There is still a lot of stigma around therapy and mental health care, and for men, that stigma can be even worse. Research in the past several decades has shown that men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely than women to seek help for all sorts of problems—including depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events—even though they encounter those problems at the same or greater rates as women. And it’s not necessarily biologically determined that men are less likely to seek help—often it’s something they are taught by family, friends, and society.
“In many cultures, men (particularly in cisgender, heterosexual contexts) are socialized to be strong-willed, a provider, independent, and able to tolerate stress without seeking help,” said Duilio Quintero, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Therapy, viewed from these contexts, can be seen as being unable to cope, which is viewed as a form of weakness or deficiency. This viewpoint can leave many men suffering in silence and seeking maladaptive coping strategies, such as anger, substance abuse, violence, and/or suicide. The good news is that there is help available.”
If you’ve ever thought about starting therapy or coaching (or have never thought about starting therapy or coaching), but you’re not sure if it’s right for you, we asked a few practitioners in our community about some of the barriers men might face when seeking mental health care and what they can do to overcome them and start getting the care they deserve.
You can go with your gut here: often, the best way to know if we would benefit from therapy or coaching is if we think we would. “We’re often taught to ignore our emotions as opposed to listening to what they’re trying to tell us, and just like a broken arm, ignoring it doesn’t help,” Eric Yip, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member.
“If a man is ever stressed, unsure, or wants change in parts of who he is, he should fight the tendency to go it alone, as many men do, and seek out a therapist or coach,” said Tom Kearns, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Having someone we can share deep, unsure parts of ourselves with, who can guide us through the rocky waters of change, and help us grow in ways we never dreamed possible is what therapy can offer those who take the risk.”
Many men might think that going to therapy makes you weak (it doesn’t), that your therapist will judge you (they might, but not in the way you think), or that opening up about what’s going on will just be too difficult or scary. And it makes total sense to be apprehensive about talking to a stranger about your thoughts and feelings!
"Therapy or coaching can be useful for helping someone through a temporary or stressful situation,” said Daniel Sieber, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “If you are frustrated with relationships or your career and feel like you’re having difficulty making the desired changes in your life, working with a professional can be incredibly helpful. Therapy can be a long-term endeavor, but can also provide valuable assistance in short term problem-solving. In my experience, people tend to stay in therapy on a long-term basis if they have been able to experience positive change in one area of their life relatively quickly."
Social stigma or the idea that men are supposed to be “strong” or “have it all together” often keep men from seeking support.
“Men, including myself, tend to have a hard time asking for help because they perceive it as a sign of weakness,” said Danny Ghitis, a coach and MyWellbeing community member. “This can create long periods of waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment or rock bottom. A good thing about coaching is that it’s a completely client-centered approach; in other words, there’s no judgment from the coach—you’re the expert on your life. The coach is not there to analyze or fix you, only to collaborate and support your learning process. This can take the pressure off getting started and can create results rapidly.”
The fact that many men also aren’t taught how to express their thoughts or emotions mean that the barriers to starting therapy or coaching can be high.
“There are many societal and cultural norms that can hinder men from expressing themselves,” said Jonathan Galindo, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Beginning to express yourself can almost feel ‘wrong’ and stop someone from even entering the space. Many men also experience the pressure of taking care of their loved ones, which can influence them to work more, making it difficult to set time aside to prioritize their mental health or expressing themselves when it already feels ‘wrong.’”
It’s true that finding a therapist is a multistep process that can seem extremely daunting at first, but if you set aside just an hour to get started, you can break it down into manageable steps.
“I speculate there is a misconception that therapy is a place where people are expected and pressed to speak about ‘sad things,’ and ‘a place where you go to cry, and feel a lot of heavy emotions,’” said Chloe Svolakos, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “The truth is, some men I see prefer to use their sessions to work on goal setting, and work on a winning mindset to reach these goals.”
“Some male clients have actually experienced trauma and are in distress, where the goals are to control thoughts and emotions, not flood a person with more,” she said. “Other men want to speak about being more successful with work or with athleticism. Some men need a space to understand their partner, thus leading to a space where they learn more about themselves as well. I maintain that the only difference between men and women in therapy is that women just use the service more, but the space is appropriate for absolutely everyone and anyone.”
“The modality of therapy that one may seek really depends on one’s needs,” said Duilio Quintero. “Individual therapy can be fantastic to work on processing and understanding stressors and learning coping skills in a one-on-one setting; couples’ therapy can be helpful when the client is seeking to work on interpersonal issues (such as communication or intimacy difficulties) with their partner or family member; and group therapy can be useful in similar ways as individual therapy, with the added advantage of being able to hear from and learn from others while sharing one’s own story.”
When it comes to finding a therapist or coach, finding a good fit is the most important first step.
"If a man is seeking therapy,” said Daniel Sieber, “I would recommend he consider asking the following questions:
These are the types of questions that can help people to determine if a therapist is the right fit. And generally, you can get a good sense of a therapist's style through a brief initial phone consultation.”
Whether you decide to tell your friends and family that you are seeking mental health care is up to you, but if you do decide to tell the people around you, they should support your decision.
“The first thing a client would want to consider is who they would want to share with and why,” said Duilio Quintero. “The client can work with his therapist to help come up with a plan to disclose their mental health treatment.”
Going to therapy, talking to a coach, or practicing any form of self-care is a sign of strength and should signal to your friends and family that you not only care about yourself, you care about them—and a therapist or coach can help you figure out how to share that information.
“The dialog can be something like this,” said Matthew G. Mandelbaum, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member, “This past year and a half has been beyond anyone's expectations. We've all had to do things that we never thought possible—they were simply unimaginable and overwhelming. Now what? As we come out of this, I’m seeking something better for me and for our family. I don't think I can do it alone. I don’t think I can do it only with you all. I need psychotherapy. I need some help, some skills, and a way to integrate all of my experiences so that I and we can live the lives we want. What do you think?”
Getting mental health support is normal and healthy, but the stigma around seeking treatment combined with societal expectations of what men should and should not do sometimes means that men don’t receive the mental health treatment they deserve.
“Many men come to me for therapy looking for increased confidence,” Joseph Reich, a therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Tip for confidence: You don't need to think of yourself as better (than how you think of yourself now, or than others). All you need is to be truly okay with who you are today.”
If you’re unsure about the steps to take to begin therapy, we compiled our ultimate guide to get you started. Mental health care is not about fixing something wrong with you and working with a therapist or coach doesn’t mean you have to change—it’s up to you what you want from therapy or coaching and your therapist or coach will work with you to figure out the best strategy for you to get you the support you deserve.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.