Counselling Benefits for Men

By Letoo James, 1st July, 2021

June was men’s mental health month and here in Kenya the highlight is usually the celebration of Father’s Day on the third Sunday. This day was set aside to honour fatherhood and the influence of paternal relations in society. Increasingly, there is more focus on men, the state of their mental health and appropriate ways of supporting them.

World over, there is consensus that men are yet to fully exploit the benefits that come with utilizing counselling services. It is widely believed that the words “I have a problem and I need help” are the most difficult for men to utter. Similarly, their approach to dealing with emotional pain is one of bottling-it-up and drinking-it-away rather than talking-it-through. These self and socially imposed barriers put men at greater health risks. To overcome them, sufficient awareness is required to shift attitudes and behaviours. A good place to find inspiration is in sports for there is a lot to learn and borrow.

Soccer is undoubtedly the biggest game on the planet and boasts billions of fans. It is so popular that millions of fans religiously follow live matches especially the English Premier League. The passion and energy is simply infectious. In this arena, men acknowledge pain, openly display negative emotions as either fans, players or coaches. In fact, they are expected to cry, feel disappointed, get angry and hug without feeling judged or weak. The emotional connection among them is amazing and the need for support responded in kind. This experience is shared in many other sports. Young boys see their fathers, brothers, uncles, role models showing “weakness” and learn that it is okay to express emotions rather than repressing it. The men we typically know seem to be transformed before our very own eyes.

Equally, the value of coaches in sports is highly regarded. It is considered an important necessity in determining success or failure. Even the greatest of champions in individual sports like golf, boxing, tennis or athletics needs a coach. Needing, receiving and providing support in sports is not seen as a sign of weakness but strength and sportsmen take pride in their coaches. In his ted talk, surgeon Atul Gawande makes the point that in sports just as in life, we are never complete growing and everyone needs a coach. Trying to make it on our own has many shortcomings. We have blind spots that are only seen by others eyes. Even when we see them, he argues, we may not necessarily know how to fix them. Coaches’ job is to study player’s performances and give valuable feedback. Coaches do not only focus on game winning tactics but also play an important role in the life of a player outside the pitch. They are mentors, confidants and much more. Through the lens of sports, men as users and counsellors as providers of counselling services can learn important lessons that are vital in ensuring more uptake.

 

   Photo courtersy of: https://ronaldocr7.com/cristiano-ronaldo-crying-pictures/

Men who have experienced counselling recognize its value and wish they did it earlier. Initial skepticism and hesitation should be expected as a normal phase of the counselling process arising from the vulnerable feeling of exposing self to a stranger. Eventually, it is appreciated that growing or healing can sometimes feel like breaking at first. The benefits of using counselling services are many.

The immediate benefit of counselling is the feeling that one is not alone in his problems. Psychologically, when we have problems or pain we tend to feel alone, lonely and isolated. But as soon as one visits a counsellor and begins expressing his thoughts and feelings they realize that issues don’t seem overwhelming anymore. This process helps us identify resources within ourselves and offer much needed support.

Counsellors also help provide feedback and perspective on our issues. It is not uncommon for people to feel lost or confused in their circumstances and not know what or where the problem is let alone how to address it. Therapists can help clarify problem areas. For instance, psychological problems arise in part because certain needs are not being met. One learns his needs, their place in his life and guided to identify the ones neglected and the best way of meeting them.

Counselling can also help men learn healthy coping habits when faced with stress. Some people cope by way of avoidance instead of active or direct approach. Through counselling, maladaptive coping mechanisms are let go in favour of new skills set to effectively respond in a positive manner. For instance, one can be supported through grief without using alcohol to heal.

Finally, counselling can help men identify, adjust or change erroneous beliefs and thoughts that perpetuate psychological problems. For instance, anxiety disorders have a way of making normal life situations seem very dangerous by making erroneous associations to past fearful experiences. These faulty associations can become core beliefs and seriously affect a person’s ability to function in their environment. Counselling can help one to reexamine and challenge these irrational beliefs and provide new perspective and freedom.

Kenya has made good progress and done many things right in improving awareness, access and quality of mental health services to its people. Kenyans men today are more literate on mental health and aware of the different mental health services. A family member, an employee or a friend struggling with alcohol or drugs is more likely to be taken to a rehabilitation center than a police station or thrown out to the streets. The prospect of recovery from this intervention is life transforming and presents a second shot at a better life. Consequently, marriages can survive, fathers can contribute meaningfully to their families, our sons or brothers can complete school, unnecessary incarceration avoided and many jobs saved. Eventually, hope replaces despair and support diminishes loneliness.

Much has been achieved but more is yet to be done in attracting many to interact with counselling services. Of significance is the fact that our society has gotten right the direction we need to take in managing mental health. Our generation’s job is to widen the net and make more men to participate. Big ships take time to turn, but turning it we must if we are to enjoy the benefits. Encourage men around you to seek professional help when in crisis or when need in need of help.

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