Just like in teaching and psychology, men can be under-represented in the field of psychotherapy and counselling. This may have affected the number of men seeking therapy - seeing it as something that is more for women than men, although fortunately this does seem to be changing. A growing awareness of the issues that we all face, a wider conversation and the public openness of people like Princes William and Harry willing to talk about themselves may all be having an influence.
And about time too. Although men have been told that we have 'the emotional range of a teaspoon' this is hardly the case. Watch a loving father with his children, see a supporter celebrate a victory or mourn the loss of his team and it is obvious that we have just as strong and deep loves and passions as 'the bumpy enemy'. There may have been strong pressures not to show emotions when we were children - 'man up', 'don't blub', 'I'll give you something to cry about' but the feelings were there and may still remain - even if buried deeply. Finding how to release and express our emotions not only helps us enjoy life more, those we love and live with will probably welcome the change.
Checking with colleagues, it seems that I meet a higher percentage of male clients than they do. This may just be because most prefer working with people like ourselves, those who share the same life events. Just as women have a shared experience over their internals and can have a frank exchange about periods and childbirth that would make most men queasy, males (especially ‘of a certain age’) may feel happier talking to another man about problems that are related with their ‘bits’.
Don't get me wrong, I do have women as clients and am more than happy to continue to do so, it is higher ratio of men (tradesmen and artisans as well as professional and managerial) that interests me.
It could be as a result of this web site – far better to present myself as accurately as possible than to waste both our time and your money if it becomes apparent in our first session that we are not a good ‘fit’. Clients will presumably be those who like an of informal but still professional focus on them and their issues, and are happy to meet in a somewhat unusual garden building rather than a smart, formal expensive office. I'm happy to wear a suit if you prefer, but normally prefer a more casual and comfortable style. Whoever you decide to go to, please take the time to find a therapist you are comfortable with.
Language is important when establishing a connection. The images that come to mind as clients talk are often from a practical perspective – how the foundations of walls affect how it will rise, will a crack be solved through filling, a new lintel or underpinning? One description of a couple struggling to engage with all the curves that life was throwing at them while distracted by the past gave me the image of a rally driving team - and the importance of not only working together, but also not spending all the time starting in the rear view mirror. Images like these often find a greater resonance when shared with men.
Rather than being offended or shocked when clients swear, I welcome it as a sign of honesty and openness, it can be hard enough to let ourselves go without also worrying about censoring our language for fear of offending others. A significant part of therapy can be discovering how to be honest with ourselves - how to live an authentic life. Using the language we really want to in this case will be a more powerful experience than distancing ourselves through less authentic words. Swearing is also a great way to let off steam and sometimes ‘gosh chaps, I seem to have hit my finger with the hammer, oh bother’ will fail to convey your emotions as successfully as a rousing burst of Anglo Saxon expletives. Don't worry, I won't be shocked.
The choice of room to meet in can make a difference. When starting out, I was advised to go for a very neutral, somewhat bleak look and the rooms I hired certainly had a very utilitarian and basic atmosphere, but they didn't feel at all comfortable - far too public. Who gets to decide what is 'neutral' anyway, is there a bias towards a feminine perspective due to the demographic make up of our profession? Any room will have some kind of vibe, mine seems to resonate particularly well with men. The walls are of plain brick rather than painted in magnolia, the floor is reclaimed yew rather than plush carpets (you don't have to take your shoes off) and there is a kettle in the corner rather than a vase of dried flowers in case you prefer a mug of tea or coffee to a spot of flower arranging.
The walls are not papered with intimidating looking certificates, diploma and degrees. If it's important for you, I’ll dig them out and of course I'm proud of them, but sessions are about you - who you are at the moment, who you want to be and where you want to go rather than massaging my ego. It is an equal relationship where I have “a very particular set of skills” and you have the money, it is my obligation to earn that money by providing the best environment to make you feel comfortable and ready to talk.
I was struck recently after a session how we had felt simply like a couple of blokes having a chat in our natural habitat – a shed down the bottom of the garden. The setting had enabled the client to relax and then open up in way he had never felt able to before. Many men who say that they have trouble talking about their feelings or showing emotions come in, sit down and do just that. The emotional experiences may be unpleasant and unfamiliar at times, but the setting doesn't have to be like that as well.