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Therapy for Men

A useful blog exploring therapy for men.

“I’m an embarrassment” “They’d be better off without me” “What sort of man am I?” “I’m weak” “I should be able to cope” “I’m so stupid” “How pathetic am I?” “I’m such a failure” “What a waste of space” “I’m useless”
Just 10 examples of phrases men use to themselves. Not nice reading right? (and there’s much harsher curse words I’ve heard from clients too). When these are the sorts of words men use to berate themselves day in and day out, it’s not surprising that so many end up feeling miserable.

Rates or emotional distress in men are pretty similar to women. But there’s a huge difference in the proportion of men seeking therapy or support versus women. Men typically leave it a lot later (if at all) before reaching out for help. Often when they do reach out it’s because of a physical symptom, something they feel much more able to seek professional help for – migraine problems, indigestion, insomnia, heart palpitations etc. There is starting to be a shift in this with the younger generation, but in this blog I will explore the barriers of men accessing therapy.

When we are growing up, there’s certain messages we receive from parents, teachers, peers, media and society around us about what we should or shouldn’t be. Some of these ideas and expectations relate to our gender roles, in particular what it means to be a man, how you should act as a man etc. This is more clearly the case when we look at men who are aged 40 plus.

So what is Toxic masculinity? And why is it important when thinking about men accessing therapy?
One of the messages a lot of men will have grown up with relates to the feeling and expression of emotion, with many messages in the past that emotions were bad and unmanly. That crying was weak, that a man should be ‘strong’ and hold it together. Expressing vulnerability was discouraged, and phrases such as “stop being a girl” or “man up” would have been used.

There’s decades of men that still try to operate under these rules, that still try to suppress their emotions, that stay quiet when they are suffering. The impact of this is never more apparent than when you look at suicide figures for men in the UK – on average 84 men take their life every week, 3x the number of women. When loved ones speak to the press after suicides, or conversations happen at coroners court, the same things come up – I had no idea he was struggling, no idea he felt that way.

The messages that previous generations of men have grown up with are incredibly toxic. It blames them for their emotional distress, judges them for ‘not coping’ rather than giving them permission to feel what lots of humans feel. This is an experience that is unique to men, and men in particular over 40 years old. The impact of this is a lack of communication in relationships, a disconnect in their friendships, often uncharacteristic personality traits such as anger arising from the attempts to suppress other less ‘acceptable’ emotions, a feeling of being alone, and an unnecessary amount of emotional distress.

I work with lots of men in my therapy practice, likely because I advertise as straight-talking, this approach to therapy feels more accessible to them – “more practical, less fluffy” as many refer to me as. I also allow swearing in my therapy room, and random chit chat at the start of the session if needed to get comfortable at being in a therapy room.
There’s other services too that are making huge strides forwards in men accessing support. Locally to me in Cheshire we have 2 charities offering mens only support groups – Mentell and Andy’s Man club. Both services offer phenomenal services, allowing men a relaxed space, where it’s okay to talk, it’s okay to feel, and they are surrounded by men just like them. Both of these services were launched with the intention of helping to reduce the number of men that struggle in silence and the number of male suicides occurring every year.

When I do therapy with men, I’m not just trying to work with their symptoms of depression or anxiety and provide effective treatment, I’m also trying to help undo some of the toxic masculinity messages. I’m trying to help men to realise that speaking out and getting help is strength, not weakness, how validating our emotions rather than trying to ignore them is a much more effective coping strategy, that the words we use to ourselves matter and we don’t need to be a vile bully to ourselves every day.

I hope I continue to see lots of men in men in my therapy room.

For support services for men, see:

Andy’s Man Club | #ITSOKAYTOTALK | Andy’s Man Club (andysmanclub.co.uk)

Mentell – Men, is it time to talk?

Directions For Men – Support groups for men

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