rational.
- Problem Solving – many men are natural problem solvers. If a man's identity is primarily wrapped up in this, then he may ask "why should I go to counselling to fix something I can sort myself?" But the point is that frequently many of them cannot fix the something and in fact are not normally actively trying to do so. Avoidance, denial and deflection are not fixes in and of themselves and merely make the problem worse over time. Counsellors are trained to help people look at things in a new way and at their options. We don’t solve problems for any client, men included, but we do help them clarify, explore, look at options and facilitate their process of change.
- Macho Culture – this says that men should be strong and deal with things on their own. From an early age, men are encouraged to be strong and successful. A situation like counselling in which people naturally look at areas of life where they could do better may play on notions of “failure” even though the truth is that we are all constantly involved in a process of improving and learning. There is also the notion that men should not show their emotions (“big boys don’t cry”). Perhaps we need to question the notion of success. Christopher Morley said, “there is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.” Dying people have testified that this is certainly the bigger part of it. I’d add fulfilment and happiness to that, too. It is not successful to wear a mask and be unhappy all your life no matter how much money you earn or how macho you appear. Allied to the macho culture, all of us, male and female, are also immersed in the materialism. Sadly many men become aware of these limiting influences only when they are near death and it is too late to put them right.
- Status – many men place great significance on how they're perceived by others. Going to counselling can seem like a threat to a man's ego. There are men who will fight to protect the image they want to project at the cost of anything else – including happiness. Having said that, things are changing for the better - I’ve met men in the pub who, upon learning that I was a counsellor, boasted to me and each other about how many counselling sessions they has been to! And so they should. It’s actually a sign of being interested in their emotional well being. In some countries other than the UK the trend for openness about counselling has moved further forward.
- Fear of Change - many men tend to be more conservative than women. Since counselling is about making changes and change is an unknown quantity, this can again evoke fear. The plain fact is though that life is full of uncertainty and change. Most of this happens without us feeling that we have a choice; but counselling can help us to make the choices that are available and accept matters when there are no choices.
There is an additional problem in that many men who do come to counselling wait to ask for help right up until the situation has become desperate, which means that they struggle on with heavy and exhausting problems they just about keep at bay, perhaps at terrible cost to their health, relationships and happiness. Alas, this phenomenon means that some may even prefer to fail than to admit that they have a problem, which can end up in broken marriages, addiction, homelessness, or even suicide. I wish I had an easy answer for that, but I think this works on the level of education and information. The healthy and strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it. Whether he's got an abscess on his knee or in his soul. Rona Barrett
A recent BACP survey highlighted that 83% of people would consider going to counselling if they had a problem they couldn’t resolve. I think counselling is becoming more talked about and the taboo is disappearing in the same way it has in the States, but it takes time. About 50% of my clients are men and most of them are relieved about taking the step to come and are keen and hard-working about moving forward. I am not judgmental about their problems or indeed anyone’s problems. I recognise that for all human beings, male and female, life is often very difficult and challenging. I also recognise that there are particular weights on the shoulders of men and that these weights need dealing with gently and thoughtfully.
David is a fully qualified and BACP registered Counsellor. If you wish to talk about issues in your life you can book a face to face or skype session with him by ringing 07578 100256 or emailing him at David@eastcheshirecounselling.com. You can also follow him on Twitter as Contented Counsellor at: https://twitter.com/#!/SeddonDavid