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Respect Resistance and Differences
There's a time and place to point out and confront male resistance and defensiveness, but, at least in the early days of therapy, it's usually much more productive to respect defenses. Typically, when we allow men space to protect their own pride, they don't feel so pressed to perform on demand and, consequently, they become more at ease—and less defensive.
In the beginning of therapy, it's therefore important to give men permission to disclose gradually. It's easy for therapists to get impatient when men take a while to warm up to the counseling experience. Often I'll treat a man who initially minimizes the mistakes he's made, blaming everyone else—his wife, his kids, his girlfriend. I don't mess with this at first, because I know he needs to do this until he feels safer and more confident that he'll get a fair shake in my office.
It's helpful to cultivate the fine art of schmoozing. Men like to feel that the conversation—even in therapy—is "normal." Normal means that the therapist relates in a real fashion, not like a shrink. Normal also means discussing the little events that men talk about, like yesterday's football game, something goofy that happened on the way in to the session, a new contract his company is working on, the latest Blackberry gadgets. Humor helps, too. There's no reason, of course, not to keep these principles in mind with female clients, but it's especially important with men. The more phobic men are about therapy and emotionally vulnerable, the more important schmoozing becomes.
Since many men feel anxious about what they perceive as the vagueness of the whole therapy process, give them as much concrete information as possible. Tell them exactly how long the sessions are, what the length of therapy might be, the role you can and can't play, and what's expected of them to get therapy right. Offer homework, action plans, and the rationale for using them, since men's needs and learning styles favor direct, clearcut explanations and instructions. I've found this valuable with almost all the men I see.
Recently, one of my male clients told me that his son had complained that he was making that "angry face" again—and my client had no awareness of it. The instant homework assignment: "Ask everyone in your family to let you know every time they notice your angry face or angry voice, and tell them that this is a direct assignment from your therapist." He understood the rationale: you need feedback to improve performance. And he liked the clarity of the task.