What makes it hard for men to seek therapy?
It is a well-known fact among therapists that men are less likely than women to seek the support of a therapist. In my own experience in coaching couples and individuals, it is usually the wife that calls me to set up the first couple session, and most individual clients are women. However, once the work of coaching is complete, male clients usually make it clear that they benefited from the process. I can say that I have benefited immensely from therapy in different periods of my life. What is going on with us men that makes it harder for us to get the support that we need? Below are five reasons, and while some may apply to women too, I believe these are the primary reasons for why men may feel difficulty or strong hesitation when they consider seeking therapy.
1. Embarrassment/discomfort around sharing emotions
Society has stripped men of their emotional rights. In most of the cultures I’ve been exposed to, it is essentially inappropriate for a man to display emotions, especially negative ones, and sometimes even neutral or positive ones. We’ve been told not to cry or been called “gay” because we expressed an emotion. Strength, emotionlessness, and manliness have all been conflated and we’ve become confused, emotionally stunted, and isolated.
Because of what society has done to us, we have not practiced the skill of expressing emotions (yes, a skill, which is something you get better and better at with practice). By the time we’re adults, we don’t know what our emotions are, and we don’t know what to do with them.
Do emotions go away when they’re not intentionally expressed? Absolutely not! They become expressed in unintentional and unhealthy ways like aggression, depression, sexual acting out, overwork, and disconnection in intimate relationships.
What we need to do is to get out of our comfort zones and start expressing our emotions to safe people, i.e., people who make our expression of emotion a positive experience. Make it a point to express three emotions each day to someone who will listen. For example, “I love you,” “I got frustrated when my manager said that to me,” or “I’m really looking forward to catching up.”
Also, don’t be the person who punishes others for sharing their emotions. Whether it’s a good emotion or a bad one, receive it with care. Whenever an emotion is expressed, that’s a sacred moment.
2. Feeling ashamed to ask for help
I can confidently say that if you’re living a healthy and meaningful life, you will have integrated the support of others. Greatness cannot be achieved alone. Even Jesus Christ, who is God, who can do anything that He wants, modeled the importance of others when He called disciples to Himself. He surrounded Himself with others and asked for their support in His ministry. The best sports players need trainers and coaches. CEOs of large companies reach out to consultants and executive coaches for guidance.
Maybe we don’t want to ask for help because we want the satisfaction (or ego boost) of having achieved something on our own. Maybe we don’t want to admit that we are unable to achieve something on our own. Regardless of the reason why we try to go about life on our own, by the time we realize that we need help, lots of damage has been done, or, at a minimum, lots of time has been lost.
As men, we need to change our perspective on asking for help: leaders are very skilled at asking for help.
3. Discomfort with women in a position of authority or feeling a female therapist may be biased against you
Most therapy clients are women, and most therapists are women too. The likelihood of your therapist being a woman is high. And in a therapy or coaching setting, it is normal for a client to feel that the care provider has authority because of the expertise that they can provide. This authority can make initiating therapy uncomfortable for men who are unable to see women in a position of authority. Also, if a man is having an issue with his wife, for example, he may feel that a female therapist would be biased against him.
A good therapist or coach will be perceptive to this issue and try to address it. But that can only be done during the sessions, so it is important that we, men, get ourselves to those sessions. Even better, mention to the therapist that you’re feeling discomfort around the fact that your therapist is a woman.
If you’re having too hard of a time working with a female therapist, I encourage you to seek out a male therapist. I would also encourage you to talk with the male therapist about why you’re not comfortable working with a woman. I am certain that there are valuable insights that you can gain from discussing that topic.
4. Believing that going to therapy is a step that only those in desperate situations take
Many people see therapy as a last resort for addressing desperate situations. And for some of us men, seeking formal support from a therapist or coach may feel like an admission of failure, which is not something we want to feel. However, therapy can be an efficient means by which you address an issue, especially before it gets worse. A couple that comes to therapy or coaching before they’re highly conflicted has a higher likelihood of achieving their goals and achieving their goals sooner than a couple that starts therapy when they’re deep in conflict.
Therapy and coaching are usually a more efficient way of creating meaningful change in your life. The conversations that you’ll have in therapy and coaching are different from the ones that you have with friends and others in your support system. A therapist or coach is trained in asking certain types of questions, understanding common thought processes (both good and bad ones), identifying unhealthy dynamics and patterns in a relationship, and perceiving unspoken feelings. Therapy increases the chances that you’ll achieve your goal and that you’ll achieve it much sooner than you otherwise would.
5. Fear of the pain that comes with discussing vulnerable topics, especially if discussing them in the past was painful and not beneficial
Therapy involves vulnerability, and it usually involves dealing with pain. Sometimes, when we access that pain in order to heal it, we feel like our situation is getting worse. We can wonder, “Why initiate a process that can lead to more pain?” A helpful example to think of is a surgery to remove a tumor or a knee replacement surgery. The surgery creates pain, but it changes the trajectory of the future of your life. Removing the tumor will be painful, but it can save your life. Replacing your knee would be very painful (the recovery process would be painful too), but you will regain mobility that you can use for the rest of your life.
When we leave issues unaddressed in our hearts, it’s like tying your heart to a ball and chain: you’ll try to move, love, and grow, but your progress will always be hampered by the unaddressed issue—your trajectory in life will be limited.
Sometimes we’re also scarred by having tried to address an issue in the past, but it led to more pain and no benefit. If that applies to you, I encourage you to carefully select a therapist or coach who can guide you. It’s ok if you need a few sessions to give them your trust. Starting this journey may be the key to much greater freedom and fulfillment in life, including in your relationships.
I hope that the above five reasons have given you some insights into what may be preventing men from seeking the support they need. The world needs us men, and needs us to be healthier than ever, on every level. I pray that you find the strength and courage to start the journey of care for your heart.
Makar is a Finance Director, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist, and Marriage & Life Coach. Originally from Queens, NY, he now lives in Los Angeles County, CA with his wife. Makar has spent hundreds of hours with couples, families, and individuals in therapy sessions. He also delivers over one hundred lectures and hundreds of coaching sessions each year. He truly has the heart of service and is passionate about teaching others about healthy relationships and healthy living. If you'd like to get in touch with him please reach out to me and I will connect you.