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

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.”