Why Your Man Won't Go To Therapy
I know from my viewing stats that this post probably won't do well.
It might be because of the algorithm, or because people just don't seem to care that much, but as soon as I start talking about mental health for men, and especially dads, the amount of people that see and engage with the posts drop off precipitively.
However, this is still a hugely important issue, so I'll just keep banging this drum as hard as I can.
Whenever I am asked "What is the number one thing men can do to prepare for fatherhood?" my answer is always the same:
"Go to therapy"
After saying this, most people giggle, because they know how unlikely that is for most men. But why is that? Why won't men get the help and support they need?
Well, there are a few reasons why getting therapy is particularly hard for men:
1) Psychology and therapy is set up to support women
Let's look at an example: Right now, if you search Psychology Today for Cape Town based therapists and sort by men and women, you will get over 10 pages of results for women, while only having 4 pages for men.
(And if you are looking for a black or coloured male therapist...well, you're out of luck).
There are obviously many reasons for this. There's the fact that women are more encouraged to pursue work that involves care than men are, or that more women actively seek therapy and therefore the supply has tried to meet the demand.
Whatever the reasons, the reality is that it is practically much harder for a man to find a therapist who he feels can relate and understand his experience, and even this first hurdle can be impossible to get over for many men.
2) Men don't process the way women do
Research and development of new theraputic techniques are done through the perspective of the larger number of people in field, which in this case is women. It means that even if a man gets himself into a therapy space, it is likely not designed with his needs in mind.
I've found this video to be super-insightful:
We don't know how to talk about how thoughts and feelings on things - so when a therapist insists on sitting quietly and listening...we have no clue how to deal with that situation.
This can be incredibly frustrating and demoralising for a man. Not only did you have to overcome the feeling of being "weak" by needing therapy, you now find yourself in a space where you don't understand the system. We're forced to play a game we've never played, where we don't understand the rules, and it feels like we are never going to win. No wonder men drop therapy very quickly.
3) We're taught not to open up, and never to be a burden
My favourite author, Jason Pargin (who also writes under the psuedonym David Wong), recently said on TikTok that his has been taught that the sexiest thing a man can be is brooding. A man that can keep his emotions in check, never revealing what he is truly thinking or feeling...well, that's the right kind of man. Honestly, think about your favourite celeb crush right now - is he the open and honest guy who emotes well, or is he the guy who quietly sips his drink and keeps himself to himself? Would James Bond be as attractive if he spoke openly about his past trauma? I'm going with a big no on that one.
That same author, in another video, points out that the reason why men can be quite shallow with their social interactions - preferring to talk about sports or anything else that isn't deep - is actually because we have been taught that the best thing a man can do is not be a burden.
We are told that bringing deep subjects into a conversation creates work for the other person - being a burden on them - and that's the worse thing we could do as a man.
You can see how this creates another hurdle for men in therapy.
Even though I am huge proponent for men going to therapy because I have benefitted in such a huge way myself, I have had to struggle with everything I've mentioned above.
So what's the solution? Just let men continue to be struggle quietly with their mental health? Obviously not.
Long term - we need to encourage our young men and boys to consider careers that involve more care work.
In the short term, when we encourage men to go to therapy, we can acknowledge that this is not going to be quick and easy. When we talk about it, it's got to be in the context of being a process, and when it doesn't necessarily work out right away, we need to keep encouraging and applauding the attempts.
I'd love to hear from other men and dads about their experience of therapy (or why they didn't go to therapy). DM me or leave a comment!