Written by Jess Brink
When individuals find themselves in troubled times, counseling can be a much-needed resource to get them through these obstacles. Individuals seek counseling for many reasons, such as needing help in their relationships, dealing with mental illness, or learning new coping strategies to handle difficult events. Individuals also avoid counseling for many reasons, including fear of ridicule from others and social pressures to handle one’s own problems. Mental health and counseling have long been stigmatized; that stops many from seeking help, and some individuals simply just do not feel that therapy will benefit them. For men, counseling may be viewed as something that goes against the ideas of and expectations for masculinity (Vogel & Heath, 2016). Men are often expected to have limited emotions, or at least not show these emotions. Many men are taught that masculinity depends on their ability to handle their problems on their own and without outside help. Masculinity norms also demand that a man be silent and stoic rather than compassionate and caring. This ideal type of masculinity may impact men’s ability to be compassionate towards themselves. Men who adhere more to masculinity norms express more negative attitudes toward counseling and are far less likely to go to counseling in times of need than men who adhere less to masculinity norms (Hammer, Vogel, & Heimerdinger-Edwards, 2013). For counseling methods to succeed, one must look at other factors that affect the willingness of men to seek help.
Masculinity Expectations and Their Relationship to Men Seeking Counseling
In a study consisting of college-age males, participants were asked to complete scales measuring their self-compassion, self-stigma, and risk of self-disclosure (Heath et al., 2017). All of these scales were used to measure the likelihood of male participants attending counseling. The self-stigma scale was used to measure the stigma that men felt towards their own decision to seek out counseling (Vogel et al., 2006). If men felt stigma towards themselves, this suggests that they felt ashamed or embarrassed about seeking counseling. Because men are often told by society that asking for help goes against their masculinity, men who conform to this idea would most likely feel self-stigma and may be less likely to ask for help in the future (Vogel et al., 2006). The risk of self-disclosure model was used to measure the personal risk felt by the men seeking help or opening themselves up emotionally (Vogel & Wester, 2003). Men were asked if they felt that asking for help made them feel uncomfortable personally or if it made them feel at risk for scrutiny from their friends or acquaintances. After completing these surveys, results were then analyzed to see if there was any connection between the three factors mentioned and the unwillingness of men to seek counseling. Results revealed that the more men followed masculine gender norms, the more barriers were in their way when they considered seeking help (Heath et al., 2017). Men with a higher regard for gender norms scored higher on self-disclosure risk and self-stigma (Heath et al., 2017). This study focused on trying to find a way to break through these barriers. Self-compassion was also analyzed and appeared to be the trait that was needed to aid men in their ability to seek help. Higher scores on self-compassion were correlated with lower scores on barriers, such as self-stigma and self-disclosure risk (Heath et al., 2017). Self-compassion may be the factor that aids men in their ability to treat themselves with kindness and understanding in times of struggle (Neff, 2003).
Seeking Out Help Can Be Hard, but it Doesn’t Make a Man Any Less of a Man
Men may feel uncomfortable when seeking out counseling due to the fear that seeking help possibly goes against their expected traits of being strong, independent, and able to provide. Seeking counseling can be an extremely difficult step for many people, not only men; however, men may the task particularly troubling. The ability for men to feel kindness and express understanding towards themselves can increase the likelihood of their ability to seek counseling when it is needed. It is always okay to seek help, and it is important to remember that men who do are not lesser men because of it.
Hammer, J. H., Vogel, D. L., & Heimerdinger-Edwards, S. R. (2013). Men’s help seeking: Examination of differences across community size, education, and income. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14, 65–75.
Heath, P. J., Brenner, R. E., Vogel, D. L., Lannin, D. G., & Strass, H. A. (2017). Masculinity and barriers to seeking counseling: The buffering role of self-compassion. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64, 94-103.
Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250.
Vogel, D. L., & Heath, P. J. (2016). Men, masculinities, and help-seeking patterns. In S. R. Wester & J. Wong (Eds.), APA handbook for the psychology of men and masculinities (pp. 685–707). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Vogel, D. L., Wade, N. G., & Haake, S. (2006). Measuring the self-stigma associated with seeking psychological help. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 325–337.
Vogel, D. L., & Wester, S. R. (2003). To seek help or not to seek help: The risks of self-disclosure. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 351–361.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor