“How do you feel?” It’s a question professional counselors often ask, but it may not be the best place to start with a male client. Rather than talking about feelings, take a cognitive approach that focuses on patterns of thought, behavior, and communication.
Using cognitive approaches is just one strategy Dr.Mark Stauffer, faculty member in Walden University’s PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program, recommends using when counseling men. In March, Dr. Stauffer presented a preconference institute titled “Male Counselors and Male Clients: Sharing Counseling Experiences” at the annual American Counseling Association (ACA) conference in Cincinnati. He partnered with his Walden colleague Dr. David Capuzzi, Dr. Samuel Gladding of Wake Forest University, and Dr. Courtland Lee of the University of Maryland—all former presidents of the ACA—to examine this subject that has received limited attention.
As April is Counseling Awareness Month, Dr. Stauffer is sharing some of the issues discussed during the institute with the Walden community.
So how do men feel? According to Dr. Stauffer, they’re wrestling with stereo-types of what it means to be male. As is often the case with men, they aren’t talking about it.
For instance, it’s a common stereotype in U.S. mainstream that men are incapable of emotion and real intimacy and instead need to be strong like the fictional James Bond. But for men outside fiction, this stereotype can create pressure to be dutiful providers and leave them with little time for their loved ones. It can also make them feel that the challenges of being a man go unnoticed or that their sacrifices are unrecognized. In reality, says Dr. Stauffer, some men may prefer to work fewer hours and they worry about becoming distant from their families.
Counselors can help men resolve these conflicts and better understand what being male means to them by considering male-friendly variations of counseling, especially with youth. For example, the counselor and client might talk while throwing a ball or walking side-by-side. Communicating with and about their fathers can also help men develop a healthy sense of self. Other research suggests that men may do better in group counseling with other males, rather than in individual sessions. As Dr. Stauffer explains, “It may be that men keep each other more accountable with one another within groups than in individual work.” Dr. Stauffer also notes that, just as other clients may benefit from a counselor whose culture is like their own, men in individual, couples, or family counseling may find it helpful to be counseled by other men. However, male counselors—and especially male counselors of color—aren’t always available. To alleviate this shortage, more men need to be encouraged to enter the profession.
Of course, all these counseling strategies will be effective only if men are willing to seek counseling and address what concerns them, including their life choices and values.
“Maleness can take unique and diverse expressions, but it takes some traveling along a path to realize,” says Dr. Stauffer. “If men are willing, they can grow from the stereotypes of what it means to be male. By getting past limited conceptualizations of gender, men can develop a different, more complex identity that is more fulfilling to themselves and those around them.”