Men in Therapy: Four Trends I’ve Noticed
What current trends are we seeing in therapeutic presentations among men? Graham Allen is a psychodynamic psychotherapist with a sideline in league cricket and fitness instructing, who takes a particular interest in men’s mental health. To mark International Men’s Day, he reflects on four developments he has observed in his consulting room, from changes in the world of work to the impact of #Metoo.
1 Body Consciousness
I will start with bodies. So much media and social media focuses on female bodies, yet I have noticed a steady creep of body consciousness into young men’s lives. The ever expanding health and fitness culture is a part of most millennial men’s mindsets. This can mean lots of gym training, supplements and, increasingly, a social media profile that may involve parading one’s gym gains. But of course we are never satisfied, and men too are sold impossible ideals.
I find men are presenting with a lot of anxiety about physiques and looks, and often compare themselves to peers and social media fitness stars. The acceptable categories are perhaps wider than during my era of the Eighties but nevertheless require significant dedication to achieving the right look. Anecdotal research suggests increased use of steroids and supplements, which can lead to problems in later life. Body builders continue to die early, though this rarely makes the headlines. A subtle change I have noticed is the diminishing of the heroic role model – sports stars, musicians, actors. Has the transparency and demystification of stars eroded their capital?
2 The impact of #metoo
Two years on from #Metoo and men, I think, have grappled with much anger – sometimes aimed at them. Two years ago, many of my male clients seemed to feel cornered, dazed and confused by the huge backlash. Now, I sense they do not take on the collective burden of toxic masculinity in the same way. A more nuanced debate has perhaps ensued on both sides. The concept of masculinity itself being toxic has been challenged; behaviours may be toxic but masculinity itself?
I do note that some men who enter the dating world are very wary of being forward in any way, or indeed flirting. How this plays out in the longer term will be interesting. The dating world can be very different to shrill media headlines, with men often saying they are expected to pay and be chivalrous in line with an older, more traditional model of interaction – as if not much has changed below the surface. Sometimes this confuses. Gender wars, so popular in the media, are often unhelpful at an individual level, where I find that young men are keen to find connection, tenderness and relationship.
3 Opening up about Mental Health
A more open debate about anxiety and depression is apparent – not least in the fact that I see more young men seeking out therapy than previously. This is a positive thing but I sense most men are still expected not to show feelings too much back in the real world, and this can seem contradictory to them. With the abundance of high profile sports people opening up about mental health, one would expect to see a shift in attitudes. But change is slow.
4 Vocational Uncertainty
Lastly, the world of work has changed radically for young men. With the manual and physical industry jobs in rapid decline in favour of automation, that which generations of men previously could take for granted now feels very uncertain. This adds to general anxiety about stability in work, and the associated life markers such as buying a property.
Now, my male clients include podcasters, data analysers and influencers on social media. The world continues to change but this list is a lot less ‘male’ than previous generations’ work roles.
My job as a therapist is to listen to these complex narratives and to find meaning and hope as a fellow traveller with young men. I actually think young men are thriving more than we think under some rather grim headlines. Most of all, they want connection, meaning and relationships.