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We think differently, feel differently, communicate differently, and even approach therapy differently. A recent study presented at the British Psychological Society found that men want a quick fix from therapy and women want to talk about their feelings. The study surveyed experienced therapists to determine if there are gender differences in response to the therapy process. The results showed that while the women preferred to dig deeper and focus on feelings and past events, the men were looking for advice and solutions to their concerns. Men don’t seek psychological help as often as women do and some perceive it as a weakness or vulnerability, despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate of women. So how do we get men into the therapist’s office and more comfortable with the process?
Generally speaking men are more comfortable when they are in control and solving problems. So it’s best for a wife to let her spouse make the decision to pursue counseling, since the more it is pushed on him the less likely he will agree. Seek counseling that is solution-based which includes specific strategies, homework assignments, and goals. My therapy approach includes all of these and actively engages the person in the healing process. Most individuals seeking therapy want guidance, direction, and a specific focus to manage or resolve conflicts. Men don’t like feeling helpless or powerless so they prefer tools to give them a greater sense of security and confidence. In fact, approaching therapy like working with a coach who provides advice on improving your game and developing new skills can be more palatable.
Women on the other hand prefer to talk things out and process feelings. That’s why women, in general, are more comfortable with conflict and don’t seek immediate solutions like men do. Women are better at identifying and expressing emotions than men which counseling often requires for healing and growth. While men can more guarded and prideful about their feelings, women tend to be more open and receptive to sharing their feelings. Of course these are generalizations and don’t apply to all men and women.
Ideally, therapy provides both solutions for change and opportunities to process feelings. Therapists can benefit from understanding gender differences and from approaching therapy accordingly since some psychological interventions are more about talking and others about fixing problems. Based on the above study, men do benefit as much as women from talking about feelings, but if this is the primary objective for therapy they are more likely to be put off. Therapy works, if you actually do the work of therapy.