Bro, You Need Therapy: Or 4 ways to help that uber-masculine guy in your life get the help he needs…

Home / On Identity / Bro, You Need Therapy: Or 4 ways to help that uber-masculine guy in your life get the help he needs…

We all have at least one guy in our lives who could use therapy, whether he has run of the mill intimacy problems or struggles with more serious problems like addiction or depression. The unfortunate reality is that most guys don’t actually go to therapy. On the list of things that guys want to do, therapy might even rank below Pilates classes or Barefoot Contessa reruns on Oxygen.

So how do you convince your lovable, masculine guy friend or boyfriend to get help? First, you want to understand where his resistance is coming from.

Therapy inevitably means diving into the emotional realm, and the unfortunate reality is that for many men, getting emotional is associated with femininity and weakness, both of which are generally considered unacceptable. It’s an association that is often instilled in men from a very young age, when they are consistently told not to be sissies and not to cry. They learn that being a male means being strong, competitive, aggressive, independent, unemotional, and never weak, feminine, or vulnerable.

Fearing the loss of their masculinity, men often cut off from the parts of themselves that resemble weakness, including many of their emotions. They are left with very few emotional resources, with anger often being the only emotion that’s acceptable to express.

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Without access to their full range of emotions and their vulnerability, men are less able to cope when things go wrong. So they may find other coping strategies, such as avoidance through alcohol and drugs or diving into work. In fact, research shows that men are three times more likely to abuse substances than women.

Of course, these are stereotypes that do not hold true for all men. Many men are wonderfully in touch with their range of emotions and willing to acknowledge and address personal issues. But the reality is that the majority of men are less likely to get the help they need. The statistics are alarming. Not only do men struggle with substance use at elevated levels, men also account for 8 out of 10 suicides in the U.S. guy with head in hands

It can be a daunting task to try to convince someone to recognize they have a problem that needs to be dealt with. In masculine terms, yes, it takes balls. It’s almost always easier to pull away and do nothing, but remember that showing someone you care can have the power to drastically improve or even save someone’s life. With these things in mind, here are four ways to nudge that uber-masculine guy in the right direction.


Model The Behavior

woman meditatingModeling means that you engage in behaviors that you hope someone else will adopt, and has been proven to be one of the most effective modes of learning. This doesn’t mean that you have to seek therapy yourself (although it could help!), it just means you have to model some small form of self help. Maybe that means practicing meditation and mindfulness, taking up yoga, buying a self-help book, joining a support group, or just talking about something that you’re feeling. If your friend or boyfriend asks you about the new behavior, just say something casual like, “Oh it’s no big deal, just something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”

It’s a simple message, but it says a lot.

You’ve implicitly communicated to him that you’re not perfect, and that it’s okay to admit your flaws and to work on them. However he reacts on the surface, these subtle cues may unconsciously open the door for him to start thinking about addressing his own issues.

Speak in His Language

Guys often speak about their problems in code in order to avoid the humiliation of admitting their struggles. Maybe he starts talking about how he hates his boss or how he hasn’t had the energy to exercise. It can be helpful to meet him on his level and explore the issue on his terms. Get more details and ask questions, with the goal of trying to link what he’s experiencing to what he’s feeling. Sure, you will likely get into a conversation about tax reports and protein shakes, but there will be implicit communication there too.

You will be helping him to get in touch with certain patterns and characteristic ways of dealing with his feelings. Maybe he’s been tired at the gym for a month and he hasn’t actually asked himself why? Maybe it has happened before but this time is different. Your simple questions and willingness to explore it with him may give him some valuable insight that propels him towards change.

Enlist Someone 

guys chattingThink about all the people in your friend or boyfriend’s life, and ask yourself whether you are the best person to confront this issue with him at this moment. Maybe there is someone else who has dealt with something similar and sought help, or maybe you both know someone that is connected to the mental health field. Or maybe there is someone that you know he feels comfortable being vulnerable with about this kind of thing.

The key here is minimizing defensiveness. If it’s your boyfriend that you’re trying to help, a direct conversation may hit too close to home and can make him feel attacked and criticized. He may associate your attempt to help to other problems in the relationship, which could make him insecure and defensive. Enlisting someone familiar or experienced, but not quite so close to home, can be a very effective strategy for bypassing his defenses and getting him into therapy.

If you have someone in mind, reach out and start by asking them for their advice. You will likely be surprised by that person’s willingness to help.

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Indirect approaches don’t always work, and often an honest and direct conversation is necessary. The idea of an intervention usually conjures up images of extended family members, priests, and pointing to body parts on dolls, but an intervention can be a very simple, one on one conversation.

Choose a neutral location if possible. You want privacy without making him feel pinned into a corner. A park, beach, or coffee shop are good options, provided there is no one within earshot. Timing is also important. Don’t bring it up during an argument, or when he’s feeling particularly stressed. Find a time when he is relaxed and less likely to be defensive.

Now for the hard part.

As much as you can, don’t dance around the truth. Be honest and keep the message simple and direct. Tell him that you’ve noticed that something is up, that you’re concerned, and want to help him through this. But be ready for resistance!

Most guys will immediately minimize the problem or get defensive. They might even try to make you feel crazy for bringing it up or thinking that it’s a problem. Stick to the course. You can agree with the minimization by saying that it’s possibly something he can work through on his own, but trust that your instincts are right, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this position. Push through the resistance until he begins to open up. It might take several conversations, or a lot of time passing and worsening of the situation, but he will know where to turn when he’s ready.

Once he’s there, normalize. Tell him you know that it’s hard for guys to talk about and deal with things like this, but your opinion of him would not change no matter what he decides to do, and it can all remain between the two of you. Most importantly, communicate that you’ll be there with him throughout the process.

Finally, ensure follow through. Even after an effective intervention, defensiveness and minimization are likely to rear their heads again. It’s a good idea to have the contact information for a good therapist in hand when you first bring it up, and even help him make the appointment. You could even offer to accompany him to the first appointment.

guy on therapist couch

Pushing your friend or boyfriend to get help takes courage. Sure, it may be easier to create distance, ignore the problem, or just flat out leave, but remember, that’s probably what everyone else has already done, and that’s a large reason why things have gotten to this point. He might not appreciate it right away, the relationship might even suffer in the short term, but in the long run, he will look back and know that you were willing to take a risk because you cared about him so deeply.

At KIP, we offer affordable therapy for people of all identities dealing with a wide variety of issues. We are located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and we offer in person and/or Skype therapy. Email or check out our website.


Nick Fager, MHC-LP

KIP Fellow

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