Not that I don’t need therapy. I absolutely, unequivocally do. The women in my life can attest to that — they’ve performed so much emotional labor that they could probably unionize for better working conditions.
So why don’t I go?
There are two main reasons:
- Therapy is expensive
- I’m a man
The first reason keeps a lot of folks out of therapy — spending an extra $50 to $100 a week is a serious investment. Sadly, 46 percent of Americans state that “affordability” is one of the most important factors when choosing a therapist.
But I live in England now, where I can get a free NHS therapist (socialized healthcare and all that). And even if I were in America, I have a good job. Money isn’t really a barrier anymore.
The second point, however, is a bit stickier.
I’m a man.
This is not to say that only men are reluctant to go to therapy; society’s judgement of mental health struggles can make all genders hesitate to book an appointment.
But being a man puts a distinct “flavor” on one’s relationship with therapy.
To understand why, we need to start at the very beginning.
Modern therapy was invented by Sigmund Freud, a man who once stated in a letter to his colleague and collaborator Wilhelm Fleiss:
“I need a lot of cocaine.”
In these early, cocaine-fueled days of psychoanalysis, patients were largely female, and largely “hysterical” (a term we’ve used to pathologize women’s behavior since Ancient Greece). While this was intensely problematic for loads of reasons we won’t dive into here, it also had the unfortunate side effect of stigmatizing men in therapy.
Two world wars briefly changed this. Soldiers were sent to therapy en masse after “shellshock” (PTSD) was first observed in 1915. However, this was for pragmatic purposes — namely, to get them back fighting on the front lines.
After the soldiers returned from war, things changed. The only front lines left were in men’s minds, so the directive was clear: man up, have a drink, get a job. To this day, only 33 percent of people receiving therapy in America are men.
Instead, we practice a form of magic.
Boys in our culture learn alchemy from a young age, often from their fathers. There is a limited spectrum of acceptable emotions for us. So, when we are hurt and can’t show it, we discover our power.
We can turn sadness into anger. Vulnerability into laughter. Rejection into hatred.
And we are applauded for the transmutation. To our teachers, a boy punching a locker is far less distressing than one who’s crying. Disruptive class clowns are just future politicians. When Johnny throws rocks at Susie, he’s flirting with her.
There’s a phrase for this: normative male alexithymia. The inability of men to verbalize their emotions.
At first, this power feels good. It protects us from pain. But as we age, we find our alchemy a Midas touch.
Surrounded by gold, we’re left with nothing to eat.
Maybe that’s the reason behind one of the most surprising statistics I’ve found: men over 50 are actually more likely to go to therapy than those under.
It’s simple: they’re starving.