Engaging Men Beyond a Single Therapy Session
While depressed men may try out therapy once, what can get them to come back?
Posted Nov 27, 2018
Mental health awareness has recently surged in the NBA. Players such as Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan publicly discussed their struggles with, respectively, anxiety and depression, and the league created a Mental Health and Wellness department. Clearly, this is good news for reducing mental health stigma among men. That said, it reminds me of a continuing issue in the intersection of mental health and men—namely, engagement.
About a year ago, a study out of Australia did a deep dive into men’s experiences with therapy and how to better engage men with depression in not only trying out therapy but actually continuing with it beyond a single session. (Abstract) (Article based on findings.)
Some of the results of that study, along with recommendations from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), made a few points clear:
- Men want structure in therapy and get frustrated when therapy becomes a “talkfest” with no point. Structure should happen not only during the sessions but prior to them. Men want to understand the process and the point of the therapeutic intervention.
- Men expressed hope for an active component of the therapy, beyond talk. They want to attain skills and use them in the real world. Also encouraged was the use of specific action plans to help men make changes between sessions.
- Men want some control of the process, along with a strengths-based orientation that examines not only what is wrong but positive and neutral topics.
- All of these points come with the caveat that every man is unique and that gender stereotypes should not override individual preferences.
After considering these recommendations, I see brief therapy as potentially a great fit for men with depression, in that many brief interventions are structured, strengths-based and action-oriented. There are differences, of course, among the various models. For example, Behavioral Activation is focused on action planning and scheduling activities (and doing them in spite of one’s mood at the time), while Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is more focused on behavioral descriptions of a preferred future that are then applied creatively by clients. There is room for nuance.
Brief therapy, regardless of the model, tends to focus on actionable outcomes, while at the same time harnessing the strengths and creativity of the client. This mix is a good match for the findings about engaging men.
If you’re a man dealing with depression and thinking about trying therapy, or if you care about a man who is ambivalent or reluctant to go to therapy and you want to encourage him, one of the brief therapy models would be a good place to start.
Seidler, Zac E., Rice, Simon M., Oliffe, John L., Fogarty, Andrea S., Dhillon, Haryana M. (2017) Men In and Out of Treatment for Depression: Strategies for Improved Engagement. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ap.12331
SAMHSA TIP 56: Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-56-Addressing-the-Specific-Behavioral-Health-Needs-of-Men/SMA14-4736