What Clinicians Need to Know
Some time ago, my wife, Jette (who just happens to be the world’s best couples’ therapist) and I were about to begin one of the several couples weekend workshops we hold every year. As we met the assorted participants in a conference room of a local hotel, it became obvious that, as usual, it was mostly the women who had dragged their mostly unwilling male partners to the weekend. During the first break, one of the men in the group approached Jette during an early break, obviously in real distress.
“You must change the sign downstairs in the lobby,” he hissed in her ear. The offending sign, there in public for all to see, said, “Couples Therapy—Mayfair Room.” The fact that he was attending a therapy event—a word so obnoxious to him that he could barely spit it out—in his mind, clearly identified him as a total wimp, a low-testosterone failure of a man, a complete loser in the masculinity sweepstakes. God forbid somebody he knew should catch him in such humiliating circumstances—it was akin to marching publicly into a room boldly labeled, “Child Molesters Convention Here.” Male shame strikes again.
The great secret that most men harbor is how often we feel incompetent, weak, vulnerable, and inadequate, not up to the seemingly impossible task of being a “man” (whatever that means).
And when we fail, however it looks on the outside, we experience the corrosive, toxic, intolerable feelings of shame. Just the threat of being shamed is so dreadful to us that we will go to any lengths to avoid it—we will yell at or stonewall our wives, get drunk, pick fights, drive our cars like bats out of hell, join a militia, have sex with as many women as possible—do virtually anything to avoid it.
It seems odd that after nearly 50 years of focusing on gender norms and how they affect women, the inner world of men would still remain as dimly understood as it is, even by psychotherapists. Until recently, a prime obstacle has been the ideological truism that, deep down, both genders want exactly the same thing from their relationships. But as we’ve made real advances in understanding some of the differences between the male and female brain as well as grasping the biology of other social mammals, we’ve had to take another look at some of our conventional therapeutic wisdom about commonalities between the sexes.
To explore further what some of our field’s most innovative contributors are discovering about working more effectively with men, here are two resources to check out. Just click here to preview the latest Networker streaming-video webcast series, Engaging Men in Therapy: Everything Clinicians Need to Know, beginning June 5th. And if you want some extremely thoughtful and provocative articles to challenge outdated clinical assumptions, click here to take a look at our May 2010 issue, The Secret World of Men. In either case, be prepared to discover how disconcerting—and illuminating—it is to embrace the possibility that men and women don’t necessarily want exactly the same things after all.