What’s Different About Counselling Men?

Think about this…

  • 75% of UK suicides in 2018 were men.

  • Between 2017 and 2018 the male suicide rate rose significantly from 15.5 deaths per 100,000 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000. The females suicide rate was 5.4 deaths per 100,000, consistent with rates over the past 10 years.

  • Males aged 45 to 49 had the highest age-specific suicide rate of 27.1 deaths per 100,000.  (In this age group females also showed the highest rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000.)

Source: “Suicides in the UK: 2018 Registrations” Office For National Statistics

“Despite the recent increase in the number of men seeking counselling, numbers are still low compared to women. In a recent public attitudes survey commissioned by BACP men were twice as likely as women to strongly agree with the statement ‘It is self-indulgent to seek counselling or psychotherapy if you do not have a serious problem’. We already know that men are at high risk of suicide across all age groups, but particularly men under 50. This is a compelling reason why men should be encouraged to talk through their concerns with a professional counsellor.”

Source: “Men and Counselling: the changing relationship between men in the UK and therapy.” British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. 2014.

I’ve tracked the ratio of men and women I work with over the years and found that it runs at roughly 50% men and 50% women most years. This equal split doesn’t make me an expert on counselling men, but it does mean I’m seeing a greater proportion of men than is usual for counsellors in the UK. When I ask male clients why they chose me they say some of the following things: you sounded straight-forward in your profile; you seem like you want to get results; you’ve got a business/academic background which could help you understand my professional life; I didn’t choose you, my partner sent me on an ultimatum. Perhaps the least flattering was “my partner chose you because you looked old”.

Whatever brought the male clients to my door, I feel that they’re united in one thing – they use counselling to work through things they have NEVER TOLD ANYBODY. For me this is the biggest difference between working with men and women, as the vast majority of my female clients will have discussed some of their concerns with friends, family or a counsellor at some point.

While this reticence to share problems/fears/vulnerabilities places men in difficulty before they come to counselling, it is the very thing which makes the therapy so effective once they do walk through the door. Once men decide to talk I find they open up quickly, work through difficult issues effectively and many demonstrate a level of emotional intelligence which gives them great strength once they’ve unraveled the tangled wiring which had been getting them down. What most men haven’t considered is that there could be a different way of looking at things and of understanding themselves – the assumptions of weakness/failure/inability to please may not be accurate and it takes the voice of another to show that most of us are harder on ourselves than we would dream of being to others.

Areas often covered by male clients are: depression or low mood they can’t shift; anxiety; conflict at home which seems stuck and immovable; anger management; burnout or frustration at work or strain from juggling work and home life; reliance on alcohol/drugs/gambling/pornography/flirting to block out difficult emotions; difficult sexual experiences; bereavement; reduced sense of self in retirement.

Some men come to therapy of their own accord and others under duress – if you’re thinking about breaking your silence, need some extra support or are being cajoled/shoved by someone who loves you – do it now. I don’t think you’ll regret it and I’d place a long odds bet that you’ll wish you’d done it sooner.