After centuries of toxic masculinity and the notion that manliness means boys can’t cry and grown men don’t talk about their feelings, a therapist’s client list has taken a giant gendered swing.
“I definitely think, especially since COVID, that there’s been a lot more messaging around mental health, getting support and that it’s OK not to be OK, and that’s definitely driven an increase in men going to therapy,” Stella Ladikos, therapist and founder of Meraki Mental Health Training, told news.com.au.
“In my own private practice I’ve been seeing a lot more guys come to therapy and at the moment most of my regular clients are actually men, which is really, really promising to see.”
It’s also having a huge effect when it comes to hooking up.
Last year, the popular dating app Hinge quizzed its members and found that 86 percent were more likely to go on a second date with someone if they mentioned on the first date that they saw a therapist, and 97 percent said they would rather date someone who actively takes care of their mental health.
It’s not just singles who are seeking help, with a rising number of married men looking to work on themselves and their relationships before they end up in a divorce court.
“We have more and more men taking the lead around seeing a therapist to address a lot of the emotional issues that come with separation or even during the marriage,” Cassandra Kalpaxis, a family lawyer and couples coach, told news.com.au.
“They want to know what they can try to change in terms of their own behavior or communication dynamics to avoid actually needing to see me in the capacity as a family lawyer.”
So, with all these signs pointing society in the right direction at last, why are men dropping out of therapy at a rate of 45 percent, according to an Australian survey?
To start with, we can blame the very environment that stops many men from seeing a therapist in the first place.
“The biggest difference with men is that it potentially takes them a little bit more to take that first step, but then also to continue with it,” Ladikos explained.
“Getting into therapy and then finding the motivation to stay in it, is fighting that instinct men have based on what they’ve grown up with – that men don’t cry or speak up.”
Jeremy Britton, 50, was struggling at work and home when his boss encouraged him to take up workplace coaching with a psychologist.
“At the time, I was a bit embarrassed,” he told news.com.au. “I didn’t want to go to therapy because that was admitting that I’m the problem, but realizing that once you change yourself, everything around you changes was absolutely amazing.”
Hooked on improving himself and his life, the Brisbane father of three has now tried emotion-focused therapy, hypnotherapy, meditation, a 10-day silent retreat, emotional support dogs, even firewalking.
He described his journey as “absolutely life changing,” but it doesn’t come without a few bumps in the road.
For many men, once something big or difficult comes up in therapy, it can send them running away from it.
“If men have an experience where they do cry or show some kind of emotion that feels uncomfortable,” Ladikos explained, “there’s definitely a chance they may feel like they’re not ready to open that can of worms yet, and they might cave back into, ‘OK, I’m not ready, I don’t want to deal with this right now, it’s fine.’”
Another aspect that might cause more men to break up with their therapist is thinking that therapy is a “transactional experience,” where the first therapist they see is going to be able to “fix everything.”
“If it’s the first time they’re opening up to someone about some truly difficult things going on in their life, and there’s a lot of self stigma and shame around help seeking, they can just go, ‘OK, well therapy doesn’t work for me’ or ‘I’m too broken’ or ‘I’m too far gone’ and then just give up on the idea,” Ladikos said.
But it might be that they were just with the wrong therapist, or were using the wrong type of therapy.
Britton compared it to dancing.
“People say they can’t dance and a lot of blokes won’t dance even if it’s their own wedding,” he said. “But there’s ballroom dancing and hip hop and salsa and country line dancing, and there are many different types of therapies, so you need to find something that works for you.”
Ladikos also stressed that therapy takes time.
“I always ask guys, do you go to the gym, and if so, do you achieve all your fitness goals after the first session?” she said.
“Therapy is like a gym for the brain and it takes a little bit of time as well. It’s not just a one-and-done type of experience. It takes resilience and perseverance and it’s constantly working on your mental health, as if you were working on your body.”
Britton added that reframing therapy as “coaching” is also helpful in removing the stigma.
“If you want to be good at sports or get fit or lose weight, you have a coach,” he said.
“A therapist is like a personal trainer for your feelings, your emotions and your thought processes, and it’s quite extraordinary.”