The way a man defines masculinity influences his self-worth. If he defines masculinity narrowly (athletic, strong, dominant, tough, keeps emotions hidden) his standards for self-worth will also be restricted. Men willing to define masculinity more broadly (kind, altruistic, inquisitive, loving, accepting of failure, willingness to accept help to achieve goals, emotionally expressive, nurturing) have greater freedom and more opportunities to judge their self-worth in a positive way.
Counseling is a tough sell for the man invested in a limited and stereotypical definition of masculinity valuing only strength, self-reliance, wealth and physical appearance. The popular perceptions of counseling are in direct conflict with his narrow definition of masculinity. To seek help means relying on others, admitting he can’t meet the expectations he has of himself - and worse - the expectations of others. He experiences the shame of being a failure.
Most people know little about the socialization and psychology of men. Understanding the role of shame in men’s lives allows us to see that the outside does not necessarily reflect what is happening on the inside for many men. Male power and privilege are silent partners in this deceit. It works to prevent others from seeing the pain and suffering of men. It leads many to assume men do not need, want or will not accept help.
I understand the fears many men have about counseling. I provide a non-threatening environment in which most men can become comfortable. The relationship between counselor and client is the most critical factor in the success of a counseling experience. I always let the client set the pace and control the topics of conversation based on his level of comfort.
For additional information about men and how men are socialized in our society see my blog on Understanding Men.