Why Do We Need 'Therapy for Men'?
Recently, I decided to take my practice in a new direction: to begin offering services directly tailored for men. Before making this move, I asked myself the same question that many people ask in response to my decision: “Why is this needed?”
In this blog, I’d like to reflect on some of the reasons I think that therapy for men is needed. I’ll write them to those of you who do not identify as men, as I think that men reading this – on some level – already know these reasons.
Like any group, men are a diverse group among themselves, yet because of the power of classification and generalization, men tend to have a similar set of expectations of them that can shape their experiences. Men have particular expectations when it comes to the way they approach work, the way they participate in their families and friendships, the things they choose to pursue as entertainment, and even the way they look and move and talk and behave generally as they go about their daily lives.
These expectations can come with costs to the individuals who identify as being a man. For instance, our cultural expectations of men as defined by the ‘traditional male’ role, can result in becoming overly focused on work, an inability to connect emotionally with a partner or be empathetic nurturers for their children, and a general disconnect from emotions, except, perhaps, from anger, which is often then vilified. A need to fit into the norms of being a man can close off choice and opportunity. A man may worry about wearing a pink shirt because he may be seen as less of a man. Or, he may pass up on a satisfying career in a female-dominated field only so he preserves his masculinity in the eyes of others (as well as in his own).
If the expectations themselves weren’t enough, the expectations are changing (and, I would say, expectations are always changing). The traditional male role is being challenged by feminist and other social movements – and even by men themselves. While this is a good thing in terms of opening up new options for men and redefining ‘maleness,’ it can also be unsettling when the expectations are always in flux and possibly in conflict. For example, if a man chooses to place greater value on his family, opting to give up his career so that he can be active in raising his kids, he will find plenty of support for this decision, yet he will also face plenty of stigma as well.
Old beliefs can prevail
As in the example above, the old expectations of the traditional male role persist, and they can be very powerful in driving behavior. Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent expectations of men is to be self-sufficient and ‘strong.’ Therefore, men are much less likely to seek support from a counselor when they are facing issues in their lives. Fortunately, there are efforts to normalize therapy for men, and I see in my practice more and more men reaching out for help.
Navigating the expectations of the traditional male can be very difficult at times, particularly as this male identity lingers even as it is being broadly challenged. It can be valuable to have the support of someone who understands and is willing to explore having a male identity while also accessing the broad possibilities of experience inherent in being human.
If you are a man or if you know a man who could use support, please contact me to learn more about individual counseling as well as men’s groups.
Pink shirt photo courtesy of David Salafia.
Neon cowboy photo courtesy of Arturo Sotillo.