The Trouble with Men and Counseling

The price men pay for acting tough and avoiding counseling and health care could be life.

| March/April 2013

  • A statue breaks through a glass ceiling that looks like clouds
    Many psychologists worry particularly about the recession’s ultimate toll on men who once may have defined their self-worth through their roles as breadwinners, only to lose those roles amid corporate downsizing and layoffs.
    Illustration By Jonathan Bartlett
  • Shadow men watch a man fight an empty coat and hat scarecrow.
    As scientists have come to better understand the inner workings of the brain, they have documented the potentially catastrophic consequences for individuals, particularly men, who go it alone when confronted by profound emotional challenges.
    Illustration By Jonathan Bartlett

  • A statue breaks through a glass ceiling that looks like clouds
  • Shadow men watch a man fight an empty coat and hat scarecrow.

Twenty years ago, Bob Smith’s wife questioned his commitment as a father. She demanded he see a psychiatrist. Smith (not his real name) grudgingly obliged. He went. Once.

“The idea of paying some guy $300 an hour to massage your issues,” says Smith, a Los Angeles-area attorney in his early 60s, “is ridiculous.”

In fact, the psychiatrist Smith talked to found plenty of issues to massage. His 45-minute assessment suggested that Smith was toting a veritable luggage store full of psychological baggage that needed unpacking. He recommended twice-weekly counseling sessions.

Smith was having none of it. Like millions of other American men, he simply couldn’t see paying good money for spilling his guts.



Fast-forward a couple of decades. Last year, Smith was diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of prostate cancer that required immediate surgery, then radiation treatment. Still, he was disinclined to consider confiding in a professional all that he was enduring emotionally.

“I’m pissing in my pants and I can’t ejaculate and I want to talk to somebody else about that?” the Harvard Law School grad explains. “It’s a misapprehension that talking with a psychiatrist or a psychologist is going to move the ball forward. Some things … are what they are. The sooner you deal with them objectively, the better off you are.”