Harry’s new series, The Me You Can’t See, which features not only the duke talking about his experiences but also a host of celebrities revealing their mental health struggles, will only help to push that point further.
I think, if there are men still holding out on therapy, one of them is probably the lovely, rather ordinary bloke rattling around in the kitchen downstairs while you read this article. If he’s anything like I was, or how some of my mates are now, he would still rather shout at his kids and his wife than talk to a therapist. Even though he’s sick of having to say sorry to everyone, he would rather consider himself a lost cause than face the terror of therapy. “This week will be different,” he says. Of course it will. The 1,300th time’s a charm.
I have a WhatsApp group full of late-forties friends that I would describe as stuck. Through lockdown this group has come to resemble script pages lost behind the back of Samuel Beckett’s radiator. Themes include “What is all this for?” and “I’m getting divorced, I don’t know why”.
These therapy holdouts are the blind leading the blind, anchoring and amplifying one another’s anger. They seem to make the most basic mistakes, confusing unyielding stubbornness with strength; obstinacy with conviction; verbosity with communication; judging and tolerating with listening. It’s tragic.
We know that if we don’t fix ourselves we are simply passing the losing baton to our children. Therapy takes courage. It’s far easier to look for some facile answer to happiness — a big family holiday or a new car — than it is to do something that could be of profound importance to generations to come and actually walk into that therapist’s office and simply sit down.
A man’s guide to therapy
Look on therapy as a gym workout for the mind
It’s not uncommon for men to spend vast amounts on sports gear yet somehow imagine that therapy would be a waste of money. Instead, I tell my clients to look on therapy as like a gym for the brain, as a workout for the most important “muscle” in your body. It makes sense to invest in looking inside ourselves to discover what could make us content in the long term. Perhaps the first time you went to the gym you could lift 30kg, and after a year you could lift 100kg. Imagine you could train your brain in the same way, by discovering who you are, what your strengths are, and where your needs lie, personally and professionally. Imagine how much more you could achieve if you understood your fears and insecurities.
Transforming how you feel about yourself will have a positive impact on your life and relationships. Some men I see in my practice tell me they worry that starting to have therapy will change something fundamental inside them and they will lose their edge and ability to make money or be creative. I tell them that it will in fact help them to develop those capacities.
Having therapy is not selfish or weak
Seeking help for mental health problems has become more accepted, but sadly remains stigmatised for many men. This is something that badly needs to change. In 2019 the suicide rate for men in England and Wales was the highest for two decades, according to the Office for National Statistics. Men accounted for about three quarters of suicides registered that year. And let’s not discount the millions quietly struggling. Many men drink, smoke or gamble to escape emotional difficulty. Anything to numb our pain.
We are practised at blocking it. Yet having therapy is not selfish or weak, it’s a sign of bravery and self-awareness that should be celebrated. Unfortunately, many men and boys are still being told that discussing feelings indicates some sort of weakness. Some would rather be dead than expose their vulnerability. Some men resist the idea of therapy because they know that something is wrong and are frightened of facing it. Then they would have to admit that they aren’t happy.
Therapy is not self-indulgence. It’s about trying to understand who you are and what you really need. The consumerist world drives us to want more possessions — clothes, cars, fancy gadgets — but it’s discovering what our true needs are that will make us content.
Not all men need therapy, but this year has tested us
Of course not all men need therapy. There are men who are emotionally developed, men who have an interest in growing emotionally by themselves, who become emotionally intuitive by observing and living life consciously or by reading self-help books. That said, talking to a professional can uncover any blind spots. Also, if we had any issues simmering, it’s likely that the stress of this year has brought them to the boil. Many men are brought up to be problem-solvers and solution-finders, and being rendered powerless in the pandemic has been a struggle for them. Understanding this may help. Men shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.
Therapy will make you a better partner and more attractive to potential ones
I also tell men that, yes, you can be emotionally intelligent as well as an alpha male. The two are not mutually exclusive. Men who are in touch with their emotions and able to talk about them are in a much better position to satisfy their partners emotionally. Their relationships will be more intimate and rewarding because they can connect with others through emotions, not merely through the power of money or the intellect.
Some men worry that therapy will bring out their “feminine side” (whatever that is). In fact, the more emotionally mature you are, the more attractive you are. A man who is emotionally illiterate or dysfunctional is frustrating and often unpleasant to be around. A lot of men who come to see me tell me it’s because their partners have said it’s that or they will end the relationship.
It will make you a better father
Men often put great emphasis on intellect and status — in themselves and their children. Yet the vital question I ask them to ask themselves is: “How can I grow emotionally?” A significant part of emotional maturity is the ability to communicate well. The ability to articulate what’s going on inside us helps us to not only understand ourselves, but to understand and empathise with others. Many men struggle to identify how they truly feel. Often, anger is the main emotion they feel comfortable expressing. In some situations, if you can’t acknowledge your anxiety or emotional difficulties, seeing others, such as your children, express vulnerabilities may lead to you becoming aggressive or intolerant.
In good therapy, you learn how to recognise your emotions and how to deal with them in a conscious and appropriate way. If you can deal with your own anxiety and anger — usually a cover for underlying hurt feelings or trauma — it makes you better able to recognise emotions in your partner and children and to deal with them compassionately. If we can understand why we feel what we feel, what we can do about it and how to express it, then we will not only be more emotionally mature around our children, we will also be able to help them to manage their difficult emotions.
Don’t wait for a midlife crisis before you seek help
Once you hit your forties it can feel as if it is too late to change or escape the life you’ve created, particularly if you have duties and dependants. You may feel you have even less of an incentive if everything looks great on the surface. Many men feel trapped and desperate, yet it’s never too late to seek help. I do believe that we are usually aware from our mid-twenties if things aren’t right with us. Too often we brush our feelings under the carpet until our unhappiness or dysfunction becomes acute. Many men’s children are in their teens by the time they seek help.
As a father you exert vast influence and being a good and loving role model is an important way to set children up with better mental health for themselves. So if your upbringing wasn’t all rose petals and moonlight, do consider finding a qualified therapist whom you like. Not just for you; see it as a positive step to becoming a better partner, parent and colleague.
It’s not all about blaming your parents
Good therapy is never about blaming others; it’s about developing understanding, compassion and a sense of self and responsibility, as well as understanding the consequences of our actions. It’s a maturing process that helps us to become the best version of ourselves. Therapy should help us to become more compassionate. If you are someone who feels vengeful about their past, or finds themselves lashing out, therapy could be a welcome turning point. Hurt isn’t a way to deal with hurt, understanding is.
Many men of a certain generation have had difficult relationships with their fathers. I believe that most parents try their best, but many had a limited awareness of emotional issues, certainly among fathers. Men of the older generation didn’t always understand how to bring up their children in a warm, consistent, unconditional way so their children felt secure, loved and innately good enough. Therapy can help them to move on from the hurt that they may carry from that. Part of that healing will come from trying to bring up your children in a more emotionally intelligent way. Part will be setting an example and asking, “How can I move on from the anger towards my parents to be a better son too?”
Therapy can help men who don’t feel as if they are good enough
Many men who resist the idea of therapy say that it’s because they hate talking about themselves. Yet when they buy that flashy holiday or new car they are still communicating about who they are, just in a non-verbal way. Usually, showing off with possessions is fear-based — it’s about feeling, “I’m not good enough, so I must have the house, the car. I must feel better than you, so I can feel good about myself.” If this is you, you probably don’t know why you don’t feel good enough deep down, and you haven’t dared to investigate.
I see men in my clinic all the time who at first don’t know how to talk about themselves or why they feel not good enough. They don’t know what their vulnerabilities are and they’re scared of discovering that they are not who they pretend to be. Good therapy can help to change that.
As told to Anna Maxted for The Times Saturday 22 May 2021