Most men enter therapy only after a major critical event in their life such as divorce, job loss, or health scare. Locker room talk often ridicules the Saturday Night Live version of talk therapy. Many (not all) "guys" bond over the shared complaint about the need of the women in their lives to "process feelings". Many cultures have socialized their men to not express a variety of feelings at the risk of appearing weak or soft - not "masculine".
Ironically, the architecture of the therapeutic encounter is a strikingly feminine design. Indeed, a large percentage of psychotherapists are women. Yet sociobiology reminds us that the social organization of our ancient tribes had women sitting in a circle facing each other around the camp fire preparing food and protecting the children. The men were walking the grasslands shoulder to shoulder hunting for food and alert to threats, in front and behind. One of those threats would be perceived when men faced off and stood chest to chest. Constant movement frequently meant survival.
And yet even Tony Soprano found a purpose for therapy. Our strengths can be our weakness. Times have been a changing: two income families and greater expectations of men's roles than ever before. Very few role models exist of this new paradigm. 56% of working men "share parental work". Research studies indicate that men are more stressed than women about feeling adequate in fulfilling their growing responsibilities and changing roles.
"It is the primary task of every society to teach men how to father." MARGET MEADE
Latest research reveals that we have totally underestimated the impact and importance of fathering on infant development. For example, father's vocabulary is a stronger predictor than mother's on the language competence at 36 months; fathers are equally likely as moms to correctly id emotional milestone ages when children can feel sadness or fear; more likely than moms to correctly id when children begin to sense parental anger; equally likely to correctly id appropriate age for toilet training; slightly more likely than moms to correctly id pre-K significance of "sharing, playing with others' and "likes to learn readiness". Fathers need respect, from each other and from their partners, for their competencies and unique contributions.
The point is not that a female or male therapist is better than the other. Both can be great. What is important is the therapist's understanding of how powerful sociobiological and socialization forces have influenced and impacted the masculine psyche - and thus adapted, as I have, the therapy encounter to better serve male clients. If many men were not permitted to have all their feelings then it's understandable that they struggle sometimes with identifying and describing their emotions. How do we speak a foreign language if we weren't given the textbook and men can experience a sense of incompetency when asked to do so.
Choosing "SKILLFUL" action is a goal of therapy that men can embrace. I help men engage in therapeutic practices that enable them to awaken embodied intelligence that can enliven the gestures, expressions, conversations and experiences that make up who they are. Men need to know that they can transform this knowledge and vision into a muscular commitment to action. Emphasis is on developing core strength in the physical, emotional, mental and moral domains so that they can extend themselves into the world with pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.
Men have long had an interest to develop and fine tune their abilities to read the world and identify opportunities; create new narratives and competencies for embodying what they have to offer; access wisdom and intuition; develop courage and self-mastery; declare breakdowns that create opportunity; embody shifting states of awareness and develop deeper levels of presence and listening. Men find therapy to be productive when it helps them increase their capacity to resolve conflict, distinguish between being right and being effective and keep their composure for strategic action in high-stress situations and emotionally charged environments.
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