What do we mean when we refer to ‘Men’s mental health’? Is there really such a thing as ‘Counselling for men’ and how does it differ from ‘counselling for women’?
Men are not immune to emotional suffering, the statistics bear this out with 3/4 of all recorded suicides being male victims.
Many men struggle silently with their emotional health and wellbeing.
Do women’s and men’s mental health issues differ?
Men and women suffer from the same emotional issues anxiety, depression, stress, self-belief etc. and face the same struggles and challenges in life, relationship issues, bereavement or the fallout following traumatic experiences.
Counselling for men’s mental health doesn’t deal with a whole different set of emotional issues or challenges to those that women seek help for.
Counselling for Men: Understanding how men respond to life’s emotional challenges
The difference between therapy for women and counselling for men’s mental health is more to do with understanding that men often respond or react to mental health challenges or life issues differently to women.
Social and cultural norms and ingrained beliefs about masculinity are one of the barriers to men feeling comfortable about seeking counselling for emotional and psychological issues.
Men may not display the same emotions when faced with something like domestic abuse, bereavement, chronic illness or an assault. Men may typically use different coping mechanisms in response to the trigger or cause of the emotional challenge. Men frequently turn to coping behaviour such as using alcohol or drugs, gambling or gaming, sex and porn, as a method of dealing with their emotional issues.
Men often choose to ‘tough it out’ seeing this as staying ‘strong’, ‘in control’ which of course runs counter to showing their emotions and acknowledging the feeling of vulnerability, traits that have historically been seen as a sign of weakness and less than masculine.
A common male response to emotional difficulties is to deny to themselves that anything is wrong.
Men tend to take longer to reach out and ask for help, which can mean that the issue has taken deeper root and perhaps has already started to impact their lives and relationships significantly.
Even when men do recognise they are suffering a mental health issue they will often try and ‘work it out alone’ preferring not to speak to anyone about their emotions or downplaying the severity of the issue.
The approach to men’s mental health and counselling for men
Men may talk about their mental health differently to women and they may approach solutions differently as well.
Language used by men to describe their feelings and emotions can differ greatly from the language used by women.
Men’s Mental Health Issues: A sign of weakness?
It is true that mental health therapy has become more accepted by society and is being given the importance equal to physical health and medical therapy, still many men consider the idea of discussing their emotions, even displaying feelings, as a sign of weakness and to be avoided.
Do only male therapists offer men’s mental health counselling?
No not at all.
It isn’t the gender of the therapist that is important in counselling for men, it is the quality of the therapeutic relationship that the therapist, male or female, have with their clients. However, this therapeutic relationship may be based on the comfort level that a male client might have when talking to a man or a woman.
Male mental health therapists for men:
Some men may be more comfortable talking about their emotional issues or concerns with another man, they may feel embarrassed and cautious about discussing their most intimate thoughts or feelings, especially if these are around sexual issues, relationships or perhaps the use of pornography, prostitutes or other areas that may be specifically related to their feelings or desires. It may be that they are anxious about their anger or are struggling with episodes of domestic abuse, and feel that they can be better understood by another man.
Another reason some men, especially younger men, choose to work with a male therapist is to provide a solid father figure or role model, perhaps one that was missing in their childhood.
Female mental health therapists for men:
Some men may open up more when talking with a woman, feeling more comfortable or able to talk about their feelings, vulnerability or issues that they might find hard to talk about to another man, for example they may have been suppressing their sexual desire for men and would feel uncomfortable saying this to another man. It could be that they have suffered some form of domestic or sexual abuse, something they feel they cannot share with another man, they may feel a sense of shame and this again may be easier to express or show to a female therapist.
It is not the gender of the therapist that matters it is the quality of the relationship that the therapist builds with their male clients.
Common themes or issues discussed by men in counselling
On the whole both women and men suffer the same life challenges, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, loss & bereavement, childhood & adult trauma, challenges within their personal, family, social or work relationships and every other human emotion that can be encountered.
Having said that there are some themes that often arise during counselling sessions with male clients:
Counselling for men with anger & rage issues:
Historically and even culturally men have been taught to hide their sensitive side; vulnerability, sensitivity, hurt and sadness. Often men are taught to show strength and even express anger when they are facing difficult times in their lives. This is often the way many men communicate their feelings.
Anger can have a huge impact on their lives, their relationships, their friendships and how they respond in their work lives. Counselling for men over anger issues can help them learn to express their feelings or needs in a more positive way and also show men how to use anger as a positive emotion.
Counselling for men struggling with intimacy, affection issues or who struggle around relating to others:
The stereotypical way men show their love is to ‘do things’ rather than ‘show things’. Buying a present, doing a promised task or agreeing to something feels easier than showing emotions, being tender, the actions that show closeness and connectedness to your partner.
Counselling for men with relationship issues helps to uncover your intimate and affectionate side, exploring why you may find it hard to show those feelings and how to break down the emotional barriers within yourself.
Counselling for men coping with the challenges of changes in roles & responsibilities and becoming a father:
Often men seek counselling when they are faced with major life transitions or changes that alter how they see themselves or perhaps where they feel a level of responsibility that is new and overwhelming for them.
This may be a result of many different scenarios, choosing to make a life commitment to one person, becoming a father for the first time, becoming the major or sole earner for the family, taking on a new role in their career or taking responsibility for someone close, a parent or dependant family member or friend.
Counselling for men coping with increased responsibilities or changes in roles will help you to look at how you can reach out for support and advice and not shoulder it all alone. Counselling for men who feel that their role has changed will explore why you feel different about yourself, how you think you are perceived and help you to feel confident and comfortable with yourself in your new or changed circumstances.
Counselling for men suffering with sexual problems and difficulties that arise both through illness, accident and non-medically explained issues:
There are many reasons that men may suffer a sexual performance issue, cancer (not necessarily prostate or testicular cancer) or damage caused to the penis or nervous system, side effects from a treatment or therapy being given to treat another issue, but which has a sexual performance side effect.
Then there are the psychological (non-medical) sexual performance issues and loss of libido, caused by stress, anxiety and depression. The result of any sexual performance issue such as premature ejaculation or the loss of libido can cause further depression and anxiety, tension within intimate relationships and a general feeling of helplessness.
Counselling can help men coping with a medically explained sexual issue such as the loss of erectile function as a result of surgery or treatment. Counselling will help you to acknowledge your loss and even to grieve for the part of your life that has been lost. But counselling can also help you to find different ways to enjoy your life and explore what the possibilities are now for you.
Counselling for men with sexual performance or libido issues will explore the roots of the emotional issue and then together with your counsellor you will look at how you can counteract what might be the cause of the issue. Often male clients have never discussed this with anyone ever, and just by the process of talking find that their anxiety and depression around the issue changes.
Counselling for men questioning their sexual identity or coming to terms with their sexuality:
Sex, gender identity and sexuality are such intimate, sensitive subjects for anyone to discuss. Men can often be very confused around their feelings towards other people, be they male or female and equally around what they feel about themselves.
Sexual desire, sexuality or fantasies are other areas for which men seek out counselling or therapy. Sometimes men need to ask if it is OK to think these things, be aroused by the idea of certain sexual behaviour or to understand that they may have changing or different levels of desire to their partners, and this is OK. Talking with a psychosexual counsellor is often a good starting point.
Counselling for body image issues and masculinity issues:
Poor body image, dislike of body shapes the striving for the perfect physique, these issues often referred to under the umbrella term body dysmorphia, have long been associated with counselling and therapy for women. However, in the last 3 or 4 decades there has been an increasing focus on the male body. Poor body image issues has become a frequent reason that men seek counselling.
Social media, marketing, celebrity and the rise of imagery online has focused attention on the ‘shape and look’ of the human form in a way that pervades everyone’s life from a very early age. It is perhaps more prevalent within men in their teens and early adulthood when social pressures are at their keenest.
Counselling for men with poor body image issues will get you to question views on what the ‘perfect’ body is and what you are striving for.
Male body image issues don’t usually occur on their own but are related to or exacerbated by other mental health conditions such as low self-esteem, issues within your relationships and other emotional issues.
Counselling for men: How do you find a therapist you feel comfortable to talk with?
It can be a daunting and even an overwhelming task to pick up the phone or write an email to someone who you have never met before to ask them for help.
Contacting a counsellor isn’t as difficult as you imagine, therapists want to help you and they will not be shocked and won’t judge you by what you disclose in your sessions. Your therapist is on your side.
The key to all successful therapy is the building of a trusting and open relationship with your therapist, one where you are confident that you can express your feelings completely and without fear.
Many therapists focus their work on specific areas such as relationships and intimacy, anger and communication, emotional eating and body image, sexuality and gender.
Look through the therapist’s profile page and make contact with one or more of the therapists to have an initial conversation about working with them in therapy.
© Brian Cotsen