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Nov 2019 by PCI College

Happy International Men's Day: a strong man is one who has a healthy mind.

Men can cry! Mental Health is for all the genders.

Mental illness, depression, anxiety doesn't care about gender. It is okay to be sad, to cry, to show emotions. To celebrate International Men's Day, we invited our male lecturers and counsellors, Dan O'Mahony, John Wills and Shane Morrow, to share their point of view about counselling, mental health and male stigma around it.


They shared their personal experience as counsellors to help us to understand the stereotypes; and they also gave a great advice for those who find it difficult to open up, and to seek help.



1- Psychotherapy is a female dominated field. Do you agree with this statement? Why?


Dan O'Mahony: During my training, we had a class of 18 students in total. There were 3 males and 15 females. I think this is accurate, in my experience many choose to study counselling & psychotherapy from their own personal journey of therapy. In that respect there is the age-old societal view that’s females are more willing and emotionally open or transparent than males. 


John WillsWhile the truth of this statement will likely change I’d have to agree with it currently. There appears to be more females in psychotherapy practice around my catchment area then males. Perhaps it comes from a historical trend that females tend towards entering such caring professions on average more than men.


Shane Morrow: I agree with this statement as it has been the case  in my twelve years’ experience working in organisational counselling on many occasions I would have been the only male on the regional team. I was the only male counsellor in the Newry and the Mounnes  administrative region of the schools counselling project for five years.



2-      Is it true that men find it harder to open up to talk about their feelings and look for professional help or is this just an old stereotype? If so, is there a way to change this?


Dan O'Mahony: I think this has been true particularly in Irish society. Males can be more hesitant in attending therapy than females. Male millennials & adolescents in my experience are more willing to engage in therapy. Mental health & emotional wellbeing are less of a taboo in today’s world. In Ireland even the word “mental” health was something viewed to be linked to those who may have had a clinical diagnosis or the need for psychiatric services and interventions. In reality everybody suffers from mental health issues, different variations, at different times and on many different levels. The older males (40+) that I have worked with have the common mindset that to be vulnerable is to be weak, while females also experience this, males tend to try and cope alone. Continuing to destigmatize mental health issues and therapy has made changes and I feel will continue to do so. It is not such a shameful secret now to attend therapy.


John Wills: I think there are some aspects of that which are still in effect today however we have come a long way. When given the safety of the therapy room men do open up and I have sat with many a man unpacking a lifetime of pain. Interestingly these tended to be the older ones who had been to therapy in the past but who struggled in the beginning.


Shane Morrow: Again going on my experience I would agree with this statement.  However in the last three years or so this seems to have been changing a little. Culturally this is not a stereotype I do believe that this is a problem.  Men are not really taught to look after themselves and most emotions in male culture are seen as weakness.  This remained the case in my time working as a school counsellor.



3-      Do you believe that gender can have an influence when a client is looking for counselling?


Dan O'Mahony: Yes, especially for those who have never engaged in therapy. Both males and females do seek a therapist of the same sex. This isn’t always the case. However, as co-ordinator of a counselling service I do see these requests.


John Wills: In a small number of cases yes as it depends on the reason they are seeking counselling. There could be strong reasons why a client may prefer speaking with either a male or female.  I have noticed that often an early experience with a therapist can set up a preference when a client seeks therapy. A client needs to feel the therapist will be able to support them in therapy throughout their journey. I believe that often there can be an assumption that a man may find it easier to speak to a man as they will be better able to relate. In my case most of my clients are female.


Shane Morrow: A lot of this depends on context in which the therapy is taking place in my experience. It probably matters less than some think as I have had female clients’ discussing sexual assault, abortion and domestic abuse which I  never thought that would be the case. This may be linked to waiting lists of course in the organisational context.  I do suspect that it much more likely that gender might be an issue in private practice. As I work with so many adolescents I think it is less of an issue anyway. In a lot of case the teenager sees your age before gender. However in some sensitive cases teenagers will request a female counsellor. So yes it can have an influence.



4-      Is there any subject that a male therapist wouldn’t be able to handle, or would it be better to be dealt by a female professional and vice-versa?


Dan O'Mahony: This I think is a case by case basis. I, as a male therapist have worked with female clients, struggling with fertility issues, rape, sexual abuse. Some females presenting with these issues can seek or request a female therapist. This will all depend on the client and the therapist.


John Wills: Yes I think there can be topics handled better by female professionals than males and vice-versa. I recently had a female client come to me with panic and anxiety symptoms who had been assaulted by a male. She did not want to discuss the attack with me but wished to work on the anxiety it left her with. After a number of sessions where she made significant gains, she asked me if I could help her access a female therapist as she now felt ready to discuss it but needed a female to do so.


Shane Morrow: This is very subjective in relation to the client. I have had one male client whom during the therapy requested female counsellor. It is not a question whether they are able to work with it,  more a question is the client willing to work with the counsellor.



5-      From your years of experience, did you notice, with the increase of male suicides, was there an increase of male clients?


Dan O'Mahony: In my experience, males attending therapy were bereaved by suicide.


John Wills: Not in my experience unfortunately. While stigma is reducing I have not witnessed any significant increase in men coming to me. I say this as someone seeing clients via GP and Psychiatrist referral. The majority of male clients that I see are children and therefore come to me from concerned parents.


Shane Morrow:  I am currently getting more male clients, but I can’t link this to a rise in the suicide rate.  Donegal has had one of the heist suicide rates as a percentage of the population for nearly twenty and Belfast has a terrible suicide problem, particularly in the north and west.  I would say that men tend to come more as a last resort and in a state of crisis than women in my experience



6-      What advice would you give to a man who doesn’t want to talk about their feeling and who finds it hard to open up?


Dan O'Mahony:  What is unfamiliar can be daunting, scary and uncomfortable. The mind is like an elastic band, you can only stretch it so far before it snaps. In my experience, male clients may present with a lack of self-knowledge, not really knowing how to identify feelings and emotions. Therapy is a non-judgemental space. Maybe another male might work, or possibly a female might work better and make it easier to open up. To get to know yourself a little better. To identify your feelings, process them and gain some coping skills to enable you to better manage on your own. To be vulnerable is courageous not weak.


John Wills: As there can be a broad range of reasons why men may not wish to talk about their feelings I would start by trying to understand why they are reluctant to discuss them. Then I would suggest that they consider other means of self-expression which can help them articulate these feelings such as journaling, using art or engaging with a group such as Men’s Sheds. These groups help men explore their lives alongside other men with similar interests.


Shane Morrow: Is keeping bottled up making your life any better?


I hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to share it with your male friends, husbands, boyfriends, fathers who still believe that talking about their feelings is a way to show weakness. A strong man is one who has a healthy mind. Happy International Men's Day. 
















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Very well presented but not an overwhelming amount of information. Jean Notaro is an excellent lecturer, great facilitation of the group.
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