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“This Isn’t Going to Work. I Can’t Talk About My Personal Life”: The Struggles of Men In Counseling

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By: Robert Gottlieb

rgottleib-frameSo, my boss asked me to write an article about guys in counseling. This immediately brought to mind the above quote from Tony Soprano.

Writing this article is harder than it sounds for several reasons. First, it’s very difficult to encompass an entire gender in one article. We as males are diverse, complicated and multifaceted, so I can’t really make blanket statements and expect everyone to be happy.

Second, if you’re anything like me, when I read an article specifically aimed at getting guys to do something we normally wouldn’t, I’m automatically skeptical- What are you selling me?

Finally, if an article isn’t practical, logical and succinct, I’m not going to finish it.

That being said, let’s get some business out of the way. I don’t know anything about football, cars or politics so don’t expect to find a plethora of stereotypical male analogies, here. I believe that we as males are capable of functioning outside the bounds of stereotypes and are, in fact, often constricted/confined by said stereotypes.

One thing that I have found to be quasi-common amongst males, however, is our desire for logic, practicality and application. Those three traits are precisely the ones to which I address the following comments concerning counseling and males:

One definition of insanity is “repeating the same process over and over while expecting the result to change”. According to Dr. Tobias Funke “it never does…these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but… but it might work for us” (Arrested Development).

Sound familiar? We do stupid things and, in the end, we have the same results as the last time. And we’re often happy with this– we’re content to stay where we are even though, by all rights, it sucks.

This concept of homeostasis (staying in the same routine) is different for everyone. It could be how you handle a relationship, discussions with the guys, expressing needs/desires/wants, arguments, dreams… I’d wager to say you know what I’m talking about even if I didn’t mention it in my laundry list.

A lot of us, as males, have a desire to provide for, support and protect those for whom we care. While there is something to be said for self-sacrifice, working late hours and maintaining composure/appearances, this is hard and, at points, quite draining. When I’m tired and drained I know I don’t provide, support and protect as well as I do when I’m rested and refreshed.

It’s hard to care for someone with a stubbed toe when you’re shot in the gut. Logic dictates this, but we pay it no mind. As selfish at it sounds, you need to take care of yourself. No, I’m not giving permission to engage in self-seeking endeavors, but I am saying to truly provide for, support and protect those for whom we care, we need to do the same for ourselves.

Maybe you don’t need someone to prop you up, right now. Maybe you don’t need any more tools in your belt to handle what life has for you, right now. Maybe you can do it on your own, right now.

The key is ‘right now’. It’s not a matter of “if” something happens that will challenge us so much as it is a “when”.

Personally, I’d much prefer know how to shut off the water to my upstairs bathroom and replace the flange before water comes through my kitchen, as opposed to needing to figure it out as the crisis occurs. Much the same is true with counseling. Not everything is touchy-feely-crying: a lot of counseling is learning how to use the tools we need to handle crises when they occur, or perhaps even prevent them.

I’ve found The following to be true that as a male: if I want something badly enough, I’ll will do everything in my power to make it happen.

For this to come to fruition, two things need be present: emotion and discipline. Emotion is what drives us, motivates us, and empowers us. It could be sadness (she left), anger (he can’t do that), joy (she said yes), or fear (what if I can’t…); whatever it is, eventually, it will be enough to spark action.

Once that action is set in place, it’s discipline that sees it though.  Discipline isn’t fun as we go through it, but we all like the end results. Everyone has emotions, but not everyone has discipline. We cultivate discipline through understanding our reactions to emotion, and learning how to manage said reactions.

Learning how to do this is the tricky part which often requires someone else’s input. This input will frequently rub you the wrong way and leave you walking to the car saying ‘I don’t like Rob, he’s wrong’ (I’m not) but, in the end, through processing and reflecting, we develop the necessary disciplines to manage the appropriate emotions. That’s all that counseling is: learning to use new tools and the tools we already have to cultivate the appropriate reactions to life’s inevitable conflicts.

Stereotypically, we as males don’t do so well in counseling. We don’t like emotions flying around. We don’t like being perceived as weak. We don’t like talking about our perceived faults and short-comings.

As a result, we have some of the best excuses at our disposal to avoid counseling. “I’m too busy”, “I tried it once and it didn’t work”, “I don’t speak psycho-babble”, “I’m not in love with my mother”, “I’m a guy”.

In the end, we use a hammer to fix everything (a very useful and versatile tool, don’t get me wrong) and repeat the same process over and over while expecting the result to change. Maybe that works for right now, and maybe it has worked for the past ten years. But some day the flange is going to crack, and I’d just as soon know how to fix it, or perhaps even prevent it, before it’s coming through my kitchen ceiling.

“Why do we, by asserting that virtue is not to be taught, make it a thing that does not at all exist? …none will go about to weave in a loom or to handle a book or a harp, unless he has first been taught, though no great harm would follow if he did….and yet a man without instruction presumes himself able to order a family, a wife, or a commonwealth, and to govern very well?”

– Plutarch