Updated: Mar 23
By Dawn Wray, The listening collective.
As a woman (a middle-aged woman at that) and a psychotherapist,, I wasn't sure where to start writing an article about men's mental health and potential gender bias. What do I want to say about why men might find talking tough?
This led me to think about stereotypes and my awareness that I don't want to stereotype men.
I am stereotyped, and I rail against it. Stereotyped as a woman, a mother, being a certain age, I'm northern, a psychotherapist. I often feel outside of 'normal' or that I don't fit. I am a relative newcomer to the world of psychotherapy. For most of my career, I was an Operations Manager. I led projects and processes, and teams in Financial Services settings.
So I am quick (too quick?) to say: "I'm not a typical therapist!"
Instead, I declare, "I'm not all pastel colours, and there, there." But in fact, I just want to be seen as ME. And that is all any of us want.
I'm a gestalt therapist, and I intend to be real. To be messily me. How else will you learn about yourself?
Just over a quarter of my clients are men. I have a teenage son. So what might stop men from talking to their friends and family or a therapist? I spoke with the men in my life and considered my training and my thoughts breakdown into 3 areas of curiosity. I'd love to know what you think:
Cultural, societal, generational, and gender STEREOTYPES do exist, even though I'd like to believe they don't
The feeling of not being UNDERSTOOD or HEARD
Feelings are UNIVERSAL, and it can take big, life-changing events to break down barriers.
I'll consider each one briefly.
1. Cultural, Societal, Generational, and Gender Stereotypes exist.
As a female therapist, I am in the majority. Most therapists are women. My client experience and the men in my life confirm that there are forces at play that, as a woman, I don't have as a lived experience:
We can only be what we can see in the world. The men in my life are shaped by the men in their lives who didn't talk. My husband had some therapy and was told, "Don't tell your Dad". Only a generation ago, men's Fathers and Grandfathers were Stoic. Wage earners, Workers
In 2023, we are asking more and more of men. This can feel like more pressure; to be more caring and more sensitive. More, more. If I become 'that', then who will I be?
Part of this 'conditioning' is that men can often identify with being task focused. How does 'talking about' help? Talking doesn't change anything, right?
2. The feeling that I won't be understood
This was an unsettling theme for me. My own son said that I wouldn't understand. I'm a different generation. I'm a different sex. I'm not you:
Human beings have a tendency to think, 'it's only me'. I believe this can be harder for men because of the cultural and gender stereotypes mentioned above. Harder to talk about relationships, anger, medical stuff, sexual stuff
A new generation is living through an unprecedented era. What do I know of my 14-year-olds world?
Or I'm a different sex, a different class, a different race. I'm different. I'm not you.
3. Feelings are UNIVERSAL
Whether we choose to know our feelings or acknowledge them. They are real. I might not want to be frightened, but if I am, I am.
Reassurance can be isolating. To be told that everything will be ok, that you are fine, can ignore HOW you are, and YOUR unique situation and this can be a really lonely place.
Talking doesn't change anything. Talking won't change the fact that my good friend has cancer. But I can stay with him in his fear. I can walk with someone in their uncertainty or their terror. Knowing you will be heard won't change anything. But it can help you be.
So talking, in my case therapy, isn't just 'talking about stuff. It's about helping you get close to how you really are. You can talk from the inside.
And we don't have to be deep and meaningful. We can also have a joke. The iceberg has a surface and is floating in the sea too. Whatever helps you stay with you.
I want to hear what you think. So this is me. Lets start a conversation. I work as a therapist online or from my home near Newark/Grantham. I also work in Organisations as part of The Listening Collective with my good friend and business partner Matt James.
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