As a therapist, I so wish that I had more men on my caseload. Variety is the spice of life, and unfortunately in my practice, there is a major disparity occurring along gender lines. It is well documented that men are far less likely to seek mental health treatment versus women, and at the same time, we know that men complete sucide at a rate of over three times that of women. You don’t have to be a sociologist to understand what’s going on with this picture. The social and cultural pressures on men to appear emotionally bulletproof harm everyone, both men and women. It is painfully ironic that these very gendered pressures are precisely the type thing that could be discussed, processed, and transcended within the container of psychotherapy.
Unfortunately, mental health treatment has been medicalized and pathologized, which has stigmatized therapy for everyone, but particularly for men. Rather than understanding issues such as depression and anxiety as normal and expected parts of the human experience, (which, by the way, they are), we have labeled such states of being as “disordered.” Is there anything worse for a man than being labeled as disordered, that there’s something wrong with them? Depression, anxiety, and reactions to traumatic events have no place in mainstream masculinity, which I believe causes men to repress their feelings. Repression works until it doesn’t, which is often the point in time when people enlist my help.
I have immense respect for the men who reach out to me in the interest of beginning therapy. These men are fighting upstream against one of the most powerful and toxic ideas of all time: that men should not seek help, whether they’re changing a tire or battling depression. When men give therapy a chance, I see this willingness to admit vulnerability as a major strength - I just wish they could see it that way too, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to get them to that place. In fact, much of my work with men seems to revolve around troubles in their masculine identities - am I a good enough father, boyfriend, son?
When men engage in therapy, they reap immense benefits for themselves and just as importantly, those they love. Therapy is like a web in that way: it touches not only the participant but also their friends, family, co-workers, and partners. Especially when men disclose to their male friends that they are engaged in therapy, it becomes a powerful, unspoken invitation for them to do the same. In the present climate of struggling in silence, struggle often becomes louder and more pronounced for men.
So, if you are a man, and you are feeling sad, worried, overwhelmed, or simply not yourself, I urge you to consider therapy. It might be a new way of approaching yourself and the world, but I truly believe you might find yourself a better man on the other side.
Written by Emmy Crouter, LSW