After reading an interesting article from the New York Times here, I thought it would be good timing to discuss whether men in our society are feeling like therapy is less and less of an option for them.
To get there, first a bit of background. As a therapist for the last ten years, I have observed again and again how some of the most at risk populations have little or no access to mental health care–blue collar or working class individuals and couples. Take that lack of availability of affordable counseling services and the social stigma against therapy, and you have a rather large group of males who do not even know what they are missing.
Psychology is partially to blame for this lack of awareness and opportunity. Where catch all terms like empowerment, solidarity and validation have worked tremendously for women—and rightly s0—for men, therapy needs to be offered in a different, masculine oriented fashion.
As anyone can attest, men are often focused solely on solutions, focused on getting results. Therapy can be drilled down to getting very specific solutions to very specific issues. As opposed to working on process, or existential issues, therapy with men can be as specific and solution focused as the male client needs. The problem, I think, is that many men don’t realize they may need it to begin with.
The way men tend to communicate and particularly learn and socialize from one another is very much the issue here.
Any man can remember what it was like to look up to the oldest male kid in your neighborhood. He was the one, perhaps no more than a couple years old than you, who knew so much more about everything that mattered, including: girls, school, parents, and alcohol and drugs. Boys of a certain age, form many opinions and beliefs in whatever pack they ran with. If you were athletic, you listened to other jocks. If you were bookish, you listened to others like yourself. If you were a loner, well, hopefully, you had books or movies to help you out.
With the internet, with smart phones, with Twitter, with so much information out there, the signal to noise ratio can be incredibly bad. Everyone tries to tell you what is best. Or worst. The news is full of conflicting, and at times, ridiculous sounding headlines. The ability to find wisdom in a culture full of noise and calamity is daunting. I haven’t even brought up the prevalence of single mother households and the general absence of traditional father figures in a lot of males’ lives. I think some men put on their blinders early and just try their best all alone.
I think that is unfortunate. And not necessary. Male centric myths are full of wise mentor figures who not only help the heroes in question, but develop into overwhelming positive figures in pop culture the world over. Think about these figures: Yoda, Gandalf, Mr. Miyagi, Merlin, Professor Dumbledore, Morpheus. All of those figures resonant with the audience because men (and women, of course) respond to a teacher whose job it is to pass on the necessary wisdom to get the job done at the end of the day. In therapy, a man can come to terms with being his own mentor, his own Obi Wan Kenobi, if you will. The only thing stopping it from happening is your self.
Whatever your role is: father, son, husband, boyfriend, men tend to want to know how to get results. The mentor figure is what Joseph Campbell would call an ally in helping an individual get on the right path to following his bliss. Are you following yours?