Going to see a counselor is a tough call for a lot of men. Despite changing narratives about masculinity, emotions, and relationships, some guys still see going to therapy as a mark of failure. But nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a lot to gain, and the investment you make in the process can be the catalyst for the change you've been dying to see in your life.
1. Therapy isn't about 'venting'.
A common concept men have of counseling is that you're just paying someone to sit and listen to you spew out all your problems, nod their head and say "mm-hm" once in a while, let you roll around in the catharsis then send you on your way.
I won't say nobody ever comes to a session with a lot to get off their chest, and releasing your restless thoughts in an environment that's safe and confidential is tangibly helpful. But it's never the whole job we're here to do.
Underneath our emotions and the complications of life are hidden hurts, mysterious motives, and unconscious forces that aren't going to reveal themselves by chance or just the passing of time. I use my training to help men unpack their stories and begin to finally see what it all means, and begin to regain control of the trajectory of their lives.
2. Being vulnerable doesn't mean being attacked.
A common bit of feedback we get from people in our lives is that we should be more "vulnerable". There's often confusion (on all sides) about what that looks like, and it can be a trait we're hesitant to pursue. After all, to be vulnerable literally means "to be susceptible to physical or emotional attack".
And isn't that the way we've learned to guard, control, and even deny our emotions? If we're honest, a lot of men have found that when certain emotions show, we get hurt. We're punished. We're made to feel ashamed. Sometimes even by the very people who wanted us to be vulnerable in the first place.
But that's not what we're going for. I don't even like the word 'vulnerable' in this arena because I don't believe it's accurate. What we're really wanting to build is a greater ability to be present, authentic, and accessible. This isn't the way even our evolving culture teaches men to carry their deepest feelings, but that doesn't make it impossible. And it's not about allowing others to shame, wound, or control you.
As you learn to lean into and listen to the closed-off parts of yourself, you'll not only build acceptance but also mastery of your emotions--which is night and day from the game of escape/deny/control most of us were drafted into.
3. You won't become a victim.
Another common but false perception I encounter in men is that people in therapy learn to blame others for whatever's going wrong in their life.
Self-victimizing is something some people do, and a person bent on this mindset could certainly take what happens in therapy--or in church, or in any relationship--and interpret it in a way that helps them justify it. But a good counselor is not going to convince you to shirk responsibility and invent blame to be passed out.
The process does include telling the truth about relationships, and that looks like facing the roles we and others have played in each other's stories. But you are always the one who's got to own your destiny, your attitude, and your choices. We never lose sight of that in the counselor's office.
The goal of therapy is to build authenticity and that means owning your life--not giving your power away to a victim mentality.
If you're a man who's begun to wonder if there's anything to get out of therapy, I'd love to talk to you about the world of change waiting to be discovered.
Mike Ensley, LPCC, is a nationally board-certified counselor in Loveland, CO.