Counseling for Men
I really became aware of counseling for men when I started working with a therapist at the Illinois State University Counseling Center in the early 1980's.
We were working on codependence issues and sobriety issues. I had in the not to distant past completed an alcohol treatment program which actually was my first experience with counseling.
I did not get there until I had no other resources, which I hope is different for other men.
I enjoyed my experience as I was and still am curious about the whole counseling/psychological/spiritual/mythological experience, particularly as it relates to sobriety and abuse issues.
I have participated in 12 step programs and codependence groups and have completed any number of experiential workshops on various topics looking for insights into who I am, and how I operate.
In the background, my driving motivation was always to put another piece of the sobriety puzzle together, because I have seen first hand how deadly relapse can be.
In the process of exploring the 12 step spiritual path, which is probably a fairly common entry point for most men to the counseling process, I was introduced to Men's Work, as it was called in the period from the mid-1980's to the mid-1990's, and was headlined by Robert Bly and his book, IRON JOHN. (Still an excellent read). I did the New Warrior Adventure Weekend which is still available as a grass roots experience around the world, and I highly recommend it. That experience was a watershed for me, and continues to impact my life daily almost 20 years later.
It was there that I was introduced to the concept of Shadow, and it was there that I began to break down the concept I had of myself, and men, and our savagery, and learn about accessing shadow for a mission of service, a mission of service that to resonates with the 12th step of AA, acts of service, carrying the message to the still suffering alcoholic.
(Men deeply care about mission. Use it.)
Many men across the world were involved in this process, which soon developed three branches, the mytho-poetic, the gay rights, and the feminist branches if you will.
And then the publicity about it died out, and the Men's Movement, as it was called became a local movement.
Today, most men probably reach the counseling for men experience through DUI or addictions and domestic violence and anger management convictions, with a smaller segment volunteering for individual, group, or marital counseling, or perhaps through divorce court mediation, or custody evaluations.
Counseling for men can work magic if the counselor is attuned to the male experience, and listens carefully.
Most men are not taught or given permission to learn how to describe subtle feeling experiences, which does not mean they do not have them, so a counselor who asks questions and offers a feeling vocabulary in a non-judgemental way is going to develop an ally.
Men pick up early in their lives that a lot of value is attached to their ability to be a provider, and they take that task very seriously, trading huge chunks of time and energy to accomplish that task.
If you can offer them tools and show them the link between the cognitive or affective tools you are advocating that they learn, then they will buy in, as they can see the link to more efficient productivity.
Most men enjoy feeling happy, but it is not a prerequisite for them to achieve their productivity goals.
I have been working with court ordered domestic violence clients since 1998, and have found that once trust is established through a process of introductions, the men are open to the ideas that I have in regards to things like emotions, feelings, parenting, husbanding, internal locus of control, emotions, mission, trust, even peak performance.
Any number of tools can be used to enhance their experience of counseling.
I have used HeartMath heart rate variability in sessions, and I have had men try the various computerized brain fitness programs as tools to enhance their effectiveness in the world.
I like to use Csikzentmihalyi's FLOW concept with men, because it teaches about the speed at which the Central Nervous System works, changing the inside or our body in 1/18th second, which is not much time to manage thinking and feelings, and the consequences of an emotional behavior can be laid down in a child's mind, positively or negatively, for a life time of distrusting behaviors, just as fast. Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence speaks to the issue of amygdala highjacks.
I like to teach attachment behaviors because the men I have worked with like being dads, and take it seriously, and they appreciate having scientific information which validates what they do, and guides what they do.
For example, Dad's rough housing with both his boys and girls between the first and second years is a key piece of teaching his children and especially the boys about regulating their aggressive endowment.
We routinely weave experiential learning through the domestic violence groups which involve listening skills and assertive communication offering choice.
Offering choice is usually not a thinking or language skill that men are taught.
We use the John Gottman model called the Art and Science of Love and the exercises that come with the video taped series as sort of a seed tool for how to construct a viable relationship.
Again most guys who come to me have not looked at relationship as something that needs to be tended, like a garden, for there to be a harvest.
I also weave in lots of cognitive behavioral and Rational Emotive Behavioral tools and I love to use the work of Robert Moore, "KING,WARRIOR,LOVER,MAGICIAN, to speak to the deep components of men's psyche.
I find that my clients are curious.
I also use a number of perceptual tools to teach that our senses can trick us, including the Necker cube which you will find at the top of this page.
You and I may look at the same ink, splattered on the same page, and see to different boxes. If that happens, who is 'right'?
We both are, and the Necker cube provides me an excellent tool for quesioning my beliefs, especially if there is a strong emotional component to them.
I also like to use the work of Paul Ekman and his efforts to categorize facial expressions.
I like to use the information about how fast we react (1/25th second) to a facial expression with a hormonal change inside our body, which is faster than I can create words.
For an example, think about the last time your child or someone you cared about looked at you or even towards you with a look of contempt. How did you feel?
If you are like me, you feel angry. That emotional experience is hardwired and happens across cultures, so teaching about emotional intelligence and facial expressions is a key part of what I work with men on.
Grief and Grieving
According to Robert Bly, the way to a man's soul is through his grief.
Although boy babys are more expressive than girl babies, we are soon trained out of that, and men get thousands of messages about emotions and vulnerability and weakness that may add up to a belief system that says grief is not something ok to experience or express.
Consequently it is split off, perhaps medicated with work or sex or booze, but it eventually comes back to drain us of energy until we acknowledge it.
I teach a great deal about the process of grief and grieving and the costs of not grieving for us as human beings. The cost of not doing appropriate grief can be that I do not connect with anyone again, including my children who may leave me too. The risk of doing the grieving work is that I will be vulnerable and I may love again, with its risk of abandonment.
Here is where a man can talk about his losses, of trust, or abuse, or family of origin issues, and go into and through the grieving process, and perhaps move on to forgiveness and reconciliation, which are processes which can be learned and managed.
So counseling for men is not so different than counseling for women of children. It is about establishing trust.
Tools For Men-Enhanced Productivity
I have used EEG brain wave biofeedback with clients working on addiction issues, with great success. While researching that I came across research done by one of the early researchers in the field done for the Navy Top Gun school, which indicated that the most successful pilots in that training were the pilots who were able to routinely switch between alpha and beta brainwaves, or relaxation and work brainwaves for very brief periods of relaxation, either because they were born with the ability to do this. or had learned it. However, even brief second long periods of relaxation can be enough to keep one from losing effectiveness at anything you do to stress. Hope you are not in combat.
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