Engaging Men in Psychological Services

Written by Bart Traynor, Artius Clinical Psychologist and Mental Health Services Manager

Men aren’t from Mars, but for many men psychological therapy can appear to be like a different world. In recent years in Australia, there has been much attention and efforts directed towards encouraging men to seek help. However, getting them in the door is only the first step, you also need to keep them there.

An interesting recent article published online in the Australian Psychologist by Seidler et al. (2017) has shed some insights into how we can all better work with men in the therapeutic setting. A brief snapshot of their findings and key takeaways for those of us who work in the therapeutic space with this population is provided below.

Seilder et al. conducted research utilising semi- structured interviews with 23 men aged 23-64 years who had sought professional psychological support for depression within the past 3 years. They were looking at what worked and what did not when engaging male clients in therapy. The aim was to provide additional insight and skills into how we can best support male clients when they turn up on our door for support.

Their research revealed three dominant themes were and the following recommendations were suggested:

1)  Orient to system

  • Don’t assume that male clients know how the ‘system’ works and what is expected.
  • Be upfront and clear about costs, duration of treatment, options, referral pathways and stress the collaborative process.
  • Not being upfront can lead to increased suspicion, increased negative perception of the benefits of therapy and likely disengagement.

2)  Establish trust and control

  • Clarify roles in treatment.
  • Listen carefully to the specific needs of the client.
  • Utilise the weekly agenda collaboratively.
  • Provide and share case conceptualisation and work clearly towards self-management.

(Depression is a very disempowering and having some power and control is very important to many male clients.)

3)  Action to empowerment

  • Set goals- Male clients want action, something tangible.
  • Set and review skills/ homework weekly.
  • Discuss self-management strategies and ensure you discuss what follows after treatment.

The above will be familiar to most of us who work in the therapeutic space, they are well known micro skills and procedures we should all be following and can be applied successfully to both sexes. What was highlighted in this article was that while clinicians often know these skills, they are not always being implemented, or not at the right time.

With male clients, you may not get another chance once they become disengaged (that is if they were ever fully engaged at all.)  All participants in this study reported unstructured talk therapy as a ‘waste of time’.  They wanted something tangible to do.

As a male clinician who has worked with many ‘resistant’ male clients, I believe the key takeaways from this article are to be upfront, clear, collaborative, purposeful and action-orientated in your work with male clients. There is still stigma around men seeking professional psychological help and defences may well be up. Be aware of this and honour the courage it takes for a male client to even just turn up. In relation to the skills you need, you know doubt have a comprehensive enough toolkit to do great work, just ensure you are using the right tools at the right time for the right job.

If you or someone you know could benefit some seeing a Psychologist please contact Artius today on 1300 986 886 or email health@artius.com.au.