Being a male, growing up in the UK, I believed that to be a real man you must be strong, able to deal with anything independently and support those around you.
Showing or admitting that I needed help in dealing with any mental or emotional turmoil felt the same as admitting I wasn’t a man. So, like many men, I tried to work through any issues in my own mind, alone. It’s only those with serious mental health issues such as addiction and severe trauma who need counselling, I’d tell myself.
After a failed marriage and a subsequent series of failed relationships, a couple of which were devastatingly painful, a close friend suggested that perhaps there was a common thread throughout these relationships. I agreed, “yes of course there is, I’m choosing the wrong person!”. However, that’s not what she meant. She was tactfully pointing out that maybe it was something within me which was playing out and that seeking help from someone independent might identify what this was.
Something had to happen if the cycle was to be broken, my approach as a “real” man wasn’t working and I conceded that perhaps my friend was right, seeing a counsellor might help. So, I swallowed my pride and made that first appointment. However, I still didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to come across as weak or incapable of handling my stuff.
During my sessions, we explored and worked on several different thoughts and influences in my past which were all relevant to my situation. The sessions were sometimes difficult as they addressed often buried issues, and it was upsetting to have those resurface. Having said that, at the end of any of the sessions, I always left feeling that I had achieved something and felt good about that. The sessions were a positive experience. Sometimes difficult, sometimes draining, but always positive.
As well as helping to resolve the root cause of the issues, seeing a counsellor had other benefits. I learned that counselling is not just for those who have severe mental health issues, that it is ok to seek help and it isn’t a sign of weakness. I discovered new tools which can be used to work through problems and to address past influences which are negatively impacting the present.
One thing to note, and this is really important: Counselling isn’t a treatment. There isn’t going to be an assessment followed by a prescription or a set of exercises to be cured. What counselling does do is provide a non-judgmental environment to explore feelings, thoughts and behaviour patterns. With better knowledge and awareness, repetitive cycles can be broken, and changes implemented.
I will still try and figure things out without turning to counselling, however I recognise when this approach isn’t working or will fail. In fact, I am in a relatively new relationship and am aware of some past experiences playing on innocent day to day events and making them appear different. Knowing that this could ultimately lead to the breakdown of the relationship, I have made an appointment to see a counsellor once again. It is time to get some more help, I know that my life will be better for it.
To summarise, there are 5 key things I learned from counselling:
- Counselling isn’t just for people with severe and acute mental health conditions.
- Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, in fact, I feel stronger for it and I’m proud of it!
- Looking at the past can unravel patterns that are no longer useful in the present.
- It’s possible to break a repetitive vicious cycle (once you can identify it!) and learn new ways of dealing with things.
- I learned more about myself, which is always a good thing. If we don’t know who we are then how can we know where to make changes?
If you’re a man reading this and have been unsure about reaching out for help, I’d urge you to do it. Find yourself a good counsellor and make that first appointment. There’s great strength in that!