NP0020 Men in Therapy: What Clinicians Need to Know

This blog focuses on discussion regarding the course NP0020 Men in Therapy: What Clinicians Need to Know.

Engaging Men in Therapy


What Clinicians Need to Know

Some time ago, my wife, Jette (who just happens to be the world’s best couples’ therapist) and I were about to begin one of the several couples weekend workshops we hold every year. As we met the assorted participants in a conference room of a local hotel, it became obvious that, as usual, it was mostly the women who had dragged their mostly unwilling male partners to the weekend. During the first break, one of the men in the group approached Jette during an early break, obviously in real distress.

“You must change the sign downstairs in the lobby,” he hissed in her ear. The offending sign, there in public for all to see, said, “Couples Therapy—Mayfair Room.” The fact that he was attending a therapy event—a word so obnoxious to him that he could barely spit it out—in his mind, clearly identified him as a total wimp, a low-testosterone failure of a man, a complete loser in the masculinity sweepstakes. God forbid somebody he knew should catch him in such humiliating circumstances—it was akin to marching publicly into a room boldly labeled, “Child Molesters Convention Here.” Male shame strikes again.


The great secret that most men harbor is how often we feel incompetent, weak, vulnerable, and inadequate, not up to the seemingly impossible task of being a “man” (whatever that means).

And when we fail, however it looks on the outside, we experience the corrosive, toxic, intolerable feelings of shame. Just the threat of being shamed is so dreadful to us that we will go to any lengths to avoid it—we will yell at or stonewall our wives, get drunk, pick fights, drive our cars like bats out of hell, join a militia, have sex with as many women as possible—do virtually anything to avoid it.

It seems odd that after nearly 50 years of focusing on gender norms and how they affect women, the inner world of men would still remain as dimly understood as it is, even by psychotherapists. Until recently, a prime obstacle has been the ideological truism that, deep down, both genders want exactly the same thing from their relationships. But as we’ve made real advances in understanding some of the differences between the male and female brain as well as grasping the biology of other social mammals, we’ve had to take another look at some of our conventional therapeutic wisdom about commonalities between the sexes.

To explore further what some of our field’s most innovative contributors are discovering about working more effectively with men, here are two resources to check out. Just click here to preview the latest Networker streaming-video webcast series, Engaging Men in Therapy: Everything Clinicians Need to Know, beginning June 5th. And if you want some extremely thoughtful and provocative articles to challenge outdated clinical assumptions, click here to take a look at our May 2010 issue, The Secret World of Men. In either case, be prepared to discover how disconcerting—and illuminating—it is to embrace the possibility that men and women don’t necessarily want exactly the same things after all.

05.18.2012   Posted In: NP0020 Men in Therapy: What Clinicians Need to Know   By Rich Simon
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  • Not available avatar Jennifer Sneeden, Boca Raton Marriage Counselor 05.20.2012 21:34
    Wow! So glad you've decided to tackle this issue. I often hear from women that they've tried forever to get their husbands to come for marriage counseling. The women often presume that men's lack of willingness to participate is due to unwillingness to work on the marriage. Instead, I think you've nailed it here, the reluctance comes from shame in their ability to "fix" the marriage themselves.
    • Not available avatar James Hollomon Therapist of Santa Cruz, CA 05.21.2012 17:56
      The sad thing to me is the profound impact of men's comparative resistance or unwillingness to agree to do couples work or individual therapy. Many unions would be saved if a majority entered therapy before one or both have already decided to quit. I've always thought men's thing was not just shame and distaste for wimpy shrinks, but also fear of the shaman figure, fear we can magically suck out their feelings against their will, rendering them unbearably vulnerable. I have sensed this fear even from the most manly of men, who would handily contend with a tiger or a business enemy. I really don't know how we can change men's view of counseling, I really don't, and it's truly sad. Because often, as many of the Networker's master therapists have shown, and they themselves represent, most men who do enter therapy end up respecting the process, the clinician and the change they achieve. I'm sad so many men delay and deny their wives' or lovers' initiative to use therapy. Haven't we gotten beyond men being afraid of getting emotionally whipped? To misquote "My Fair Lady," Why can't a man be more like a woman?
  • 0 avatar Ronald King 05.23.2012 08:36
    As a married man for 36 years and a therapist for over 30 years, I was fortunate enough to be placed face to face with the shame of not being good enough as a husband, father and therapist almost always on a daily basis. Through years of practicing mindfullness beginning with Krishnamurti in '73 I was prepared to face the "basic fault" influencing me. What became apparent in my marriage and in my work is that if the man is not aware of his unresolved shame then his spouse and children will instinctively not feel safe with him.
    When men would come in for counseling with their spouses or partners, I would explain my focus on the attachment history of each and how this may have limited the ability to be intimate with one another thus resulting in distressing symptoms arising in their relationship. I would explain fear and shame as the foundation of the distress and how we would begin to address it. Then the choice was up to them if they wanted to continue.
  • Not available avatar paul 06.05.2012 12:16
    The link for Secret World of Men is not working. Thanks.
    • 0 avatar Psychotherapy Networker 06.05.2012 15:23

      Thank you for bringing our attention to it. We've fixed the broken link in the blog but you can also link to it here: www.psychotherapynetworker.org/component/content/article/87-general/834-mayjune-2010 Enjoy!
      The Networker Team
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