Let me give you the bottom line up front. Yes, counseling is right for men. That’s not why you’re giving this article a chance though. Here’s what you really want to know:
Is counseling right for me?
I’m targeting young men, and grown men, for a reason. First, who better to speak to your concerns than someone with personal experience. Second, I want you to help me cut through the societal stupidity that says somehow, because we’re men, we’re supposed to have everything figured out. That sort of thinking creates unnecessary pressure and is likely contributing to the problem making you wonder about counseling in the first place.
What Qualifies Me to Speak to the Issue?
I grew up avoiding self-help books.
Ten Steps to Feel Good About Yourself… I have my moments, but generally, I already do.
How to Be a Better Listener… I think of it as being an active participant.
5 Ways to Be Successful… Have you ever read that joke about the two people running from the bear? I don’t have to be faster than the bear. I just have to be faster than you!
And on and on.
There’s nothing wrong with being assertive. Confidence feels great. I consider myself to be a solid man, but here’s a not so secret secret: Even confident men need a good support system.
Why talk about self-help books when you thought the subject was counseling?
If you never accept the possibility that you too might need a hand every now and then, then none of it will work–not books, not support groups, and certainly not counseling. Helpful resources will never challenge your masculinity, because to be blunt, it takes real balls to acknowledge you might need a little support.
I did counseling for the better part of three years. When I started counseling, I was in a challenging relationship. Though my counselor did not think my condition could be called depression, she acknowledged I was feeling consistently sad and needed to do something to improve my situation.
With that, let me offer a few caveats.
3 Reasons Not to Seek Counseling
- Do not seek counseling if you want to fix a relationship.
In any relationship there are three components to the arrangement. There’s you. There’s them, and then there’s the relationship itself. The relationship is a living, breathing entity that is made up of the good and bad components you deposit into it. Counseling will help you improve your share of the problems. This, by extension, will help the contributions you make to the relationship, but it cannot account for your partner’s issues. If you want to work on the relationship itself, then you go to counseling as a couple.
- Do not seek counseling if you think you’re always right.
The point of counseling is not to challenge your values. Rather, it is designed to review your actions and identify spots where, yeah, you know what? That was kind of a jackass move. Maybe I could have done that differently. Counseling will help you understand why you behave the way you do and help you find more polished ways of dealing with situations in a way that does not change who you are at your core.
- Do not seek counseling if you’re not willing to be vulnerable.
Remember back there when I said it takes man parts to ask for help? As much as I used to scoff at people who would blame their childhood for all their troubles, the truth is: Your childhood plays an active role in how you perceive the world and how you respond to it. A good counselor will help you let your guard down and explore the deep roots contributing to why you feel angry or depressed or whatever. The truth is, your therapist is not your best friend, but the upside to this arrangement is that because your therapist is not your best friend, you can speak freely without fear of judgment. They’ve heard it all, and most important, unless you are a threat to yourself or others, they are ethically bound to keep your secrets.
So, what happens if you fall into one of these three categories?
You could theoretically seek counseling anyway. It’ll be challenging for you at first, but a good therapist will help you bring down some of these walls. Frankly, I would try adjusting your attitude before meeting with a counselor. Why waste your time and money going about it the slow way when you could go in with an open mind and seeing where it takes you? I mean, seriously, what is the worst that could happen?
Pointers to Finding a Good Therapist
A good counselor will:
- Be open to an interview to make sure they have the skill to walk you through your situation;
- Offer referrals if it turns out you guys do not have a good connection;
- Never make you feel pressured to keep coming back for sessions if you do not want to;
- Validate your concerns when it makes sense but call you on your BS when that is required; and
- Recommend other resources to help supplement your sessions.
You may have thought all counselors were built the same. Of course not, they’re human too, and some will possess a better temperament to work with your style of personality. If you do not feel a good connection with your therapist, you will find it hard to be vulnerable.
In my experience, it doesn’t really make a difference whether your therapist is male or female. I met with both, and while they each brought a different perspective, the end goal was the same: To help you bring out a stronger version of yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why would I go to counseling when I could just talk to a friend?
Turning to your friends is always an excellent choice. The two options never have to be mutually exclusive. You’ll have to make an honest assessment of the friendship though.
- How is your friend’s bias going to affect their advice?
- How is the friendship likely to be affected?
- How much do you trust your friend to keep the situation confidential?
Remember a counselor is professionally trained to walk you through a broad spectrum of issues.
What if a counselor can’t fix my issues?
Well, as annoying as you’ll find this, they don’t fix your issues. You fix your issues. It’s almost unfair how you pay them even though you do all the work.
But, are you giving counseling your best? Remember, they can only work with what you give them.
If counseling is not a great fit, perhaps there’s value in exploring medicinal options. You might be better off joining a men’s group so as not to make you feel like you have all the spotlight. You might benefit from reading a few well-chosen books. The first step is to give it a shot.
Is counseling right for everyone?
Putting my earlier caveats aside, yes, I do believe counseling can benefit everyone. Will it help everyone to the same degree? No, but then, this is why you shop for the right therapist who works well with you.
What if I don’t want to be stuck in therapy forever?
Trust me, you won’t be stuck in therapy forever. I’ve heard of people who stick with therapy for decades. To each their own, but if you work hard at it, you will know when the therapist has done her job. My counselor went from recommending we drop the frequency of our visits to suggesting we could visit on an as needed basis.
Should children and youth consider counseling?
Absolutely. It’s never too early to seek counseling. In fact, I would argue seeking counseling earlier than later would go a long way in resolving issues that could get worse the older you get. Contrary to popular belief, parents don’t have all the answers, and they are not failures if they seek help. In fact, that makes them heroes.
Caveat: Just as it is true for adults, children and youth need to want to get help. I know parents sometimes fall into the trap of believing they can make children do anything just because they said so. If they refuse, find out what’s causing the issue, and work with them to get to a place where they can give it a shot. Especially when it comes to teenagers, forcing them to attend sessions could be an exercise in futility, and honestly, it’s a waste of money. But, remember, this is advice coming from a non-professional.
Is counseling expensive?
Sometimes counseling can be expensive. I need you to look at it as an investment though. When you go to the doctor, you’re looking for a physical remedy. When you seek out a counselor, you’re looking for emotional assistance. Both services will ultimately improve your quality of life.
If your insurance does not cover your visits, you can ask the counselor if they can cut you a discount for paying out of pocket. They will usually be able to do so because cutting out insurance means less administrative fees for them.
Take a look at your job benefits. If you’re a federal employee, your flexible spending account will cover therapy expenses. You also have the benefit of the Employee Assistance Program to get you started with something like ten free sessions. Outside of the public sector, you may find some employers lump counseling into work/life balance programs.
With so many services now utilizing virtual options, you might be able to save a little money by opting for an online arrangement. I’ve heard of services that will let you conduct therapy through texting. I would feel better if people started with traditional counseling and then moved to texting, only because there’s so much room for misinterpretation, but if your comfort level hinges on this one point, fine, texting it is.
Finally, I would imagine seeking out a psychiatrist would set you back a little more money than a therapist. That is pure speculation on my part though. Just like anything else, I fully expect you to do your homework if money is a determining factor.
This post is what I would consider a landing page post. There’s a scatter shot of information. As such, I anticipate future posts that further dissect portions of this article. For now, let me close with a few points of consideration.
If you came to this article hoping to find creative ways to encourage someone else to go into therapy, I’m sorry to have disappointed you. As I referenced a moment ago, and in an earlier post, the person needs to want to get help. Forcing, and sometimes even cajoling someone into counseling, can have the unintended effect of stimulating a certain resentment. Some people will balk at the idea. Some will claim they haven’t found the right match. There are bad therapists out there, but I promise you there is a counselor for everyone if they look hard enough.
If you are the one contemplating counseling for yourself, more power to you for being self-aware enough to understand when it makes sense to reach outside yourself. It’s not going to be easy, but then, it’s not supposed to be easy or it’s likely a lot more people would have already done it. This is in large part why you should feel comfortable in accepting therapy is a manly man thing to do if you think it might help. It will noticeably improve your job performance, professional, and personal relationships.
Do you want to read something funny? The men who turn their nose up at counseling the most vehemently are the ones who end up loving it the hardest. Seriously! What possible good reason would I have to exaggerate on this point? I am Exhibit A.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If there’s anything I missed, and especially if there’s anything I got wrong, I’d love for you to pitch in. And as always, give thought to subscribing to my newsletter!