For many men, the idea of seeking help, either medically or emotionally, is a serious challenge. By their nature they tend to rely on their inner resources. Resorting to external help is perceived as a threat to their sense of independence and self-reliance, so they often ignore or minimise pain, both physical and emotional. Research shows that in some cases this tendency can be critical to men's well-being and health. To deal with this challenge, men might need support from people they trust to normalise the act of seeking help.
We have seen that people who utilise counselling services are often high-functioning and successful in many aspects of their lives. It is unfortunate that many men who struggle with stress, anger or unhealthy relationships are missing out on something that could boost their personal power and satisfaction with life.
Men's Concerns with Counselling
Here are some of the concerns men have about counselling:
Shame - For some men, counselling may be associated with inadequacy or failure, as if something is wrong with them that needs to be fixed.
Mistrust – Trust is core to successful counselling, but this is exactly what some men find most challenging. Men, with their biological instincts as warriors and protectors, sometimes focus on risks more than opportunities, particularly when the opportunities and benefits are not obvious and straightforward, as in the case of counselling.
Loss of power – Men in need of help may feel threatened by what they see as a loss of control over their lives.
Lack of language – For many men, looking inward is difficult because they are so used to coping with tasks outside of themselves. The language of inner life, especially feelings, may be very strange to them. They may feel confronted and inadequate when asked to explore or share feelings.
If a man is reluctant to see a counsellor, he might say:
'I don’t have time'
'I don’t need it'
'I am not the problem'
'I don’t believe in that stuff'
'I can resolve my issues by myself'
'It is not a big issue'
'Time will heal it'
'It’s too far away'
But under the surface, this could also mean:
'I don’t know how it works'
'I pay for things if I am clear about the results, but I am not clear about counselling'
'I am not sure I know how to talk about my feelings'
'I am afraid I am going to be spoken to like a child'
'I am ashamed'
'I don’t like to feel as if I am not coping'
'It will imply that it is my fault'
'My sense of independence is crucial to me'
'I lose my pride if I go to others to solve my problems'
'I don’t trust my ability to open up and benefit from talking'
'I don’t want to talk about problems - I just want to solve them'
What Will Help?
If you are a man considering counselling, we hope this helps you feel able to acknowledge your concerns. Once we validate our concerns, we allow ourselves to choose what to do about them. For example, you may choose to enquire openly and discuss any reservations with the counsellor. It is your right to ask questions before commencing counselling. Or you could just look at it as an adventure - a chance to explore your possibilities.
If you are interested in referring a man for counselling, remember that men are more likely to accept a suggestion if they are inspired by what’s in it for them, rather than being pushed, pressured or threatened. When you raise the issue, make sure that you come from a place of understanding and care, rather than frustration and anger.
Men often interpret the push from their partners as a message of criticism and judgement ('there's something wrong with you that needs to be fixed'). So, if you have his best interests at heart, it will be better to motivate him by focusing on his own feelings and experiences than by focusing on his behaviour as it affects you.
It is important to remember that men are often driven by scripts of the 'warrior' and 'hunter' - that is, by the desire to protect a family, to compete with other men over resources, to succeed and achieve. Therefore, men find it hard to make themselves vulnerable.
If you are hoping to attend relationship counselling, but your partner will not agree to go, don't despair. Our experience has shown us that many couples do benefit from relationship counselling, even when only one partner participates.