by Adam Bulger
Feb. 1, 2024
More men are attending therapy than ever before. But it’s no secret that therapy can still be a tough sell. It’s accepted wisdom with an acceptance rate high enough to inspire a meme that mined absurdist humor from male aversion to therapy dozens of social media posts like “men will literally learn everything about ancient Rome instead of going to therapy.” It’s one of few memes with a premise that’s supported by social science data. While men face greater risk of death from mental illness, they’re statistically far less likely than women to seek mental health treatment. Even when men grapple with serious mental health issues like depression, the drive to conform to traditional masculine gender norms and internalized shame mental illness often prevent them from seeking professional help
But therapy is a powerful tool and when the choice is made to try it, there’s a lot that can be gained. To offer perspective, we spoke with five men who avoided therapy until they concluded it was unavoidable. Their resistance to it stemmed from ingrained cultural stigmas, uncertainty over how the therapeutic process worked, skepticism about its effectiveness and difficulty making time for it. The value they got from therapy varied. But even the ones who didn’t stick with it felt better for at least giving it a try.
- It Helped Me Transform My Struggles And Break Stigma
Growing up was really tough. My father wasn’t around. I was a small guy who was bullied in school. I grew up with thugs. People got shot in front of me. I had a lot of trauma but I felt like I couldn’t talk about it with anybody. The Latino community has a stigma against reaching out for professional help, including therapy. They might take you to a pastor but what’s supposed to happen if the pastor prays for you and you don’t get better? It makes you afraid to seem vulnerable or that you’d be taken from your parents if you reached out for help.
Instead of addressing my mental health issues, I resorted to drugs to deal with everything going on in my head. I went to rehab for the first time at 19. I got clean but never recovered. They gave me methadone for the heroin, but it was just trading a drug for another drug. I never dealt with the root issues. I was a master craftsman in everything I did but I always sabotaged myself. So come 2017, I had a thriving business but I was still broken. I still couldn’t understand who I was. I didn’t even know who I was. I couldn’t take it anymore. Still, it took me about four or five months to accept help from a therapist. The therapist, a fellow Latino man, helped me understand the role my cultural background played in my issues. This process was painful. There was a lot of crying. But ultimately, it was transformative and healing.
Ultimately, it was transformative and healing.
I learned the importance of mental health and turned my struggles into a passion to help others in similar circumstances. I am currently a certified recovery peer specialist, working towards my master’s degree in Licensed Mental Health Counseling (LMHC), and aspiring to become a drug counselor. I also have a psychology degree and work at crisis respite centers, helping individuals with similar backgrounds.
Despite the cultural stigma about therapy in the Latino community, especially the perception that therapists are all white, I encourage men to seek therapy. — Miguel Sagastume, Brooklyn, NY
- I’m Learning To Trust The Process, Even If I Don’t Understand it
Despite having a good understanding of psychology and being friends with therapists and knowing people who have benefited from therapy, for a long time, I’ve struggled with the concept of therapy. I’ve always been unsure about what it means to ‘do the work’ in therapy. I almost became an annoyance to my therapist friends because I kept asking them what ‘doing the work’ meant. They say, ‘Oh, you just need to keep showing up and you build this therapeutic relationship.’ And I’d ask ‘Then what’? What difference is this gonna make? What am I actually gonna do that’s gonna allow me to be happier, manage my life better, be a better partner, be more stable, blah, blah, blah.’
Despite not being able to perceive therapy’s benefits, I’ve continued with it.
I’d had a couple disappointing experiences the few times I tried therapy. I met another therapist who I’ve been seeing for five months. She’s intelligent, kind, wise, calming and I feel understood and ‘seen’ during our sessions in a way I didn’t with other therapists. I still don’t know if this is the ‘work,’ but I find it a sensible way to spend approximately two hours a month.
Sometimes, therapy feels almost like a religious work with its intangible and unexplainable works and benefits. Despite not being able to perceive therapy’s benefits, I’ve continued with it. Partly to understand the process and partly because of the faith of people whose opinions I value in the potential good of therapy. I am also learning that the true value of therapy might be one I have to intuitively understand.
For other men who might be considering therapy, I think if something’s bugging you and you want to live differently, then why do not? Remember that therapists want to make it work for you. So they’re gonna go at your pace. And maybe the first one’s not the right one, but sooner or later there’s one that clicks. My advice is to start that sooner rather than later. Otherwise you’re going to regret it. — John, U.K.
- Confronting My Pain Changed Me For The Better
My first experience with therapy was not satisfying. I saw a therapist right after the death of my parents. Instead of helping me cope with my grief, the therapist recommended a drug for attention deficit disorder (ADHD), which puzzled me as I couldn’t draw a direct connection between ADHD and what I was going through.
After that, although I sensed something was off with my mental health, I was functioning. I was indulging in heavy drinking, and smoking as a form of self-medication. When I quit smoking, I started experiencing full-blown depression. I felt like a great weight was holding me down.
That’s when my thoughts turned back to therapy. I was researching psychedelics–recreationally, therapeutically and spiritually. I wasn’t looking at them to fix me or anything like that. I read about psychedelic therapy and realized I’d been self-medicating for depression. I had this sense that they would make your mind work differently. And see things differently. Not just trippy colors and stuff like that, but getting a different perspective.
I cannot emphasize enough the impact of confronting the root causes of my pain and comfortably discussing them.
I found a group therapy retreat involving taking psychedelic mushrooms. It was in conjunction, and then integration, which is talking about the experience and trying to make sense of it. During my second trip, I visualized my depression as a black void in the center of me that I decided to face head-on. This breakthrough was incredibly cathartic, akin to releasing decades of pent-up emotion.
I’ve been attending regular therapy sessions with a therapist from the retreat, talking about problems I had previously buried and never talked about. Discussing these openly in therapy gave me a deeper understanding of my own behavior, and contributed to effectively managing my issues.
I cannot emphasize enough the impact of confronting the root causes of my pain and comfortably discussing them. I got comfortable confronting the root causes of my pain during the mushroom trip. And once I got comfortable talking about the root causes of my pain, it changed me. — David, New Jersey
- Realizing Wanting Help Isn’t Weakness
As a man, admitting I needed therapy felt like acknowledging a weakness. There’s this ingrained notion that seeking help runs counter to being strong, self-reliant or a leader.
The turning point was realizing that mental health is as crucial as physical health, especially when leading a business that impacts others’ well-being. Conversing with a trusted friend with positive therapy experiences also played a key role.
For me, therapy has been transformative
For me, therapy has been transformative. It provided me a safe space to unpack thoughts and emotions I didn’t even realize were affecting my decision-making and leadership. Therapy has undoubtedly helped. I’ve seen improvements in my emotional intelligence and stress management.
In hindsight, my reluctance seems rooted in stereotypes about masculinity and leadership and overcoming it has been liberating and empowering. My advice to men considering therapy is simple: mental health is vital to overall well-being and success. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. — Mike, Florida