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Men and counselling

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Men are notoriously bad at asking for help (directions anyone?). It’s hard for them to visit a physician for serious physical concerns, and even harder for them to see a counsellor for mental health or stress management concerns. Often men will wait until things are so bad (physically or mentally), that they have no other choice than to seek some professional support, or sometimes more seriously when it comes to mental health—contemplate suicide. Why?

It’s important that men reach out for help before their situation becomes tragic. Men don’t want to appear weak, and it can be uncomfortable for them to express their emotions. All this bravado may look good from the outside (picture the hero mythology of most films), but can take a terrible toll on the reality of their day-to-day experiences (e.g. having to keep up appearances).

Not surprisingly, men want to be as strong and independent as possible, but the reality is humans are social creatures and need the support of others. Even if men want to think of themselves as being self-sufficient, much individual success is the result of the hard work, dedication and support of others—past and present. So what would make it easier and more socially acceptable for men to seek counselling?

The first step is to have the conversation. Thankfully, the stigma around mental health and counselling is slowly disappearing, but men are still behind the curve. When men do seek counselling, they want to know that they can speak candidly about their internal experiences without being judged as weak or unmasculine. Men may also initially want to stay in the realm of ideas, and avoid talking about emotions. Why?

Unfortunately, the only socially acceptable emotion for men to express is anger. Anger can be energising in the moment, but is rarely a long-term solution, and is often a cover for emotions such as fear or hurt – uncomfortable emotions that can be examined in counselling. Until we give men the space and permission to be fully human, expressing the full range of internal experiences (including vulnerability), they will continue to suffer in silence.

Physician Dr. Gabor Maté in his book ‘When the Body Says No’ explores the mind-body connection between stress and disease. It is not possible to separate the mind (including emotions) from the body, and if we choose to ignore stress and unpleasant emotions, they will surface elsewhere. If men choose not to reach out for help they risk not only their mental health (and possibly suicide), but their physical health as well.

If men can incorporate the parts of themselves they have rejected as unimportant and weak, they have a chance of achieving physical and emotional balance. Counselling is a powerful tool to help facilitate this process of self-acceptance and healing. Let’s keep the conversation going, and let men know it’s okay to be human and seek help when necessary – before it’s too late.

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