Men vs Therapy: A Clash of Cultures
Could therapy with men be considered a form of intercultural therapy? This idea could get some feathers ruffled but let’s explore it.
Masculinity, in the traditional sense, socialises men to protect, provide, and procreate. Men’s capacity to suppress emotions and to take action has served many societies well. Just think of how disposable men are when it comes to wartime. Yet these same qualities can feel like deficits in the context of therapy.
Just like females, males have mental health needs. Yet they’re underrepresented in the therapy setting. When they do attend it’s not unusual for it to be at the request, or insistence, of a loving female in their life. Typical masculinity demands hypersexuality, maintaining control, self-reliance, stoicness, problem solving, taking action, and denying pain. Therapy encourages non-sexual intimacy, vulnerability, being introspective, expressing emotions, confronting pain and suffering, acknowledging failure, and admitting ignorance. What a poor match!
When men have their masculine traits reflected back to them as deficits it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Even worse, it may induce feelings of shame, unwelcomed vulnerability, defensiveness, and anger. What we know about therapy, with anyone at all, is that if the client feels negatively judged then they’re likely to have poor therapy outcomes. In fact, they often just drop out altogether.
In culturally sensitive therapy, we don’t tell people their culture is wrong or bad, or by extension, that they themselves are wrong or bad. Instead, we provide unconditional positive regard and acceptance. We support each individual to explore their own culture, to understand how it shaped them, and to then make a personal choice about what they keep and what they discard.
When it comes to boys, men and those who identify with masculinity:
· We don’t judge
· We don’t shame
· We understand the unique social pressures on males
· We provide structured sessions if preferred
· We give the therapeutic relationship time to develop
· We respect emotional boundaries. For example, we focus on practical interventions if/until the client is work with emotions
By supporting men to engage in therapy, we can support them to with meaningful, lasting, impactful changes. This benefits them and those that they love. And that’s what we’re all about.