Counselling for men has seen a rapid increase over the last few years. According to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), growing numbers see the benefits of counselling for men. In response to this increase, more and more professionals offer counselling services aimed directly at men of different ages.
There are numerous reasons for this growth of counselling services being offered to men, and men seeking out those services. For example, Western societies have re-defined gender roles, and have opened up numerous options for men to provide their own interpretations to “being a man“. Other changes have occurred too: no longer is the male the designated breadwinner of a family, which can lead to a whole set of new questions about one’s role in the household, as a husband, a father, or a lover.
Also: the sometimes intense consequences as a result of ignored mental suffering has recently come in the spotlight (this article about depression in the US Army, for example). The social mores of yesteryear that dictated men to stoically endure their suffering have, luckily, eroded so the underlying issues can be addressed.
My male clients come to see me for a wide variety of topics. Some wished to address traumas they have had to endure, others spoke of the temptations of substances, or the full range of practical and emotional issues arising from a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Still others wanted to work their way through a midlife crisis, and the transformation from one stage of adult life to a new stage. But the questions many men seek solutions for aren’t limited to those themes only. Men – like women – sometimes struggle with periods of depression or anxiety, or grief and bereavement, or romance and sexuality. It could be the loss of a beloved pet, or the sometimes maddening temptations of eroticism and sexuality.
It is my experience that hardly any theme or topic, question or struggle is outside the scope of men’s experiences of life. And therefore, nothing is – in my experience – beyond the scope of counselling.
However, counselling for men is – I have learned – different from counselling women. Even despite the many changes our contemporary societies have gone through, it is not part of our process of education and socialisation that men are taught to productively engage with the whole rainbow of feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours.
Being a Man – Being a Rock
I was once told that to “be a man” meant to “be a rock”: tough, unmovable, impermeable to outside influences. One can build a house on a rock. However, “being a rock” also means “never changing”, never feeling anything, taking on the temperature of the outside, hurting life if ever it were to be thrown. Also, as the photo here above shows: even rocks can fragment if or when the pressure gets too high…
A rock has many qualities that are to be appreciated. However, some of those qualities come at a high price… The price of conflict with colleagues or loved ones, broken bonds with off-spring or parents, solitude and loneliness, getting stuck in the ways of olden days, limited levels of intimacy with friends or a partner, etcetera – the list is endless. By now, levels of loneliness among middle-aged men have risen so high that it has overtaken obesity and smoking as major health risks!
For many men, being masculine means “toughening it out”, or to suppress what feels uncomfortable. Whether it is soldiers coming back from the battlefield, high-flying executives of multinational corporations, or the vocational craftsmen who bring their skills to our homes: maintaining respect in our own eyes, and in the eyes of the ones we ourselves respect is crucial. Nobody wants to be seen as a failure, or as weak. Unfortunately, this desire to be seen to be strong leads to a whole set of avoidable difficulties and problems. Instead of seeking counsel, instead of finding a space where one can spar and share, instead of seeking constructive solutions there are numerous men who self-medicate through sex or porn, through violence and isolation, through alcohol or drugs.
In an article in the New York Times, Michael Kimmel (an American expert on modern manhood), described the paradox between “being a good man” and “being a real man” as one between the desires of a man’s soul on the one hand, and the requirements of the outside world on the other. The numerous conflicts between those two lead to a great deal of health related issues that, combined, explain part of the shorter life-expectancy for men than for women. Life-style choices and a lack of healthy self care mean that men live unhealthier lives, and the refusal to go see a doctor when a visit to the doctor could actually heal a potentially terminal disease.
The Way Forward: Counselling for Men
In increasing numbers, men find their ways to counselling, to healing, to growth, to engage constructively with their environment – when and if they themselves are ready to move forward. It takes prolonged and deep courage to commit to any of those aspects of maturation. It requires true strength to be vulnerable, it takes true courage to seek out what works and what doesn’t work. It takes persistence and perseverance to lay down habits that are no longer working, and it takes courage to try out new ways of engaging with oneself, one’s own family and with the broader circles of one’s life.
To be willing and able to do that, to step onto that path, is incredibly liberating and empowering. It is a quest to find the answers within oneself, and no longer blindly follow the definitions and requirements handed down. It is a journey to the deepest depth of one’s own being, as a man – but above all as a human being.
If you feel it might be interesting to explore if counselling might be worthwhile for you, why not have a look at the page where I write about different forms of counselling services available. And if meeting one-on-one is not something you’re ready for, I also offer online counselling.
Some recommended reading from elsewhere on my site: