Men Supporting Men: An Introduction to a Men’s Therapy Group

A group of men sit outside while talking and eating.This is the first of a two-part article series about a men’s therapy group I conduct on a weekly basis. This men’s group was established a little over a year ago, and consists of eight members. The group is an excellent example of men’s issues in contemporary America—their roles as men in a complicated world, their relationships, and their emotional and psychological struggles. As a psychotherapist who has worked with men in various settings for over 30 years, I am continuously impressed and deeply touched by these men—their honesty in dealing with difficult life problems, their ability to be vulnerable and to openly share deep emotional struggles, their compassion and empathy with each other, their courage to embrace their individuality, and to make difficult changes when necessary.

In this blog entry I’ll talk about the importance of this type of group and the major issues and concerns addressed in the group. I believe these observations will highlight some of the most pressing concerns that men face today, in a world where there is no clear definition of a man’s role—actually, there are often conflicting expectations and unreasonable demands.

Where do men turn today to get help and support for their struggles with feelings, relationships, stress, and other problems? Some men are fortunate in having strong, supportive relationships with a spouse or life partner, loving family members they can talk to, and sometimes a church group or other support system. However, studies suggest that a majority of men struggle in silence. They may be socially isolated, their marital and other relationship problems may result in an inability to talk things over, and a combination of fear and shame inhibit them from reaching out to others. Most men are averse to therapy or professional counseling, where they are asked to talk about their feelings and communicate in a manner that is often foreign to them. Our job, as men, is to protect and provide for others, we’re the hunters and warriors. We are not designed biologically or neurologically to sit in an office and talk about our vulnerabilities.

Fortunately, men are finding new ways to join together to talk and share their struggles with other men. There is a new psychology of men today, informed by recent findings from cultural anthropology, modern brain science, social psychology, and other fields. Men are finding therapists who specialize in working with men’s issues, and more men’s therapy groups are available today than ever before.

This men’s therapy group meets weekly for two hours. The men range in age from their early 20s to early 60s with the average age at about 44. All but two are married, one is in a long term relationship. All work full-time jobs, some professional, some blue collar. Why did they decide to join a men’s group? All of the men had concerns about relationships. Some of them struggle with life stress, anger, anxiety, and depression. Many of them were dealing with self-doubt and shame, not feeling good enough about themselves as men.

This is a process oriented psychotherapy group. That means that we focus on the here and now, what actually happens in the group between the members. We talk about feelings that come up in the group, their emotional responses to each other, and the kind of relationships that develop between them. We start each group session with a check-in. Each group member talks for two minutes about their week—any problem areas or concerns that come up during the week—and they claim time if they want to spend more time talking about a specific issue or problem area. Usually, three or four of the men claim time. After everyone checks in, we focus on the men who claim time.

As they talk about their current concerns—relationship problems, work issues, etc.—the other men and I intervene with various comments. The comments range from suggestions to confrontations. Suggestions by other group members are common (men are the decision makers and fixers, they love to come up with solutions). The men have learned to make supportive and empathetic statements; after a year together, they easily relate to each other. They often talk about how reassuring it is that other men have the same kind of problems and feelings. At times, the men will challenge each other with confrontational statements. For example, when John is “in his head,” intellectualizing and rationalizing, avoiding his fears and shame regarding his relationship with his wife, group members will confront him by telling him to “get out of your head,” and get real with his feelings. Often they tell each other how they relate or identify with specific feelings, and situations.

The membership in this group has been remarkably stable. Five of the men have been in the group since it was established a little over a year ago. The other three joined the group about seven months ago. They have developed very close, supportive, even loving relationships. I was amazed the first time I heard one of the men say to the others “I love you guys.” These days, that type of statement is almost commonplace. They talk about how they look forward to the group each week. They frequently contact each other between sessions to talk about an emerging problem, or just to check-in with one another. I encourage them to bring these conversations back to the group, and this happens frequently without my prompting. The men even get together for dinner, and then talk about their conversations during the next group session.

It’s a joy to work with these men. They are often good-natured, there’s plenty of joking around before and during each group session; yet they can get very serious, talking about their deepest fears and self-doubts. They are not afraid to be intimate, hugging each other after every group, and they often congregate in the parking lot after sessions to continue some discussions. I’ve seen progress at different levels for each of the men; some report improved relationships, many talk about feeling better about themselves and their lives.

There are times I wish I was a member, and not the therapist.

© Copyright 2011 by Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD, therapist in Boca Raton, Florida. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    January 4th, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    This is a wonderful topic. I think you’re completely right about the changing roles for men. Personally, as a therapist, a wife and friend, I think men are often under appreciated and the difficulties they contend with and the way they hold their responsibilities are also under appreciated.

    I’m looking forward to reading this series!

  • KS

    KS

    January 4th, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    it’s so nice to have others who will listen to what you have to say and not judge you by that. to know that there are a few people who are there for you, that they have got your back. this feeling itself can make these people better equipped to face their everyday challenges and problems.

  • MMXI Warrior

    MMXI Warrior

    January 4th, 2011 at 11:58 PM

    it’s nice to see that men’s views are being given the spotlight. because shally we see that women’s concerns and views are highlighted and men’s are often relegated to the background. good job :)

  • Steve

    Steve

    January 5th, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    I would love to find a group like this in my area. Sometimes even when you have a supportive partner at home it is hard to let down those defenses because you are supposed to be the man in the relationship and not let things bother you and take care of things when they go wrong. Having an outlet like this one that you describe would I think help so many of us who feel like there are times where we just have to keep things on the inside.

  • Richard Loebl, LCSW

    Richard Loebl, LCSW

    January 13th, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    Hi Catherine,
    Thank you for your comments. It’s good to know that other therapists, especially female therapists, are sensitive to the struggles men have today.
    Richard

  • Richard Loebl, LCSW

    Richard Loebl, LCSW

    January 13th, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Hi KS,
    Thank you for your comments. I absolutely agree that support by others is a foundation for dealing effectively with life.
    Richard

  • Richard Loebl, LCSW

    Richard Loebl, LCSW

    January 31st, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    Hi MMXI Warrior,
    Thanks for your comment. Maybe this will be the start of a new “Men’s Movement”. Richard

  • Richard Loebl, LCSW

    Richard Loebl, LCSW

    January 31st, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    Hi Steve,
    Thank you for responding to my blog. Perhaps you can talk to some of the male therapists in your area – you may find some in the Good Therapy web site. If they don’t already run a men’s group, maybe someone will be interested in starting one. Good luck with that. Richard

  • Jenny Ledd

    Jenny Ledd

    May 28th, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.

  • Portugal

    Portugal

    April 4th, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Can I just give a big “amen!” and leave it at that? Oh probably not, because I have a big mouth and have to say something … but I really LOVE what you’ve written.

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