When Men call a counselor they have done one of the hardest things for men to do and that is ask for help.
That is right. Men are raised to be self-sufficient and always reply with “fine” when asked how they are feeling. They will not risk being seen as weak or needy by asking for help. This behavior is enshrined in the old joke about men never stopping and asking for directions when the family gets lost on their outing. Oftentimes it is by a partner’s asking, or begging, that the man get help do they contact me for an introductory session.
We men are caught up in a double bind. The double bind is the need to appear strong, in charge even when we are suffering, upset and lack the tools to calm ourselves. These tools include the ability to deal with our emotions and the emotions of others. We feel inadequate and can’t ask for help without appearing unmanly. This unhealthy version of being a man is how most men are raised. It is a long road to challenging the mistaken beliefs of what it is to be a man that lead to healthy masculinity and a healthy life.
Counseling for men may look something like this: After establishing a connection they begin to off load their struggles and often tears of loss or frustration show up. I explain that this (the therapy) room is different than most other rooms in the world because here showing feelings and not having the answers is OK.
At times I share things I have learned about relationships from my marriage and raising kids. It is helpful for them to see how other men have developed skills and tools to be better parents and partners.
Most men lacked fathers who were present or emotionally healthy in their lives. Most of their fathers were absent through work, alcohol or emotional distance. They need to have role models, learn new skills and be successful at home as well as at work.
By using John and Julie Gottman’s book “The Man’s Guide to Women” as a workbook we begin to understand what women want and need from the men in their lives. We begin to bridge the gap between not knowing and then gain the insights and skills to relate to the women and children in their lives.
And finally counseling for men is a place to work at finding their purpose and sense of self. Men struggle with knowing who they are because they are so narrowly defined by the culture with so many parts of themselves being suspect of they don’t fit the narrow “man box”. There is not much room for the artist, the nurturer, the emotional man, etc. And families often project onto sons the parents wants for them versus what the boy might envision as their passions as they go forward.
We’ll start the search to find the lost passions and wants that help to define their new sense of self and often new purpose. I often ask, “So what did you want to be before someone told you that that was not a real job, a worthy thing to be?”
The final part of counseling for men is to look at male friendships. Most men have few, if any close friends. They often reply that their spouse is their “best friend.” That is not a bad thing but men need other men for the comraderies and healthy connection needed to navigate their masculine world.
With the loss of healthy father’s men need other men to step into the void and share their wisdom and experiences to help normalize the struggles that men have in their relationships and emotional lives. Finding that kind of support is essential to helping men develop into the caring, emotionally present men their partners and families need. Men’s Groups are a place to work on healthy male relationships and I refer them to other therapist if my group is full.