Let’s get right to it, there is a stigma around seeking therapy and an additional stigma around men seeking therapy. There are many reasons seeking therapy may hold a stigma, one being that the only reason people go to therapy is because something is wrong with you or there is a problem. You don’t need to identify a problem in your life to seek out therapy and going to therapy does not mean there is something inherently wrong with you as a person. Every person, family, or couple may seek out therapeutic services for a multitude of reasons.
One reason people might not go to therapy is the shame around asking for help from another person regarding something that is not physical in nature. If you break a bone you see a doctor, if something is wrong with an appliance you call a repair technician, if your waterline breaks you call a plumber. Typically, when you seek out any of these services there is no guilt or shame attached to them. This concept follows the idea that when you can physically see the problem and seek services to fix it, you are utilizing someone’s skill to make life easier. Sure, you could learn how to repair your own appliance but is it really worth taking hours of research to find exactly what you need, ordering the materials you don’t typically have at home, and spending your day off disassembling and reassembling that appliance? Or would you rather spend the money to have someone come in and have everything to fix your problem, do it in a matter of hours, and during that time you are able to go about your day as normal? Take a second to use that same thought process and apply it to seeking therapy.
The difference between a therapeutic service and other services is the inability to physically see how the mind changes, grows, and heals. That being said, you absolutely can experience the change in emotions, mood, thought process, and coping skills. Breaking the stigma of therapy can start with understanding that you might not currently have the skills to help work through concerns you may have. Unfortunately breaking the stigma around men in therapy takes extra steps as society has stereotyped men into being strong enough to fix any issue that may come their way. If you combine this stereotype with the inability to physically see the issue, you end up with the idea that the problem isn’t really there and if it was, men could fix it by themselves.
Now that we have processed and dropped the stigma around the stereotype that men are able to fix all their own problems, let's talk about how therapy can be helpful for men specifically. Historically, society has taught men to suppress their negative emotions (sadness, grief, insecurity, etc.) so they can be perceived as strong and competent. In therapy we allow space for vulnerability and expression of emotion. We provide a judgment free space that encourages authentic expression of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Reducing the frequency or severity of suppression allows for increasing one’s emotional regulation.
Not only can therapy help men process their feelings in a way that much of society won’t allow them to, creating better emotional regulation skills can help them create better relationships and open opportunities for growth. We use emotional regulation skills in every part of life such as work, personal relationships, communication of needs, and interactions with strangers in public places. An example of this in the workplace may be that one day your boss says something you find offensive or disrespectful, an immediate emotional response may be to cut off communication with that individual or confront them without thinking through that confrontation. Both of those responses are less than ideal in the workplace and may lead to negative consequences such as decreased productivity or rapport. An individual who has the tools to emotionally regulate may change that response to be something along the lines of processing how that disrespect felt, why it felt that way, then allowing time to think about the other person's intentions. One could realize that maybe their boss is the type of person who’s communication style differs from their own. When allowing these emotional regulation skills to work, instead of cutting off communication or becoming confrontational one might be able to communicate how they were confused by what was said and ask for further clarification. In most cases there is a reasonable explanation and a further respect given to one who communicates misunderstanding because at the end of the day you are (ideally) all working towards a similar goal.
If we think back to the original example of men being expected to solve all their problems themselves, we can see how therapy can facilitate more efficient and effective mental skill development. Could one research different techniques to help become more introspective to understanding how they became who they are? Absolutely, but that may take a fair amount of time as there are many techniques that enhance introspection. Most therapists have a variety of techniques memorized and can analyze an individual quickly to determine what type of introspection a person is most likely to benefit from. Can an individual research what emotional regulation skills are helpful? Yes again, but similarly a therapist has the skill set to help guide emotional regulation skills that are compatible with an individual introspection skills. Related to the example of fixing an appliance, in a metaphorical sense, why struggle to fix something on your own when you could do so (arguably more effectively and efficiently) with someone’s help? Men are just as deserving of help, validation, and vulnerability as everyone else. Therapy can help provide a judgment free environment that allows to heal, grow, and create a better life. Sometimes the largest display of strength is acknowledging and asking for support.
Madison Repak, LPC