Counselling for Men

Men are facing unique challenges in today's world.  Massive social change throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries has called into question older ideas about what it means to be a man, redefining traditional roles in the workplace, in relationships, in marriage.  Many men are struggling to know who to be, how to relate to their partners, how to be happy and how to find meaning in their lives.

This has resulted in many men struggling with unrecognised depression and anxiety, with addictions, with relationship breakdowns and a lot of unhappiness.  Suicide rates for men around the world are up to six times higher than for women.  This struggle in the life of today's man is not leading to happiness for women either, as these struggles don't make men into good life partners.

Male Depression - Sad Men and Angry Men

Research suggests that male and female depression is different, that there is a distinct form of depression that men suffer from.  While I think that that is true, my own experience as a counsellor for over twenty years suggests that things are more complex for men than the research suggests. I'll talk about the research, and then give my own view.

For example, research suggests that women with depression feel sad, apathetic and worthless, while men with depression often exhibit anger, irritability and defensiveness.  Depressed women avoid conflict, while depressed men create conflict.  Female depression often leads to a tendency to self-blame, while male depression leads to a tendency to blame others. 

However, my years of counselling experience show me that the picture is a bit more complex.  I have seen men who exhibit the "female" depression symptoms, and women who have the "male" style of depression.  And I have seen people who have aspects of both.  So let's call them "sad depression" and "angry depression".

This has led me to my own theory of how these two types of depression come about in men.

The "Good Man" and the "Real Man"

A lot of men's struggle comes from the mixed messages that we receive about what it means to be a man.  Specifically, we are told what a "good man" is and what a "real man" is.

A good man is self-sacrificing, supportive, responsible, gentle and sensitive.  He puts "women and children first" - his own needs last.  He works hard and if necessary, he lays down his life for others. He is a "hero" in the sense of saving others, often through years of hard work and dedication.

A real man, on the other hand, takes risks, seeks adventure, has fun, gets rich and gets laid.  He doesn't cry or show feelings, is not a "Mumma's boy", and doesn't let fear or pain slow him down.  He is a "hero" in the sense of being admired for his courage and impressive feats.

Note that both "good men" and "real men" tend to hide their feelings and are tough in different ways.  Both have positive and negative traits.  Both are exaggerations, one dimensional ideas of what a man should be.

The "good man" and the "real man" are distorted views of aspects of a healthy man.  A man who has too much of the "good man" and not enough "real man" will end up with "sad depression".  A man who has too much "real man" and not enough "good man" will end up with "angry depression".  Some men will bounce back and forth between both types.

To be a healthy man, we need to find and cultivate what is valuable in both types of man.

It has been suggested that to be happy a man needs both a purpose and an adventure.  Purpose is always about service to others and the world, while adventure is about new experiences, and often the thrill of overcoming challenges and testing one's courage and skill.  These two needs form one of the underlying truths of the "good man", and the "real man".

The Whole-Hearted, Open-Hearted Man

To be happy we need to be fearlessly authentic, to have the courage to be who we really are, not changing or bending to fit in or please others.  This is integrity, the quality of whole-heartedness.  It can be tested and developed through challenge and adventure.  That is the truth behind the "real man".

To be happy, we need connection to others, to belong, to find our tribe, our love.  To feel that we are a contributing member of a group, that our life has meaning because we are part of something larger.  This is the quality of open-heartedness, and the foundation of our sense of purpose.  This is the truth behind the idea of the "good man".

When we bring these qualities together, we find our own unique gift and path through the world.   When we live this, we find true happiness and fulfilment - the life of the whole-hearted, open-hearted man.