Let’s take a moment to consider Sigmund Freud, the so-called father of psychotherapy. A quick image scan on Google provides many images – most of which are similar; a stoic man, wearing a three-piece suit, with a pocket watch and a cigar.
Following a first counselling session with a client, I always ask the same question: Am I different to how you expected me to be? The answer – in most cases – is: Yes, I thought you’d be wearing a suit. Do people expect their counsellor to be more Sigmund, and is it a relief when they are not?
There are many other names that have influenced the world of psychotherapy, but Mr. Freud is the one who – more often than not – springs to mind. And for men particularly, if they are not expecting me to be a cigar smoking, suited therapist, they expected me to be a free-loving, sandal wearing hippy. None of which come close!
I can understand why people have skewed ideas as to what ‘therapy’ is. It is only recently, that people have begun to accept that mental health is a real thing and it’s okay to speak out about it.
Statistically 60% of men say they would discuss their mental health, but only with their partner; that is a great start but why is there a reticence to hold back on talking to a professional? Can you imagine breaking an arm and only telling your partner?
Let’s blast some the reasons why men particularly, don’t want to discuss their mental health:
1 – I’m too embarrassed I totally get this. If you have been brought up to think mental health isn’t a thing and men don’t suffer with emotional issues, then it will be embarrassing to consider help.
Let me tell you, I have seen some of the toughest, biggest, hardest men you could possibly meet, cry during their first counselling session.
When I am working with men who let their emotions go, all of them say afterwards how good it felt to be free of whatever they were holding in.
2 – I don’t wish to burden anyone. So how far do you go with that broken arm? Does it need to be hanging off before you’ll get it checked out?
Going to see a counsellor is as much of a burden as taking yourself to a walk-in clinic to have your arm put in plaster.
Whether you are referred to an NHS service, a charity specialising in a particular area of support, or choose a private practice, you’ll be seen by a counsellor who will listen.
You don’t burden a bus driver, a bank clerk, a fire fighter, a barber… you are not a burden; you just need the services of someone who is trained to facilitate your needs.
3 – There is a stigma regarding about talking about mental health.
There certainly was a stigma, particularly with older generations. In WWII, airmen who were exhausted, anxious and plagued with depressing thoughts were tagged with the label lacking in moral fibre.
Employers after the war refused to take on anyone with such ‘degrading’ credentials, so it’s easy to see why no one wanted to open up. And this fear and caution toward mental health has been passed down from generation to generation.
We have the Royals’ to thank for change – Princes William and Harry have been open about sharing their experiences both in conflict and at home.
Whilst this doesn’t help anyone who is concerned about how their friends and family may view them if they reach out for help, I offer this assurance: No one but you and your counsellor need know about your sessions or issues raised within, they will be private and confidential.
4 – I don’t want to admit a weakness. It’s okay to feel unsure about yourself. The contradiction in life is that people will view you differently to how you view yourself.
When a child looks up to an adult, they do so in awe. They don’t see the cracks, they see pioneers and influencers.
When an adult looks toward an adult, they more often than not see another person surviving in an uncertain world.
Doubt is an internal feeling; no one can see or touch it, yet it still impacts on how we present ourselves and operate in the environment we live and work in.
Counselling will help you to change your perspective – your frame of reference, so you no longer identify as weak, but as experienced with positive growth ahead.
5 – I’ve learnt to deal with it.
Brilliant, that shows resilience – and that’s a good thing. The mind can play funny games though; have you dealt with it, or are you in denial?
You may go for years thinking you have overcome something you felt very deeply about, only to find the door to that part of your mind has suddenly been unlocked again.
That’s no weakness, just a reaction in the here and now. Talking about it again will help you review your perspective, so you can accept it in a way which satisfies you.
Now we know what is holding people back, let’s focus on the perception of what counselling is – or isn’t. The word itself is far from clear; the term therapy and counselling are one of the same – a little like actor and performer.
In this case, the provision of professional assistance focussing on psychological issues.
Unlike what the dictionary may say, a counsellor does not give advice – nor has an agenda, or directional control of the relationship. Your counsellor will have every confidence in you to dig deep and share your fears and concerns, so that with positive support and reflective discussion you’ll find your light-bulb moment. This will help you realise new thoughts, ideas and actions.
Whilst this might sound passive, a counsellor will be focussing on what is being said – or not said, and concentrating on implied meanings and body language – subtle junctures allowing for deeper discussion.
Imagine your brain as a suitcase; your counsellor will help you take everything out and sort what isn’t needed, then work with you to neatly pack your clothes back so you have more space for more things.
A counselling session is completely, 100 percent, unequivocally confidential.
Do your homework to find a therapist who you feel comfortable with, so that during a session you can off-load with confidence – and be assured that whatever you say will remain in the room.
You’ll not know how comfortable you’ll be until you speak to a counsellor, so pick up the phone and have a chat before you commit.
Finding the confidence in you to overcome your own objections and make that call, will be the hardest part of your therapeutic journey. Once you’ve nailed that, give yourself some positive regard and move forward with an open mind.
Counselling is a deeply private notion. There is no need to tell the world – unless you want to of course. You’ll be able to release the negative issues in your life, whilst also concentrating on how to move yourself forward… it’s empowering stuff.
The world has changed – and attitudes change too. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself and see how people react when they notice a change in you.
And for a final note. You don’t have to worry about laying on a couch… you’ll sit on a chair, in a comfortable office with someone who just maybe, has been through a mental health issue themselves.
Duncan Ellison retrained to become a counsellor following over 25 years in the media, broadcast and live event industries. As a counsellor, he specialises in working with men and is keen to encourage and empower men to find their authentic self and better understand their mental health.