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Shame-O-Phobia - Page 3

Rules of Engagement

Men often resist standard therapy because they have a hard time admitting that anything is wrong or, if they think something is wrong, they struggle to identify what it is. Another reason they avoid therapy is that they can't tolerate the internalized stigma—the felt shame—associated with feeling needy, dependent, or incompetent. A third disincentive, even with men who know they need help, is the very idea of sitting in a room, talking out loud about all this touchy-feely stuff; it creeps them out.

Finally, many men are simply confused and anxious about the strange, mysterious, and—for all they know—occult process of therapy. They worry about what they're supposed to say, worry about what might be expected of them, and worry about when, how, or if they should disclose anything too "personal." This is uncharted territory, and they want very specific information and instructions—a kind of user's manual—about just what's going to happen to them, how they should behave, and what exactly this strange "therapist" person intends to do with them. I understand this because I feel exactly the same way in new and unfamiliar situations—I want to have all the parameters laid out before I get into anything, so I don't make a fool of myself. If I'm going hiking in unfamiliar territory, I want maps, I want accounts by other people who've been on this trail, and I want a weather report. And if I'm going with unfamiliar people, I like to have some idea of whether they like to chat a lot or enjoy the hike mostly in silence.

Since men tend to loathe the language of psychotherapy, including the name itself, by all means call it something else in your advertising. You don't even have to call it counseling. You can call it stress management, skills training (including parenting skills and building better relationships), coaching, or consulting. Whatever works to get a man in the door and relax his defenses!

An interesting piece of evidence that selling therapy as an "untherapy" works better for men is revealed in a study conducted at three West Coast college campuses by John Robertson and Louise Fitzgerald and published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in 1992. The researchers created one brochure that described the center's counseling services in traditional terms and one that used terms like consultations (rather than therapy) and emphasized self-help, classes, workshops, seminars, and a circulating videotape library. Among the men with a positive attitude toward traditional counseling (assessed by questionnaires about help-seeking), the second brochure made almost no difference. But men who scored higher on traditional masculinity measures, like John O'Neil's Gender-Role Conflict Scale, significantly preferred the alternative brochure and reported that they were much likelier to use these services. This is the audience that we often have difficulty reaching.

Guy Talk

Let's assume a man has walked sheepishly into your office for the first time and mumbled a response to your initial greeting. He doesn't understand the process, can't stand the words therapist, feelings, issues, unconscious, and inner child, would prefer to be anywhere else in the world, and believes his manhood may be hopelessly compromised just by his presence in your office. What are you going to do to engage his interest and curiosity, lessen his anxiety, and convince him that he might, just might, find something interesting and helpful in therapy?

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