Fearless Authenticity: What Men Should Know About Seeking Therapy

man distressed mental health therapy male depression

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its fifth month with its grip on the world, many continue to restrict social interaction, forcing families into the same space for extended periods of time.  This burden, along with either having to work from home with a houseful of people or being without work, has created a boiling pot of stress and anxiety that in some cases is resulting in a spike in domestic violence.

The United Nations Population Fund predicts an estimated 20 percent increase globally in domestic violence for every three months of quarantine. Overall, the organisation anticipates a total of 15 million new cases as families continue to isolate.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), based in the United States, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are victims of “severe intimate partner physical violence” compared to 1 in 9 men, which indicates that men tend to be the aggressors in domestic violence situations.

In these difficult times, stress and anxiety can manifest in the form of domestic violence, especially when healthy coping mechanisms and treatment are unknown to the individual—in this case, men.

The stigma of men seeking help.

Unfortunately, men who may be suffering may not actively seek help due to the stigma some associate with therapy.

Licensed Mental Health Counsellor Jeff Stucke, with 20 years experience in the counselling field, offers services to anyone seeking help. More recently, Stucke’s expertise has focused specifically on men and how to help them overcome the stigma of seeking help by guiding them to a more authentic understanding of self.

“Therapy is not what you think it is,” says Stucke from his practice located in Evansville, Indiana. “When I started my graduate work and discovered what the therapeutic process really was—this path of enlightenment—it occurred to me that people have to get there sooner.”

The current social and occupational pressures of the world are a significant part of the stigma keeping men from seeking help. Stucke regards the reactivity to these pressures as the “power, achievement, success treadmill.”

“We as men, set a goal, achieve that goal, pound our chest, and set a new bigger goal,” suggests Stucke. “It’s like this treadmill that never stops speeding up, until we fall off, and then we sit in the shame of our failure. And men aren’t very good at being sad, and we’re not very good at being afraid.”

As a result, men tend to externalise those emotions, and self-medicate in a compulsive sort of way.  Often those compulsive behaviours are miscategorised as a moral problem. However, “they’re not a moral problem,” he argues. “Men aren’t recognising that they’re an externalisation of psychological distress.” 

Part of Stucke’s goal with his focus on men is to get them off that treadmill of “power, achievement, success” and help them identify vulnerability, hoping to help defuse those emotions in a constructive way instead of perpetuating this moral trap.

The dysfunction of the ‘strong, silent type’.

The proclivity of men being raised as the “strong, silent type” has permeated masculine culture for generations. This line of thought suggests that the social landscape is not necessarily a “safe space” for expressing emotion and vulnerability.

Nowadays, this idealised version of self can be a dysfunctional way of thinking, feeding a culture of toxic masculinity among men.

“We’re lead to believe that strong men don’t get sad and fearful,” says Stucke. “No, if you’re a human, you get sad, you get fearful.”

While the burly demeanour of the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood have been the template for men to mimic for generations, Stucke’s idol of masculinity is none other than Mister Rogers due to his fearless authenticity.

Part of dealing with the ever-changing stressful climate of today is the capacity for resilience, and adopting the fearless authenticity of the likes of Mister Rogers is essential in discovering that resilience.

Additionally, Stucke says men need to have a strong palette for reality instead of a reactivity.  

In his personalized training program specifically for men, Stucke explains that what many good men tend to do in their long term relationship is disengage. “It comes from the right place, but they become passive […] rather than saying ‘let’s talk about this.’  It can undermine the overall relationship and it’s just not very sexy.”

With a strong, non-reactive palette for reality, men are more equipped to validate their partner’s perspective while maintaining validity for their own.

Finding the right help for change.

As men are empowered to change the culture and exchange toxic masculinity for authenticity, counselling can offer the tools to make these changes second nature; helping men default to healthier ways of thinking.

The key element in making the counselling relationship successful is rapport, and men should be cautious about not becoming trapped in a system that doesn’t grow and empower them.

As Stucke seeks to foster a new culture among men, he’s begun using technology more effectively to create an experience that is more palatable than a conventional therapeutic relationship.

He has helped create a healthy network of men understanding what authentic masculinity is, citing that “the intent is to forge relationships and connect them with men who are engaged on the same journey, growing a culture that stays with them and that they’re able to replicate.”

Abandon your resistance to change.

“One of the delusions men especially buy into today is ‘you are your work,’” says Stucke.  “I categorically disagree with this. The nature of work flows out of hunter-gatherer.” At its very core, embrace the idea that work can simply be what one needs to do to survive without the burden of it becoming one’s identity.

“What a man does after 5 o’clock and what he does on the weekend can be what he really values and still have a meaningful life,” posits Stucke.

Also, as men change behaviours—even to profoundly positive behaviours—they can easily be challenged by the age old struggle between our rational and primitive ways of thinking. As our rational brain challenges us, our primitive brain is pre-occupied with survival and we get stuck with persistent thoughts of worry and regret because we are trying to change the system.

But if men embrace and explore their authenticity—as fearlessly as Fred Rogers—they can grow to overcome these perseverating thoughts.

“I think there’s an arrogance in humanity,” says Stucke, “and we have to be careful with our hubris that we always know better. You see social media as a catalyst for this kind of hubris and we seem to have lost the capacity to know if our opinions should count or not.”

Authenticity and the benefit to society.

As men begin to feel empowered, happier, and more fearlessly authentic by allowing themselves to embrace vulnerability, this image is projected out into the world which can help decrease the stigma men feel.  

This results in a culture of authenticity that becomes an example for children thus perpetuating a new way of thinking to the next generation, which ultimately reaps benefits for society as a whole.

“As men begin to understand their vulnerability, this awareness results in not needing to validate some malignant form of masculinity by exerting power over another,” adds Stucke.  “It creates the foundation of genuinely being for others.”

In spite of the stigma often associated with therapy being a validation of mental illness or incompetence, a healthier perception is its purpose as a method to discovering one’s authentic self.  “It’s a journey to gaining a certainty about who your are and what you believe,” Stucke encourages, “where you are completely un-threatened by anyone else.  And it’s a powerful and rewarding place to reside.”

Words by Lucas Hardwick

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