What Do Men Get Out of Therapy?

What can I get out of therapy?  This is a question that men ask me all the time when they are considering entering therapy to work through a problem or concern they have.  The answer is that men get a lot out of therapy, but often don't realize this at the outset.

First, men get connection with other people.  As men get older, they (we) have a tendency to isolate themselves.  For a variety of reasons, men find it easier to be "a lone wolf" "an island" or "a rock" with few others around them.  They do this because they are typically socialized to behave in such a way that they lose the connections they have.  

For example, men communicate for different reasons than women do.  As Deborah Tannen has noted in her book, "You Just Don't Understand Me,"  men communicate to establish a hierarchy or even the bare minimum to relay neccessary information.  We all see this, and as a man, I see it much more frequently.  Men sit around and talk to each other about sports, their cars, or their families.  This often turns into a battle of who has the better car, or scarier story or most interesting fact to add.  These are negotiations of hierarchy.  Men typically do not talk to each other to connect.  Therefore, as they get older, they have fewer deeper and more meaningful connections.
Second, men have someone to help them look at themselves and in dealing with situations that arise in their lives.  Often, a man's best friend is his partner, wife, girlfriend.  Because women tend to be so experienced and ENJOY the language of communication, they get the job.  Sometimes the problems men have involve these relationships, so men have few people to turn to for help.  Also, because they (we) are socialized to not ask for help, men have a hard time reaching out to others for the help that they might need.  This is where therapy is very helpful.  In this setting, men get the help they need without having to involve their partner with whom they might be having the problem, or even, the problems within themselves that men may not want to reveal to their partners.

Third, when a man enters into therapy, they develop some new tools to address a problem that might seem hopeless.  (Bear with me on the tool metaphor, but it's an apt one) Men frequently come into therapy after attempting to address a current life problem with their current set of tools.  They have tried a variety of methods for solving the situation, but it just does not seem to be getting better.  That's where therapy is a great resource.  In therapy, the man can develop new tools for the situation.  Better yet, the man can develop tool and skills that will help them prevent the situation from happening again.  As we all know, prevention is much easier than repair.  Learning to use new tools for addressing the situation and preventing further problems is one of the best benefits men get from therapy.  As a man, I know I am always interested in adding tools to my toolkit (or messy workbench).  Therapy has given me a chance to do that.

Often men avoid therapy because they are concerned that it will be too emotional or will require that they talk about things that are hard to discuss.  As men, they (we) often feel like showing emotion or discussing emotional issues is a sign of weakness.  Often these emotional weakness have been used against men by other men.  This is why finding a therapist that is a good fit is critical for success.  When a man works with a therapist that understands that man, he can start to address topics and ideas that had been difficult to address because he feels safe in the relationship.  Since the relationship that the man forms with his therapist is not an adversarial one, the man is safe to explore difficult topics.  The confidentiality as well as the therapeutic relationship helps to provide this safety. 

Over the years of working with men in therapy, I have realized that therapy is a very useful tool for men.  However, they often have no idea what they will get out of the therapy before they start.  Since therapy involves many new experiences, they are often skeptical and a bit wary.  As with most challenges that men have solved, like settling the West, getting out of the Great Depression, and putting men on the moon, teamwork and new ways of looking at things are critical for success.  The new tools that men get out of therapy in a situation that is new is a great combination.  It helps them (us) move toward success in a way that we often did not imagine prior to the work.

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