'A good therapist will hold your self-deception up in front of you like a new born baby'
If you can take that difficult first step of admitting to yourself that some of the causes of your problems might be inside your head then talking about it in therapy or counselling can help. But says Jim Pollard, editor of malehealth, you need to find the right person to talk to.
I believe that talking helps. Talking to your friends, partners and family about how you feel will help - if you can do it.
But that's far easier said than done. Talking to your family can be difficult as they're too involved in your life, especially the formative childhood years, to be objective. Friends might be sympathetic at first but most of them — understandably — will tire. (Friendships are supposed to be fun, after all.) Your partner too will probably have a lot invested in a certain view of you and may be uncomfortable with your apparent weakness. Let's be frank about it, boys don't cry for a very good reason. That reason is that the people around us — and that often includes our wives or partners — don't like it.
It can be very useful to have someone who doesn't know you, won't judge you (or themselves) and is a skilled listener. That's where talking therapies - the general term used for counselling, psychotherapy and all the other therapies which are based on the idea that talking helps — come in. Now, talking therapies may not be for everyone but I believe very strongly there are many, many men out there who do not think it is for them who would benefit enormously.
Therapists don't all look like Sigmund Freud and speak with a German accent. They don't bang on about your secret desire to murder your father and sleep with your mother. It's not something just for university-educated middle class wankers with more money than sense.
Woody Allen has made some great films but he hasn't done the general image of therapy any good at all. You don't have to go for 20 years. Two is far more common — often a lot less.
Therapists are people too and you need one you get on with. If you find one who seems to expect you to look up to them or who acts like they have all the answers and you don't, forget it. The relationship of therapist and patient should be one of equals. It is, in fact, you who has the answers. You need a therapist who has the skills to helps you find them.
So the first time you see a therapist, quiz them every bit as much as they quiz you. If they don't like you doing this or you don't like their answers, you're not obliged to go back. If you're going to do this talking thing properly you're going to spend a lot of time with this person, so you need to like them and you need to have confidence in them.
The little things matter. One therapist I went to see never cleaned his flat which made it a very depressing place to be. Another lived in a beautiful house in a part of London where I couldn't have afforded to rent a skip and she winced when I dropped my aitches. I never even bothered to sit down.
For me, I realised that a female therapist was important. In my experience — and this says something about me of which I'm not particularly proud — it is difficult to put two blokes in the same room without some sort of competition going on. Often this is no problem. With me and my brother, for example, when we were kids I was supposed to be the smart one and he was the sporty one so we weren't fighting over the same territory. It's the same with any group of mates — there's often the funny one, the clever one, the one who gets the girls. Competition is avoided.
Trouble is that in therapy, there is only one topic on the table: your mental well-being. You may find is difficult — as I did — to be honest about this with another man as it involves some sort of admission that you're not as emotionally well-balanced as he is.
This may just be proof of the old adage that men are emotionally dependent on women. Well, maybe, that's true but I can't be held responsible for millions of years of evolution. My interest is — as yours surely is - in making myself feel better now — in the the 21st century.
At first therapy will feel like a waste of time — an expensive waste of time if you're paying for it yourself. The reason is pretty obvious if you think about it. You'll be talking about stuff you've talked about a lot before, the obvious things, the things you mention to your friends when they ask you why you seem a bit down, the imaginary conversations you've had in your head with the people who have hurt or upset you. It's all familiar material.
But stick with it. One day you will say something that you've never conciously thought before and then it will start getting interesting.
I'll be honest, though, this could take several sessions or more.
The idea that therapists just sit there and say 'hmm' or 'and how did that make you feel?' is wrong. A good one will ask questions that are directly relevent to what you're saying. They will make you think and make you work. That too can pretty uncomfortable.
All those stories that you've told yourself a hundred times are suddenly under the microscope. A good therapist, through questioning and commenting, will bring out all the little flaws and self-deceptions in them and hold each one up in front of you like a new born baby. Each one a new idea, living, breathing, kicking and screaming and you've got to deal with it.
When this starts happening it's very easy to decide that it is all too difficult and you want to drop out. I've done this a few times - I'm very good at dropping out of therapy - but I've learned that eventually all the crap in your head comes back and frequently, because you're older, in a more gruesome form.
The last time this happened to me — a couple of years ago — I was lucky. I felt terrible but this time I still had confidence that the therapist could help me through so I stuck at it.
Eventually, I suppose, you realise that going on with the therapy is just less painful than stopping and waiting for all your demons to come back again. It's like that moment when you decide to turn and confront a bully. (Not that I'd ever done that before.) It might hurt but it might stop him doing it again - and it's certainly better than living in constant fear that he's going to be waiting around the next street corner.
- Back to Jim's page here.
Page created on June 7th, 2006
Page updated on December 17th, 2012