One question that permeates the world of mental health, is "Why are men so resistant to therapy?" First, let's adjust the lens when asking that question toward one of curiosity. When supervising an associate or consulting with other therapists, I invite them to change their perception of a client being "resistant." Seeing the therapeutic relationship in this way tends to highlight the therapist making the relationship more about them than the client; the client isn't doing what the therapist wants in the way the therapist is offering. I often hear things like, "He just won't do what I ask him to do, even though it would radically change his life. He's resistant to change." or "He's not invested enough in making meaningful change in his life." or my personal favorite (insert sarcasm) "He's such a narcissist" - a term inaccurately and vastly overused in modern society. Now, any one of those quotes could be an accurate account of what is happening, but let's not immediately jump to those conclusions simply because a client isn't responding to your imposed intervention the way you want him/them to. Instead, let's be curious. What's actually happening for that client? Who do you represent for him, given the dynamics of the relationship and his lived experience with relationships? What's actually getting in the way? Many things influence a client's participation in therapy; so many of which involve their conditioning toward vulnerability. If I were to ask you to stand in front of a crowd to publicly announce what you're ashamed of, feel hurt by, feel helpless/powerless toward, or a traumatic experience, I wonder how quickly you'd be willing to do that. Just because we tell our clients our session/office is a safe space, our words don't automatically make it so, nor does it mean our clients immediately believe us. We have to account for history, context, conditioning, and many other factors when considering what is contributing to our clients avoiding something in therapy, or therapy all together.
Second, I invite therapists to consider which parts of them are getting activated by any client's hesitation, passive involvement, or guarded responses. Given that therapists are human, we have parts, like anyone else, and they get activated. We have biases, implicit and explicit. We prefer some folks over others. Being therapists doesn't exclude us from these human conditions. Instead, our training, supervision, and experience enables us to recognize when these things inevitably happen, address the parts getting activated, and regain adequate access to Self to be attuned to our clients - extending compassion and curiosity. This process is, sometimes, easier said than done. When we take this approach, however, we are more likely to help our clients feel seen rather than judged, as if they are a problem to be fixed. I've seen 100s of men over the course of my career, and many of them have shared with me that their previous experiences of therapy and therapists left them feeling judged or minimized to a problem. Some even reported feeling they were immediately seen as the problem in couples therapy, due to being a man. Now, I wasn't in those sessions, so I can't say what actually happened. The client's perception is worth taking at face value, as this is partially what contributed to their guard. Though I won't join any bandwagons of throwing other therapists under buses, I do acknowledge those experiences directly when they come up, and invite a space for that client to be seen, heard, understood as a human being, first. Anything else comes later.
My work with men, includes the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and development of men, their partners, and families. As men, we take on many identities/roles- some assigned by others, some by us. Some men don't even realize how much energy they're putting into upholding and protecting these identities/roles, often out of fearing vulnerable spaces of having to figure out who they really are. Some men mean well, but simply don't have to tools they need to understand where their partners, families, friends, peers are coming from. Some men recognize these identities/roles don't work for them, but don't know what to do or who to be without them.
Masculinity can be a tricky perception. The assignment of gender roles by society, and the reinforcement by family, friends, partners, and mass media, teach us how to respond in social situations, and gain perceived approval from peers (male and female). One problem we find, is that traditional masculinity leaves plenty of room for ambiguity and uncertainty when it comes to vulnerability, emotional expression, and identities that may be perceived as too much or too little masculine. Perhaps, you notice there is less ambiguity, and instead, a clear and concrete expectation to avoid vulnerability, because it's defined as weakness, while only displaying identity that meets criteria for impenetrable strength.
You may find yourself compromising who you are in some way, in order to fit in, or avoid the vulnerable feeling of not being accepted. For some, this avoidance of vulnerability is very covert, lurking behind a stoic or aggressive posture. For others, this avoidance may be overtly out in the open. As humans, much of our avoidance of vulnerability is rooted in the fear of loss or rejection (loss of identity, status, strength, value, etc.). For our ancient ancestors, to be rejected from the tribe was as good as death. In the present world, rejection doesn't look the same, nor does it carry as severe of a consequence. Isn't it interesting that we often protect ourselves from the potential for rejection or disapproval, as if it's a permanent loss, as if everyone but self has authority to determine value? What's more interesting, is that this protection, or guard, can be one of the contributing factors in creating the problem; a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In my clinical and consulting work, I meet with many guys who don't recognize themselves anymore; who feel out of touch with who they know themselves to really be. In hindsight, you may ask yourself why you said something so hurtful, acted so insensitively, or thought so intently about causing pain to someone who made you feel uncomfortable. As men, we benefit from learning from our experience, how our experience influences us and impacts others, and how to best navigate our experience to achieve the life we want.
Depression, Anxiety, & Mental Health
The fact is, depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional experiences know no boundary of gender or biological sex. They affect all of us without discrimination. However, the ways in which we process, experience, and present these experiences may differ, based on genetics, hormones, societal cues, and learned gender roles and expectations. As you may have noticed in your own life, men are often discouraged from showing what's known as softer emotions or intentionally being vulnerable in any way. The fear of being perceived as weak or undesirable takes precedence as a powerful deterrent for many men. These expectations lead to, and reinforce, stereotypes of what the "man's man" is supposed to look like, which, in turn, influences how we experience ranges of emotion and mood, including depression and anxiety.
Terry Real (1998) has published his work on covert and overt depression in men, noting the very important and very real presence and distinction between repressed emotion in men, and the manifestation of anger and aggression as a surface symptom of such repression. In our work together, I create a safe space for you to explore emotion, gender, expectations, and overall lived experience. These experiences may seem uncomfortable, or even frightening at first. That's to be expected with most new experiences, especially powerful ones. Healing happens when we give space for, and listen to, our inner experiences. Only then, can we understand them, learn to navigate them, and control their influence in our daily functioning.
Relationships, Marriage, Divorce
Allow me to normalize that relationships are difficult. Healthy relationships are worth it. Toxic relationships are worth finding resolution. Whether working on the attachment between you, or accepting that you are good people, just not good together, you may have noticed that something doesn't feel right, and needs adjusting. I am very honest with men who come to therapy for relationship struggles. This process requires self-exploration, acceptance, vulnerability, and courage. Before any of us can point fingers at our partners, we must first look at ourselves and get curious. What drew me to this person? How are we working together as a unit? How do I contribute to both positive and toxic attributes of our relationship?
If you're feeling stuck, or notice struggles in your relationship that don't seem to go away, it's time to identify the roots of the issue, establish what you and your partner want for your relationship, and map a path for how to get there. Everyone deserves to be happy, and we all carry emotional baggage into relationships. My approach is to help you identify your baggage, gain awareness to how it impacts your relationship, and learn ways to navigate the baggage so that it's presence doesn't define you or your relationship.