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.