Prince Harry shocked the world by discussing his own counselling experience. He said he ignored the feelings of the loss of his mother for 20 years and was very close to a complete breakdown more than once before going to counselling. There can be a time in life when seeking help to talk about one’s feelings is the only thing that makes sense. So why do more men not seek individual counselling? My experience as a psychotherapist is that once men are in therapy they use it wonderfully well.
It is as if, suddenly embracing the safety, the boundary, the lack of gossip, and the non-judgmental acceptance of the space, they relax quickly into sharing things they would never otherwise say. They physically relax and emotionally expand. They grow, quickly. As quickly as teenagers do. It is as if the resistance to the experience keeps them away. Once they accept it could be helpful, their walls come down almost as they walk in the door. Women are great talkers. One would think that is a great positive for therapy but getting to the stuff that is hard to say generally takes longer.
For men, it is right there. It is why they are there. There is no wasting time. They get it. This is a place to discover your own truth. They throw themselves into it, as they would into work, sport, life or anything else. I’m here, let’s do this. It’s wonderful.
Change happens fast. Revelations happen regularly. Therapy is a parallel process. If you can talk in therapy, you can talk better outside therapy. You learn to feel and share. Their relationships improve, with themselves, their spouses and their children. They become able to tune into others in a greater sense for all the good and the struggle that it brings. This happens through Executive coaching too.
This can be a more acceptable form of truth sharing, focused as it is on work performance, change and enhancement. Once again, however, the goal-orientated content often becomes relationships and emotions. The successful leader is the one who can read and manage their own and the emotions of others. They are the ones who are liked, respected, followed, listened too and promoted.
As a psychotherapist and an Executive coach, I am practised at hearing avoidable emotions of powerful men and translating them in a way they can hear, accept and understand. I can find and speak their vulnerability and fear. I can help them understand that awareness of vulnerability is empowering not weakening. It gives them a clear choice of what to do with it.
They learn that empowering others does
not mean giving away their own power but enhancing it. They understand that a sense of self-awareness can only enhance their management of others. So, will Prince Harry encourage other men to seek therapy? While writing this, I was in a small coffee shop on North Parade having coffee.
To my right were two young male Oxford students, both Rugby players, enjoying their lunch. I asked them for a moment of their time. I explained my article and asked them if they would seek therapy. Both said that they would if they really believed it would help. That is the biggest reason they currently don’t. One told me that his attitudes had changed a lot in the last year. This was due to a couple of male friends seeking therapy and benefiting from it.
Now he said he would do it. Before that, maybe not. So, Prince Harry is definitely onto something. Men talking about having therapy helps other men seek therapy. Now, the students feel, it is not a sign of weakness or anything to be ashamed of. They also commented it would not make a difference if the therapist was male or female, just good. Therefore, if you are a man in therapy, tell other men about it you don’t know what difference it could make. If you are a man considering it, don’t wait until things come apart. Build on where you are.
Written by Susan Harris Psychotherapist and Executive Coach, Msc, BACP