Men often fear that therapy is stacked against them. Whether it is couple, family or individual therapy, they think that they are entering a domain where their skills and strengths will be counted as liabilities and they will be asked to do things that aren't just difficult or scary but unbecoming. That isn't a man problem. That's a therapy problem. I was talking recently with another male therapist, Dr. Darrell Johnson, a friend and mentor. I mentioned this campaign to him... (Okay, it isn't Ron Swanson but a Ron Swanson knock-off.)
There were a few things in the white paper that I thought were really interesting for therapists to consider about working with men, things that hadn't occurred to me despite having worked with boys and men a lot. One is the value men often place on fixing something themselves and how to make therapy an exercise in 'solving it myself (or ourselves) with help'. One man said to the researchers of the white paper, "Show me how to stitch up my own wound like Rambo." Okay, that's some pretty serious hyper-masculinity but the point is that therapy can benefit from emphasizing the client's efficacy in problem-solving with the therapist as trusted assistant.
The other thing that I thought was really wonderful was the importance some men place on giving back. I was in Hawaii last year. A companion and I went kayaking. We visited a small island and had a great time but when we went to get back in our kayak, we got hit by several waves in succession and my companion got knocked over in the surf and couldn't get up. I watched, barely able to keep myself afloat trapped on the other side of the kayak thinking I might very well see this strong, capable person drown before my eyes in three and half feet of water. But before that could happen two kayakers (much more capable than us) grabbed our kayak and my companion, hoisting him out of the water. I thanked them. They said, "That's what we do." They viewed helping as part and parcel of who they were. I, on the other hand, felt grateful but unsatisfied as they paddled away. I couldn't pay back the debt I owed them. Therapy is a uni-directional process as far as help goes; codes of ethics forbid outside relationships so it is very hard for a client to pay his debt with his skills through labour exchange or barter. I never thought about how important it can be for some clients to be able to show their competency and mastery to a therapist by doing meaningful work or sharing their own products, to give help for help received, and that men might feel that more acutely. The report points out how central the idea of repaying a debt is to AA, for instance. Now I am considering requiring clients in some circumstances to agree to pay part of the cost of therapy by "paying forward" to others using their own strengths and capabilities (see the Milwaukee African Violet Queen). Ron, would like the idea of paying off your therapy by carving duck decoys with kids in an after-school program?
"I'm a a bit fearful that we are verging on what I call 'feelings territory.'"