The Male Hysteric

As a recent NY Times article pointed out, therapy is fast becoming a sexually segregated science. 80% of all master’s degrees in psychology go to women, up from 50% in the 1970s. Men account for only 10% of social workers under the age of 34. Of all professional counselors, only 10% are men, down from 30% in 1982. And while some female clinicians (most notably Holly Sweet of MIT) are looking to educate their gender on how to better treat men, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that therapy just isn’t for men, on either side of the couch. For to paraphrase Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to commiserate.”

And that is what I call the # 1 Global Mental Health Crisis of our time. Because check out these figures from the Mens’ Center of Los Angeles:

Men commit suicide four times as often as women.
Men are ten times more likely to commit murder or robbery.
Twenty four times more men than women are in prisons and juvenile halls.
The street homeless are ninety percent male.
Forty-three times more men than women are likely to end up in psychiatric hospitals.
More than two-thirds of all alcoholics are men.
Fifty percent more men than women are regular users of illicit drugs.
Seventy-five percent of victims of homicide are male.

There is a disconnect in our mental health system of massive and tragic proportions, costing our societies in damage recovery far more than it would cost to promote early prevention. The very gender that most needs therapy is slowly being shut out of therapy. But what about the recent poll, Therapy in America, conducted between 2002 and 2004, that showed that men constitute 37% of the total number of patients in treatment? As Carl Sherman of Psychology Today points out, when a man enters therapy, “more often than not, the impetus is a woman.” In other words, these are wo-mandated referrals. A man’s SO tells him, “you get help, or you lose me.” And as a therapist who’s seen hundreds of men, I can tell you – when a man is forced to open up, he shuts down.

So, what to do? Yes, we need to encourage more men through scholarships and incentive programs to enter the therapy profession, because more male therapists could mean more male patients. Yes, we need to continue to admit, and help female therapists understand, that men present unique issues that require specific approaches. And yes, we need to do all we can – through education, media, and in our personal lives – to support the idea that the most powerful and attractive man is the man who is humble and smart enough to seek emotional assistance when he needs it.

In other words, we need to stop saying “men need to get help” and start saying “help needs to get men.” This means that therapy must meet men on their playing field, accept their needs and desires, and provide them with a form of treatment that makes sense to them. One step is being taken in this direction by a psychologist at MIT, Dr. Holly Sweet, whose anthology, “Gender in the Therapy Hour: Voices of Women Clinicians Working with Men,” will be appearing in February 2012.

Another solution is what my partners and I do – Naked Therapy. It’s talk therapy, but the therapist gets naked, eliciting arousal in the client and using that arousal to come to deeper and unique psychological discoveries. And we know, through the hundreds of clients who come to us each week, that it works. It works because Naked Therapy doesn’t deny men’s arousal, it engages and encourages it. It helps them arrive at unique and deeper insights than would be possible in the buttoned-down atmosphere of traditional therapy. And most importantly, it says, “your desires are accepted here,” creating a therapeutic environment in which they feel comfortable enough to open up in new and important ways.

No, it’s not the only solution to the global mental health crisis of men being shut out of therapy, but it’s one of them. And though it may be frowned upon by some as a false practice, we know the truth – arousing times call for arousing measures. The world in which men function (and too often malfunction) has changed, especially due to the Internet and its steady stream of sex, so therapy needs to change with it. By facing up to the problem, by altering its methods, and even perhaps by taking off its clothes. For if doing the same thing again and again and expecting the same results is the definition of insanity, then therapy has gone insane, and men, who secretly want help, are following right along.

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