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Encouraging men to seek (and stick with) counselling.

(Article by Peter Good, published by Counselling Directory, 2nd February 2024)

Men are half as likely to seek support for their mental health as women, yet account for 75% of all deaths from suicide. Those men who do engage with therapy are twice as likely to drop out early.

The statistics both sadden and resonate with me. In my early twenties I suffered a significant bereavement. Though I was struggling, the idea of reaching out for help from a therapist seemed daunting.

The turning point was a conversation with my GP, after a period of feeling anxious and panicked. We talked briefly about my bereavement, and he suggested counselling. At the end of our meeting, he shook my hand and said, “I’m sorry about your loss.” I replied, “It’s OK”, the GP then said “It’s not OK, you lost someone you loved.”

These words had a profound effect on me. I don’t think it was the fact my GP was a man, more that here was a practical professional telling it to me straight, but with compassion and empathy. After two difficult years, it finally spurred me on to search for help.

Research shows that many men are reluctant to reach out for help for fear of being seen as weak, and the perceived stigma associated with mental health. Though many high-profile men have openly talked about their struggles; Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds, musician Stormzy, and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, to name just a few. There still seems to be a different societal attitude towards mental well-being compared to physical.

Photograph by Sander Sammy

Tell someone you are working with a trainer at the gym, people might say, “Good for you”. Tell them you’re seeing a therapist the response might be, “Oh I’m sorry, what’s wrong?”

Certainly, I felt that pressure when I started therapy. I was reluctant to even tell friends.

I wonder whether a stereotypical view of what therapy is like can also be a factor. Surveys suggest men often view therapy as a ‘talk fest’, ‘unstructured’, ‘lacking a plan of action’. I also had stereotypical views of what it would be like. I would not describe myself a ‘blokey’ man, however, I would flippantly say “Therapy, it’s all yoga mats and joss sticks, not for me.” I often wonder what my 20 year old self would make of me becoming a counsellor.

The statistic that men who have taken the leap are twice as likely to drop out of therapy early is equally, if not more, concerning. The research shows 70% of men who drop out do so because they felt the process was not clearly explained. They wanted more structure, goals, targets, felt they had a lack of control over the sessions. Worryingly, 60% of these men felt that way after their first session. I shared some of these frustrations when I first started therapy. Luckily, I found a therapist who addressed my doubts early in the process.

Therapy was not at all what I expected it to be. The therapist was someone to help me figure out what I was feeling, guide me in making changes in my own way and at my own pace. I stuck at it, which led to a healthier happier me.

What started with my GP, then the right therapist, eventually led to me becoming a counsellor myself. My experience, and research into men’s mental health has helped shape the way I work, for all the people I help, not just men. I believe everyone is an individual, and therapy is a collaborative effort. Setting goals for therapy is important, even if the first one is working out what the goals are.

If you think you might benefit from counselling, but have doubts, I have one piece of advice. Most therapists offer free, no obligation, 15-minute consultations (or chats as I like to call them). Pick four therapists from the Counselling Directory listings, take them up on that offer. All you will have lost is an hour out of your day, which might lead to a lifetime of positive change.

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