The top four reasons guys hate counselling are:
- Men aren’t good at describing their emotions
- Men can become aggressive under stress
- Counselling goes against the guy code
- They don’t believe counselling will help
In my work as a counsellor I’m passionate about helping young men struggling with depression. But sometimes my very mission can feel self-defeating. Many guys would rather walk into on-coming traffic than go to counseling.
Men who end up in counseling are often dragged there by concerned mothers, exasperated wives, or mandated to attend by a judge. Sadly, men seek help for mental health at lower rates than women despite the fact that they die by suicide at three times the rate of women.
Many men attend the counselling of their own volition and have benefited greatly from it. But the reality is that the majority don’t actively seek it out. Understanding why guys hate counselling will help people who care about them find a way to support them without shaming them for not seeking help.
Men aren’t good at describing their emotions
Men are often criticized for being ‘out of touch with their emotions’ and have difficulty putting emotions into words. This is so common there’s a scientific description for it “normative male alexithymia”. Alexithymia is the technical term for the inability to describe one’s emotions. ‘Normative’ means that this is a common experience reported by men.
Normative male alexithymia could be caused by brain differences between men and women, and how men are socialized not to talk about their emotions. Alexithymia is a nightmare in a talk therapy setting which often emphasizes describing emotional states.
Consequently asking a man who struggles to describe his emotions to go to counselling is like asking someone with poor hand-eye coordination to try and juggle.
What are you thinking? “I don’t know”
I can recall one past client who was a teenage boy dealing with depression and anxiety. When I asked him questions he would often respond with “I don’t know”. I would patiently give him a minute to collect his thoughts and try to guess what he might be thinking.
Most of the things I said didn’t hit the mark and therapy was slow and difficult. He found this intensely uncomfortable because he thought he was doing counselling ‘wrong’. Every time I asked him a question and he ‘didn’t know’ he felt like a failure.
It is this fear of failure that keeps many men out of counselling. This boy was more sensitive and introverted, but other guys can become defensive and aggressive when they are put in a counselling setting.
Men CAN become aggressive under stress
In his book “How do I help him?” Michael Gurian explains how men and women respond differently to stress. When women are stressed their bodies produce oxytocin, the same neurochemical that floods mothers and helps them bond with their newborns.
When women enter a counselling office in a state of crisis their biology has primed them to connect and seek support. Men on the other hand produce testosterone when they are stressed which causes them to become more aggressive.
This can lead to defensiveness and defiance that will directly counteract the counselling process.
the idea of counselling is worse than depression for some men
I was discussing this topic with my friend who experiences seasonal depression and despite knowing he needed counselling, and feeling suicidal every winter for at least a decade, he still couldn’t bring himself to do it.
He said that on one occasion when he was in a counsellors office he had a strong urge to take the counsellors water-color painting off the wall and beat him with it. Counsellors design their offices to feel relaxing and safe. However, for some guys, this might have the opposite effect and make them even more agitated.
counselling goes against the guy code
Males grow up in a social environment where emotional displays are taboo, and Boys who violate this rule are often ridiculed, harassed, and have their manhood questioned. As mentioned previously men’s biological wiring makes describing emotions difficult.
This brain difference is reinforced and entrenched by social rules that give them even less opportunity to practice talking about their feelings. Going to counseling forces them to talk about feelings and that can be threatening to their identity as a man.
a training ground for emotional restriction
I started playing football when I was 10 and loved the physicality and roughness of the game. I remember in my second year on the team we went to the provincial finals. During the game, one of my teammates got hit in the crotch at super high speed. He writhed on the ground in agony crying for at least 10 minutes before he has carried off the field.
Everyone on my team knew how painful getting ‘sacked’ was. Despite this we all laughed at his pain, and teased him for crying. I wonder when was the next time he allowed himself to cry in front of another person?
They don’t believe counselling will help
Many men don’t believe that counselling will help because they think that ‘just talking’ about something won’t’ fix it. While most people who attend counseling get some benefit from it there is no guarantee of success. The average guy typically is not willing to fork out $100+/hr to do something he hates, which in the end might not even work.
Imagine if you brought your car to the mechanic and they said the problem would take $100/hr and many hours to fix, but there wasn’t a guarantee your car will be fixed at the end. How would you respond? This is a major deterrent for some men to try counselling. Therapists need to do a better job at de-mystifying the counseling process so that men can see the benefit they can get from each session, and over the long-term.
One therapy practice that does this well is Manifest Counselling for Men in Vancouver Canada. They tailor their service towards men and have a 7 session approach that is clearly outlined and easy to understand. Even if the process is clear, that may not be enough to get a guy to try counselling.
I’m a counsellor who hates counselling
I have to confess that as a counsellor who loves my job, I hate going to counselling. I know the techniques and strategies counsellors will likely suggest solving my problem, so I’m less inclined to pay money for it. Self-help methods I prefer over counseling include seeking advice from friends, reaching out for support from my wife, and praying.
I have attended group therapy in the past and benefited from it, but I’ve also had mediocre experiences in individual counselling where I wasn’t really sure if it helped at all. Due to my experiences I can totally relate to men who are skeptical about attending a counselling.
How to support men who need help
If you have a man in your life who ‘needs counseling’ but refuses to go follow these steps:
- First, recognize and understand that there are many valid reasons for his reluctance.
- Second, instead of shaming him for being stubborn, help him to explore other ways that can support his mental health and acknowledge that counselling is not for everyone.
- If you have a son who is struggling with depression read my article on How to Help Your Depressed Son.
What are some other reasons you think guys don’t like counselling? If you have any questions or helpful advice feel free to leave a comment below.