In our society, there has historically been an unfortunate stigma surrounding men and mental health, where traditional gender roles often discouraged men from seeking help and expressing their emotions openly. As a result, many men suffer in silence, without the support they may need. They may think therapy isn’t for them, or feel embarrassed to ask for help.
The good news is times are changing and attitudes towards men and mental health are progressing. That said, there are often still barriers for men to embrace therapy, whether because of those long-standing stigmas or their own wariness towards what they perceive traditional talk therapy to be.
For the sake of all men, it is essential to break down these barriers and encourage them to prioritize their mental well-being. In this blog post, we will explore the obstacles men may experience about seeking therapy, as well as effective strategies to help them overcome these reservations and embrace therapy as a valuable resource for personal growth and healing.
Why men may avoid therapy
Understanding the reasons why some men hesitate to seek therapy is crucial to addressing and overcoming those barriers. Opening up about personal struggles and emotions can make anyone feel vulnerable and exposed to potential judgment. Men, in particular, may fear being perceived as weak, or they may worry about how others, including friends, family, or colleagues, will view their decision to seek therapy. While individual experiences and perspectives vary, here are some common factors that can contribute to men avoiding therapy and suggestions on how to overcome them.
- Stigma and societal expectations
Society has some pretty rigid expectations surrounding masculinity. There's an idea that men should always be self-reliant, strong, independent, and never show vulnerability. Seeking therapy? Well, that can be seen as a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. It's like there's this unspoken rule that men are supposed to tough out their problems on their own, which is not fair or realistic. Fear of judgment and the stigma surrounding mental health issues can discourage men from reaching out for help.
To combat this, it's important to reframe our understanding of therapy as an act of strength and courage. Therapy is not a sign of weakness or failure but rather a proactive step towards self-improvement and personal growth. It can be helpful to explore stories of successful individuals who have benefited from therapy, including male role models, to challenge the notion that seeking help is a bad thing. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, for instance, has been open about how therapy helped him overcome his mental health struggles. Men may also feel more comfortable going to therapy if they hear a friend or family member has done the same. Even watching “macho” men like Tony Soprano go to therapy in “The Sopranos” can help to normalize the experience.
As a society, we should encourage more open conversations about feelings and experiences among men, emphasizing that experiencing emotions is a normal part of being human. Fostering these conversations and connections can help create an environment where men feel more comfortable seeking help when needed. Furthermore, it is essential to emphasize that therapy is a safe and confidential space where men can explore their thoughts and feelings without judgment or repercussions.
- Lack of awareness or knowledge
Mental health and therapy may not be topics that are openly discussed or promoted among guys, so men may not be fully aware of all the benefits of therapy. Limited exposure to discussions on mental health and therapy can contribute to a lack of understanding that men may have about the value and effectiveness of seeking professional help, making therapy feel like a hidden, mysterious world that men may feel apprehensive about, unsure of what they will get from the experience.
There are so many benefits to therapy, including increasing awareness and regulation of emotions, reducing anxiety or depressive symptoms, and improving relationships, that men may not realize the full scope of possibilities. Additionally, they may not be aware that therapy can be tailored to their own unique needs. Whether you want to grow your confidence and decision-making skills to be a more effective leader at work, improve your communication and perspective-taking to be a better partner or parent, or figure out your values and life path, therapy can help you achieve those goals. Reframing therapy as an opportunity to work on individualized, unique goals and focusing on the concrete benefits it might provide may help men feel more inclined to see therapy as a valuable investment in their personal and professional success.
- Discomfort with traditional talk therapy
Some men may dread the idea of talking about themselves and their emotions for an hour, especially if they leave feeling like they didn't gain any practical takeaways from the experience. Many men tend to prefer practical solutions and problem-solving approaches. Therefore, some traditional styles of talk therapy may not align with their preferred method of addressing challenges. They may be more inclined to seek solutions through their own means, such as seeking advice from friends or engaging in physical activities as a form of stress relief.
To get past this hangup, exploring therapists who offer more solution-based approaches for therapy can be helpful. There are many different therapeutic styles that might appeal to men as they’re more action-oriented, including alternative approaches such as art therapy or wilderness therapy that go beyond the typical “therapy couch” framework. Some men may also feel more comfortable talking to male therapists who can better understand their experiences and challenges. Additionally, support groups specifically designed for men can offer a safe space for sharing and connecting with others who may have similar concerns. The presence of fellow male role models and peers can make the therapy experience more relatable and appealing.
How to get more men to go to therapy
Encouraging men to seek therapy requires a collective effort to challenge societal norms and reshape attitudes and discussions toward mental health. Men are more likely to consider therapy if they witness the positive impact it has on the people around them, and so sharing our own experiences or those of others who have benefited from therapy can help break down the barriers that prevent men from seeking the help they need. Increasing awareness about the different styles of therapy, as well as possible outcomes and individualized treatment goals, can further inspire men to get past the hangups they may have and give therapy a try.