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Men & Compassion

I seek to be a person that writes from a place of transparency, it’s how I conduct myself in counseling, coaching as well as most areas of my life. So simply addressing this recent research, without talking about how it impacts me as a human, feels false. Men’s barriers to counseling have often been addressed in our field, utilizing language that indicates that males are seemly trapped in this way of being in our culture.

That this way of being forces men to be self-reliant and have good emotional control, which stops them from seeking help (Heath, Brenner, Vogel, Lannin & Strass, 2017). The researchers then go onto suggest that perhaps the way to get men to seek help is through the use of self-compassion, that this is tied to better mental health and increases utilization of mental health services (Health et. al, 2017).

However, as a male reading this research, I feel that so often what is not understood is the fear of being a male seeking mental health services.

Now I’m a counselor, but when I’m reading books on mental health in public, I find myself more aware of my surroundings. And I trace this back to being worried about how I will be perceived if someone sees me reading something on mental health. I agree that men’s utilization of counseling interferes often with their conceptualization of being masculine, however, I don’t think this is the whole picture. Understanding what it means to be a male within our culture, as well as how we speak about mental health and the care around it all need to go together.

Simply changing the words that we use to describe counseling to males, i.e. “accountability” rather than “support” fails to address the bigger issue here. It isn’t that men are simply unemotional, or that they are trapped in this conceptualized way of being, it’s that being pathologized feels good to no one. If we are going to say that the answer to more males accessing services is compassion, then perhaps it’s important that we step back as a field and consider how much we focus on compassion overall. One of my friend’s recently made a model on this, called returning to compassion, check it out it’s pretty awesome.

Article of Choice

Heath, P. J., Brenner, R. E., Vogel, D. L., Lannin, D. G., & Strass, H. A. (2017). Masculinity and barriers to seeking counseling: The buffering role of self-compassion. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 64(1), 94-103.

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