Does counseling for men really work?
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
By Jimmy Hill
You Have Been Lied To
Therapy implies weakness. Be honest...I bet this thought has crossed your mind. You may know it’s bullshit, but somewhere, deep down, it still feels like going to therapy somehow means you aren’t strong enough to figure it out on your own. Like if you just tried harder, or were more disciplined, you could tough it out until you felt better.
Here’s the thing though, something’s been messing with your mind your whole life. It’s called patriarchy. That word might conjure up images of a bunch of marching women in pink hats, but stay with me for a sec.
What we’re talking about is psychological patriarchy. It has to do with how men are manipulated into thinking about the world in ways that actually make it harder for us to have healthy relationships or feel fulfilled.
Terry Real describes when children are born and assigned a gender at birth, they automatically start being emotionally "halved" by their parents.
Meaning as boys grow, they are encouraged to be dominant, assertive, and leaders and the only acceptable emotions are happy and angry. This comes at the expense of boys’ more tender and empathetic parts.
Consequently, girls are psychologically halved to be caregivers, nurturers, submissive and quiet by suppressing their other, more dominant parts.
As you might imagine, this has profound effects on our psyches and how we engage in relationships with others. If therapists and counselors are not aware of this psychological halving, they will struggle to be as effective in treating men.
Your partner is not an asset
An unfortunate byproduct of psychological patriarchy makes men transactional rather than relational. Meaning that relationships are based on what a person can give rather than on who that person truly is.
A few months ago, a client said was unable to identify what he likes about his wife outside of what she can do for him. When he said this, I thought about how I viewed my wife prior to my own therapy.
If asked what I liked about my wife, I would have listed off 20 or 30 things she does like being a good parent, creating structure at home, keeping up with doctors appointments, editing my bad grammar, etc. However, none of these things would have included how I feel about her.
Both my client and most men I know are living in a transactional partnership with another person.
Here's the rub - if a transactional man's wife was in a car accident and becomes quadriplegic, what in the hell would he do then? Based on his relationship with his wife, she is an asset to a partnership, rather than someone he experiences in a relationship.
WHO you are, not WHAT you are
As a therapist who specializes in counseling men, it's my job to help men invite back into themselves the parts that have been rejected by their parents and peers.
As Real suggests, it’s not the therapist’s job to "feminize" a man. Rather we invite the client to express himself in any way that makes him feel like his true, authentic self, while working through any issue that is a barrier to this goal.
If we don't help men learn how to become relational rather than transactional, if we are unable to help men see how they are missing out on important parts of themselves that were not allowed to be seen during childhood, if we don’t help men learn what kind of relationship they can have with their partner, then we do men a great disservice as therapists.
Men will leave therapy, possibly having experienced good conversation, but not much more - making them say "eh, therapy is not really for me." They'll then return to their lives, relationships, and jobs possibly more dissatisfied than when they walked into the therapy office.
Because of this, men remain frustrated and discontent, consciously. Unconsciously, they experience the low hum of agony that is never getting to know who they really are or what they really want.
The therapists at Trailhead Treatment Center, in Knoxville, Tennessee, have worked diligently to understand the foundations of men's mental health. We can't tell you exactly what the outcome of therapy will be, but we guarantee it will eventually leave you feeling better than you could have imagined. Rather than a weakness, let’s start thinking about therapy as a bad-ass opportunity.