Recently, a wife of a man in one of my men’s group said, “Dr Siegel did you sprinkle pixie dust on my husband? He’s changed!” For most of my 25 years as a psychologist I have worked with men in group therapy because it is such a powerful therapeutic approach for men. Why is this? Below are a few of my observations over the years.
1) Men yearn to connect with other men about fundamental life issues. At a deep level, men know that they need to share and learn from each other’s experiences. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for this.
2) Frequently, men come to therapy because the woman in their life has complained that they don’t express their feelings and needs enough or that they simply don’t have any needs or feelings. Well, I haven’t met a man yet that doesn’t have needs and feelings. Actually, they have lots! They may have become numb to them or not know how or when to best express them, but they definitely have them. Often a little help goes a long way in learning how to identify and express them in a safe and healthy way.
3) This may seem counterintuitive, but in my experience men have an easier time learning to express their more vulnerable feelings and needs in the company of men. Prohibitions about showing weakness seem to be harder to let go of when there are women in the room.
4) Men’s therapy groups offer the opportunity to practice identifying and expressing needs and feelings in a healthy way. Its easier to see our own issues in another person than it is to see it in our self. It is often a great relief when men learn that they aren’t alone with these issues. Feeling less isolated and less abnormal they are then empowered to express them at home.
5) Most of us don’t get and haven’t gotten relevant feedback about how we come off in the world. “Leading with vulnerability” has become a mantra in my men’s groups. In a relatively short amount of time men know fellow group members and are known -all the good bad and ugly- on a deeper level than they have ever experienced. They know each other’s strengths as well as the things they struggle with. The deeper we understand and trust each other the better able we are to give and receive relevant compassionate feedback that is actually helpful. Groups aren’t necessarily the best approach for everyone. A group may not be indicated for someone who is in extreme crisis or for more serious mental health challenges. However, I would say that most of the issues that challenge us today are relational in nature or at least have a significant relational component. Everything we do to help us relate in healthier more compassionate ways will have positive ripple effects in the rest of our lives.
Carl’s Imago Men’s Group meets on Tuesday nights.