When Men Say No To Counselling

For many men, the idea of seeking help, either medically or emotionally, is a serious challenge. They tend by their nature to prefer self-reliance. Resorting to external help may risk their sense of autonomy and independence, so they often ignore or minimise their emotional pains, even the physical ones. Research shows that in some cases this tendency can be detrimental to their health and well-being.

To deal with this challenge men might need support from people they trust to normalise the act of seeking help.

Experience shows that people who utilise the resource of counselling are often highly functioning and successful in many aspects of their lives. I find it unfortunate that many men who struggle with stress, anger or unhealthy relationships miss out on something that could boost their satisfaction and their power.

If a man is reluctant to see a counsellor he might say:

  • I don't have time
  • I don't need it
  • I am not the problem
  • I don't believe in this stuff
  • I can resolve my issues by myself
  • It is not a big issue
  • Time will heal it
  • It's too far

He could also mean:

  • I don't know how it works
  • I am not sure I know how to talk about my feelings
  • I am afraid I am going to be preached to like my father did to me
  • I am ashamed
  • I don't like to feel as if I am not coping
  • It is implied that it is my fault
  • My sense of independence is crucial to me
  • I lose my pride if I use others to solve my problems
  • I don't trust my ability to open up and benefit from talking
  • I don't want just to talk about problems - I want to solve them

I believe some of the concerns men have about counselling are:

Shame - Counselling may be associated for some men with inadequacy even failure, as if something is wrong with them that needs to be fixed.

Mistrust - Trust is core to successful counselling and this is exactly where some men find it most challenging. Men, in their natural instincts as past warriors and protectors, sometimes focus on risks more than on opportunities. This is particularly so when the opportunities and benefits are not that clear or straightforward as in the case of counselling.

Loss of power - Men in need of help may experience a loss of independence and power (as can happen with health issues) and feel threatened by that.

Lack of language - For many men turning inward is completely opposed to their nature of coping with tasks outside themselves. The language of inner life, mainly feelings, is very strange to them. They may feel confronted and inadequate when asked to explore their feelings.

How can partners help?

If you are interested in referring a male for counselling you should know that men are more likely to accept the suggestion if they are inspired by what's in it for them rather than pushed, threatened or pressured. Make sure when you raise the issue that you come from a place of understanding and care rather than frustration and anger.

Men often interpret the push from their partners as a message of criticism and judgement ("there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed").

When a man's best interest is in our heart, we better motivate him by focusing on his inner experience (e.g. hurt, loss) before focusing on his behaviour that affects us. You may also present counselling to him as something you do for your well-being just as you do when you go to the gym.

Please remember that we men are often driven by scripts of the "warrior" and "hunter", that is, by the desire to protect our family, to compete with other men over resources, to succeed and to achieve. Therefore, we find it hard to acknowledge our vulnerabilities.

Words by Hagai Avisar

Posted on 15 October 2005