At least once a week someone asks me how to find a therapist who is friendly to men. The question usually goes something like this:
“I live in [North American city, often coastal]. Every therapist here seems to be woke AF. I don’t want to work with someone who thinks masculinity is a disease. Can you recommend someone?”
Finding a therapist is not difficult. In most places you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one. That’s because “therapist” is not a protected title in most jurisdictions, so literally anyone can call themself a therapist.
And believe me, some therapists — credentialed or otherwise — could stand to be slapped with a dead cat.
The challenge is finding a therapist who is well trained and who doesn’t view the male half of humanity as broken, abusive, or oppressive.
Thanks to ideological pushes within the profession, increasing numbers of therapists are being trained to view their clients as broken little birds who are terrorized by cultural forces beyond their control.
These therapists-in-name-only are learning to place the locus of control outside their clients (who are pathetic and helpless) rather than inside (which would make them resourceful and resilient, and we can’t have that).
High on their list of external sources of oppression is masculinity.
In 2019, the American Psychological Association codified an industry-wide animus toward “traditional masculinity” in their Guidelines for Working with Boys and Men.
As I have discussed at some length, those guidelines were little more than a playbook for advancing feminist ideology in the therapy room.
This evolving brand of treatment views masculine traits as “on the whole, harmful” rather than as a mixed bag of strengths and vulnerabilities.
The adherents of this ideology therefore hope to replace “traditional” masculinity with a more domesticated demeanor, one client at a time.
Their version of masculinity might function well in the effete halls of private universities, but it is utterly anemic in a world where men are expected to do more than grovel and emote.
Unfortunately, any man who is facing the daunting task of finding the right therapist must now do the additional work of weeding out the political activists.
Don’t be discouraged, though. There are still plenty of excellent therapists. The good ones will happily answer questions before you meet with them.
As for what to look for, this 2016 article by Jonathan Shedler (a former professor of mine) is an excellent primer on how to recognize good therapy within the first couple of sessions.
While I’m bragging on former instructors, this book by Michael Karson is a blunt and beautifully written treatise on the basic competencies any therapist should possess. It is not a short list, and the demands of the job are not simple.
But back to the topic. Unfortunately, it seems my profession has reached a point at which it is not enough to look for basic competency. Finding a good therapist now means screening out pea-brained ideologues, as well.
One or two well-placed questions should help. Here’s a rather direct one:
What do you think of the APA’s guidelines for working with boys and men?
A reasonable response would acknowledge that there are some useful points in the guidelines. For example, the authors outlined some positive aspects of fatherhood, and they recognized that emotion-focused therapy can be unhelpful to some men.
At the same time, the guidelines are ideological in nature and therefore suspect by default. I wouldn’t trust any therapist who didn’t acknowledge that.
Here’s another question:
What social issues do you believe it is important to discuss with your clients?
There is only one acceptable answer to this question: “I do not push any agenda. My clients have my undivided attention.”
Anything less than some version of that answer is absolutely unacceptable.
Dr. John Barry, a psychologist and colleague in the UK, suggests this question:
Do you believe men’s mental health problems are caused either by traditional masculinity or by the effect of patriarchy?
In a recent survey of 107 therapists, Dr. Barry and three of his colleagues found that therapists who consider their style of therapy friendly toward men do not tend to believe “patriarchy” holds women back. Nor do they believe masculinity is merely a social construct.
They are also less likely than other therapists to believe their own clinical training was friendly toward men.
John didn’t suggest it, but I think each of those beliefs can be framed as a question:
Do you believe patriarchy holds women back?
Do you believe masculinity is a purely social construct?
Can you tell me about your clinical training in regard to working with men?
That’s six questions. I wouldn’t ask more than one or two. Strive for conversation, not inquisition.
One last point. It’s a mistake to assume female therapists are necessarily feminist ideologues. I have heard that suspicion from many men. Unfortunately, their suspicion is often born of experience with unskilled therapists.
Skilled therapists — psychologists in particular — have no difficulty keeping their political opinions out of the therapy room. Why? Because they know how to do their job, and they are proud of it.
Activists, on the other hand, are more invested in their belief systems than their clinical skills. I know whereof I speak, having had a couple of truly awful instructors long ago.
The good news is that ideologues are nothing if not simple-minded, and that makes them easy to detect.
In my experience, it is easy to provoke activists into revealing their agendas even without the use of dead cats, though I keep one on hand just in case.
I’m going to open this post to comments because this piece is very much a work in progress. I want to hear your stories and suggestions. Thanks in advance.