Why Men Resist Treatment and Why We Shouldn’t
Men become depressed, suffer from anxiety and struggle with suicidal thoughts and urges, but are much less likely than women to seek therapy. While women are more likely to seek medical advice from a therapist, men often play down their bouts of mental distress and often go to extreme lengths not to take care of their psychological needs, which can turn their lives around and the lives of those around them as a result.
This anti-therapy bias is so pervasive that the meme “men would rather X than go to therapy” appeared on Twitter. Men, says one tweet, learn literally everything about ancient Rome instead of going to therapy . Or “literally teach you how to open a jar of beans for 6 hours .” Or ” literally getting a new girlfriend instead of going to therapy.”
The idea that men should be strong in the face of mental illness is deeply ingrained, resulting in higher rates of substance abuse, homicide, suicide, and lower life expectancy than women in the United States and beyond . “We have a society that encourages men to get answers, and if not, be able to solve them on their own,” says Justin Lioy, a licensed clinical social worker based in Brooklyn, New York . “There are not many places where [men] are given the freedom and support to deal with insecurity, to sit helpless.”
Many of men’s doubts about therapy today are rooted in archaic beliefs about masculinity. Outdated conventional wisdom makes men models of emotional stability who are expected to receive salaries and protect families. This concept persists, coloring the disgust that many men have about talking about their problems these days.
But, as many men say, resisting treatment is far more damaging than sitting in a room with a therapist and emotionally unburdened. Men have many ways to shed the stigma associated with therapy so that they can eventually deal with their inner turmoil in order to grow up and be happier.
Not going to therapy is worse
Brenton Chapman, a marketing manager based in New York, explains how the meteoric rise in problems related to his ex-marriage, work stress and “unresolved trauma” brought him to the hospital in the summer of 2018. : This marked the beginning of his path to recovery through therapy, which, he says, changed him.
But, he said, it was because of Chapman’s long-standing personal dislike of therapy that he ended up in the hospital. He wrote in a direct post to Lifehacker:
I have lived with BPD since adolescence, but have never sought help or diagnosed because I was raised to believe that I should be able to fix myself and solve my own problems. I didn’t believe that therapy could help me and that leaving would be an admission of weakness.
Matthew Weatherly-White, a retired financial professional, had a similar bias against psychological treatment, only to see his life overcome by emotional distress that has seeped into his personal and work relationships. “I ruined marriage, business partnerships, and my role as a co-founder of a multibillion-dollar asset management firm,” he says, “because I thought therapy was for the weak and weak.”
Men who ignore their psychological problems often see their romantic and platonic relationships suffer. “Most of my recommendations come from a woman in a guy’s life — sometimes she even makes the first call,” says therapist Lioy. “When men constantly place [an emotional burden] on others, relationships can quickly become interdependent.”
Often times, according to Lioi, men agree and sign up for therapy as a last resort when an important relationship is on the verge of collapse. “Sometimes it takes loss or fear of losing a relationship to bring someone into the office — a partner who says he’s about to leave, or a boss who says his anger needs to be brought under control.”
Men’s sluggish attitude toward therapy is not all that surprising when you consider that the American Psychological Association published its first guidelines for men and boys in 2019. Boys learn stoicism from an early age, making them ill-equipped to describe their emotions. and deal with their complexity and nuances. As APA wrote about young boys in 2005 :
They learn to repress their emotional responses – such as crying or even a sad expression – so much that by the time they become adults, they are not really aware of their emotions and how to describe them in words.
Without a supportive forum for expressing emotional honesty, men often lack opportunities to express themselves or, worse, are paralyzed by the association of weakness that arises from vulnerability in their problems.
But, fortunately, suffering is unnecessary. While it is difficult to escape generations of socially conditioned myths about emotional vulnerability, men may view therapy differently, so it seems less intimidating.
What men say about therapy
“A therapy for men should never be formulated as being broken and corrected,” says Edward Close, a journalist based in London, England. Close, like many men, harbored typical reservations about therapy, more worried about the consequences of talking about his feelings than about the harm he might cause himself.
He tells Lifehacker:
I didn’t know anyone my age to do this, and due to the social stigmatization of men in therapy, I was a little worried that I might be considered inferior or effeminate.
But Close found the treatment profound, with immediate impact. “He clicked immediately,” he says. “I had the most incredible therapist who was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. All fears that I would be considered weak or broken were dissipated by the end of the first hour. “
Now that he goes to counseling on a weekly basis, Close offers a metaphor that can help other men to shake off harmful associations that are holding them back from seeking help.
“Men should look at therapy the same way they look at any other act of self-improvement. Like a gym, but for your mental health, not physical. “
One way to ease the often daunting burden of first seeing a therapist is to start with telemedicine sessions, which understandably have become the norm for many counselors during the pandemic. “Online counseling has really helped a lot of people who thought it was too vulnerable to walk into the office to talk about their problems,” says Lioy. “Teletherapy means you can be in your own space and at some distance, which often allows you to be more honest and vulnerable.”
Another way to get rid of social stigma is to hear how therapy has helped various men who were emotionally distressed before they started counseling. Danny, a public relations professional, says his therapist “knows how to steer me in the right direction in ways I don’t know, I want to [ed].” After spending much of the past year in counseling, he says, “I wouldn’t be who I am today in 2021 if it wasn’t for the way I spent 2020 actively working to stay intact and grow.”
Of course, therapy doesn’t always work that smoothly; it can take time to find the right consultant whose methods work according to your goals and needs. There is also a financial burden associated with finding therapy in the United States, so be sure to do your homework to find out which therapy school you like and whether your chosen counselor accepts insurance or will work with you on various payment options.
But once you find the right thing, the result of mental health work is euphoria. Close, who feels “light as a feather” after the sessions, is already begging other men in his life to explore the possibility of therapy.
“I’m only scratching the surface of my own path to counseling, but it’s encouraging that one of my friends recently started seeing a therapist for the first time,” he says. “I hope I helped make it a little more normal and less intimidating for him.”
As more men try to normalize the process of seeking counseling, this opens up an encouraging new future in which cryptic stigmas – and Twitter jokes – are slowly fading away.