“When I found out…I said to my husband – ‘oooh, I’ve been assigned a man’!”
“Oh!” He replied. “How do you feel about that then?”
Fortunately for me, that particular client didn’t mind and we went on to have a positive and fruitful therapeutic alliance. However, some seem to struggle with the idea of speaking to a man about their troubles. And being one (a man, that is) I wondered why. Why are people reluctant to talk to me? I mean I am fully qualified and increasingly more and more experienced. Do I have an extra head or something? Or is it my fashion sense? (Always a possibility…)
Being a male therapist can be an interesting source of some cognitive dissonance. After all, gender stereotypes suggest that we men are supposed to be the strong and silent types. We hide our feelings. We don’t cry. It is often regarded as a weakness for men to do so. Given that description, it’s easy to see how some may believe that a man would not have the necessary empathic powers, that ability to understand and even feel the emotions of another in distress.
What would a white male like me know about dealing with the effects of prejudice or serious sexual assaults, if it comes to that? I think a lot of people would think it’s understandable for a client seeking help after rape, for example, to want to see a female therapist. Seeing a male therapist might be too triggering for them. But just imagine what a fully compassionate male therapist, who models a different kind of man for that client, can do to help them heal. The message that not all men are like that can have a massive cathartic effect for the survivor.
However, change is upon us. You may have seen the Prince of Wales talking to well-known male football personalities on the television whilst they all agree that “it’s good to talk” (for members of both biological sexes and all genders). Less well known, but just as significant from this point of view, is the work of British psychologist Paul Gilbert, who has researched and written at length about the healing power of compassion and developed his own therapeutic methodology, Compassion Focused Therapy. You may even have seen his bestseller, “The Compassionate Mind”, in your local bookshop.
So is there a new type of man out there? No. I don’t think so. I think he’s always been there. Compassion comes from life experience. From enduring distress of your own and having the desire to help another person in distress. But not only that, for men it comes from having the wisdom, intelligence, or just sheer determination, to break through whatever blocks we may have on displaying and giving freely our compassion and understanding, be they the typical macho stereotypes or those who see compassion as a weakness.
Here’s the good news though: compassion isn’t a weakness. Kindness is a strength. When the Cure sang “Boys Don’t Cry” back in 1979, they were being tongue in cheek! We do cry, and in my experience, there really is no better feeling than when that compassionate link between the two of us sparks the magic of healing. It’s something that neither of us will forget. Furthermore, I know that we men are finding our compassionate voices, rediscovering our compassionate instincts.
So, if you find yourself seeking help and you are considering a male therapist…why not give it a go? We don’t bite…promise!