On our podcast ‘Tales That Tethr’, tethr Founder & CEO Matt Zerker interviews entrepreneurs, experts, thought leaders, and regular people about what is means to be a man, the challenges that modern men face, and how to overcome challenges and live life in a more connected and authentic way.
Chances are many of you will relate to my story. I grew up in Texas and don’t have a single memory of talking about my feelings. I was never taught to understand my emotions or their impact on me and others in my life. No male role modeled healthy emotional conversations.
It wasn’t until my world came crashing down in a sudden moment of grief that I realized I couldn’t hold it in anymore. That was the first time I looked for a therapist. I had no idea where to turn and bounced around from therapist to therapist trying to find someone I could connect with. I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings; I wanted an action plan and needed a therapist who could meet me where I’m at.
My experience led me to found Mental Health Match, a free service that matches people to therapists and counselors who best meet their needs. We’ve matched over 50,000 people to therapists, and along the way learned a few things about therapy that every man should know.
Therapy gives you a game plan.
Therapy is not what you think it is. Even though I started therapy in a moment of profound grief, I continue to go to therapy eight years later because it helps me sort through problems in my life and gives me the tools to make strong decisions.
Therapy is all over TV these days, but what you see in a favorite show is not what actually happens in real life. Therapy on TV is usually focused on feelings and childhood memories. While these are definitely part of understanding yourself, therapy in real life is about giving you tools to add to your playbook and giving you space to make sure your head is in the game. Recently, I had a therapy session that helped me plan to make space in my life for the things I care most about and create a plan to resolve conflict with a loved one. These are the tools we need to thrive in life –tools that are rarely taught or role modeled for men.
Therapy takes strength and courage.
The easiest course of action is usually todo nothing. Not feeling fulfilled? Having conflict in your life? Feeling stressed and burned out? The easiest thing to do is ignore it, press on, and carry the burdens silently until they reach a breaking point. It takes courage to want to create a change and strength to do something about it. Men often want to see ourselves as strong and determined, but we confuse what that looks like. There may be nothing more tough than proactively doing what is needed to make a change to a happier and more fulfilled life.
Therapy can include the outdoors, exercise, and music.
There are over a hundred different approaches to talk therapy. Some therapists incorporate the outdoors in their approach, leveraging the healing power of nature and the peace we feel when we’re surrounded by fresh air and wildlife.These ecotherapy techniques are great for people who feel calmer and more focused when outside.
Other therapists include movement in their approaches, from everything from walking to rock climbing. These approaches are great for men who think through movement and reground themselves by being in their body. Cliff Hamrick, a Texas therapist, writes that the skills needed to get through the COVID-19 pandemic are similar to the skills he uses when out in the woods practicing survival skills.
Many other therapists include music as part of their process. How many times have you heard some lyrics or a guitar riff that really resonates with how you’re feeling in that moment? Music therapists use those moments to help people understand what they’re feeling and communicate those feelings to the people around them.
Too often on TV, therapy is lying on a couch. Just like everything these days though, therapists in real life are coming up with new (and scientifically proven) ways to help people heal, grow, and be the people they want to be.
Therapy makes you a better husband, dad, and son.
Sometimes I go to therapy not for myself, but for the people around me. Keeping things in, holding down feelings, and ignoring our needs damage not only ourselves but the people we care about. As Georgia therapist Miranda Campbell writes about masculinity, “Men are human beings, and many are hurting right now... This, in turn, impacts the relationships men have with the women in their life and the family they create.In other words, there can be a devastating ripple effect."
Those ripples come in the form of conflict, resentment, and hurt – which we often don’t even realize we causing. It wasn’t until I started talking about my relationships in therapy that I realized how I was failing to show up for the people who counted on me – or how I had learned those patterns from other men in my life. I didn’t even know what showing up really meant. I thought it was doing what was asked of me instead of being aware and proactively providing what was needed. Therapy helped give me the tools and confidence to be a better man for the people I care about.
There are many male therapists and many men who go to therapy.
In fact, many men become therapists because they know the pressures on men and the way society fails to teach us the tools we need to thrive in this world. Many therapists specialize in specifically working with men – and men are increasingly going to therapy (again – something you don’t see on TV). It is estimated that more than 1 in every 10 men are in therapy at any given time. We just don’t talk about it.
If you are ready to join the other men in your life who go to therapy to gain tools, perspective, and confidence, remember that the most important part is finding a therapist who you trust and feel like you can be honest with.
Ryan Schwartz is the founder of Mental Health Match. You can read more of his personal story here. Mental Health Match offers a free, confidential search that helps you identify your needs and find the therapist right for you. From therapists who use nature or music to other male therapists who specialize in working with men, there are many options who can help you be a better person for yourself and those around you. Discover your therapist match today.