You are a men’s therapist. What made you decide to specialize in treating men?
Counseling is a second career for me; my first being in law enforcement. While in school, I noticed that my professors, mentors and student cohorts all struggled to relate with me. I had opinions and experiences vastly different from theirs and a confidence that shook other therapists’ worldviews because I didn’t live in their world.
They appreciated deep philosophical thought and feeling hard. I appreciated practical tools and effort. They wanted to find insight, understanding and enlightenment. I just wanted to find something tangible that worked to make things better and then do more of it.
So, as I was sitting in class one evening—instead of listening to the lecture—I took inventory of my 30 or so classmates. “If I were looking for a therapist, which classmate would I go see?” The answer? None. Not a single one. Not because they weren’t great people or great therapists (they were and are), but rather because they didn’t understand me or what my needs were.
It then hit me: none of my friends would go see them either. I realized then that men need a place and a therapist that understands what it’s like to be a man. A place that doesn’t try and change who we inherently are, and a place where men are comfortable being themselves.
How is your approach to counseling and therapy different when dealing specifically with men?
The approach we use, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, is very different from the traditional models that most people think of when they think of therapy. Traditionally, most counseling approaches are problem-focused. I always use the analogy of the problem being an onion. Over time, as you come in, sit down and talk about the problem, you peel back the layers of that onion. The thought is by doing so, this leads to internal insight and understanding that then drives change.
And, it can do that. But it’s also a long process, and I truly believe that what we focus on is what we see. So, if we spend our time talking about problems, you’ll probably see the problems be more present in your life.
Instead, with Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, we take those problems and refocus them into goals and solutions. We focus on the future instead of the past and craft actionable steps to make those goals happen. We teach tangible and meaningful tools mixed with action and doing. This idea of intellectualizing problems, setting goals, learning new actionable skills and being coached toward solutions utilizes the strengths and skills we men have already been using (and honing) for most of our lives. It’s a language we understand, and it’s powerfully effective.
What are some of the primary struggles that specifically affect men?
Anger, depression and relationship issues are generally the most common themes that bring men in. In fact, anger/irritability and a loss of motivation are two primary ways in which men experience depression.
However, deeper, related and something we see all the time, is an incongruence between what we men feel in our hearts verses how we actually interact in the world. For example, we know how much love and respect we have for our spouse or our children. The struggle we have is communicating that love well enough so that our spouse or children know and feel our love the same way we feel it for them.
“I’m snapping at my kids at the drop of a hat, I don’t know why I can’t seem to be more patient.”
“I say rude things or yell at my spouse when I don’t even mean to do. It just happens.”
“I know I want to get back into the gym, it would be good for me. But I just can’t get myself there.”
When we interact in the world through anger, depression, irritability, impatience, inattention, lack of motivation, etc., oftentimes it’s not because it’s a direct reflection of our heart, but rather because there’s something getting in the way of us reflecting our heart accurately. Our work then is to simply remove those obstacles that get in the way by doing things differently and noticing what happens when we do.
What is your #1 piece of advice for struggling men?
Whether you’re hoping to do better at something specific, to be a better father or husband, or even hoping to simply feel better—I want you to WIN.
Based on the concept of neuroplasticity (fancy word meaning that we can re-train our brain to think differently), we want your behaviors and actions to align with your values and best hopes. We want you to give energy to things that add value to your life and to stop giving yourself away to things that don’t.
To make that happen, utilize the WIN philosophy. WIN stands for “What’s Important Now?” For practice, each time that you have a decision to make (and yes, that’s all the time), before making the decision and following through with action, first ask yourself “What’s important now?”
Do I say ‘no’ to my boss asking me to take on another responsibility? What’s important now?
Do I address my child right here in this moment when they are acting silly and I am feeling irritated? What’s important now?
Should I get up off the couch to do the dishes because my spouse asked me to? What’s important now?
Eat or drink another? What’s important now?
Hit snooze or stop the alarm? What’s important now?
Then, after identifying what’s important, ask, “What difference does it make?” Identifying the difference your decisions make in the moment will steer you towards the things that add value and are worth your time/energy/focus and away from the things that bring hardship and hurt.
Practice. Utilize WIN as often as possible, and make it happen in the moments that seem meaningless. There’s a good chance you’ll find that what you thought was meaningless, isn’t so. And, vice versa.
Why should men open up to the idea of therapy and what can you help them accomplish through therapy?
Let’s get this out of the way: therapy is not some foo-fooey place with flower patterned couches, potpourri and a wooden flute to play Kumbaya with. We don’t ask you to connect with your inner mother and we aren’t playing a pseudo-father role telling men how to live their lives.
Therapy instead is a place that utilizes heavily researched methods to help men effectively and efficiently reach their goals. Why spend years trying to reinvent the wheel when you can go to therapy and utilize someone else’s insight to make things better now?
What is fascinating is that I’ve never met a man that hasn’t wanted to do better, be better, or feel better in some way. Creating goals and progress is seemingly innate to human character and sometimes we just get stuck trying to make progress happen. Some get caught in a cycle of try-fail, try-fail, try-fail until they get to the point of not trying anymore. We help men get unstuck by subtly changing what they are trying or by changing the way they think about it.
Sometimes, men don’t have a safe outlet to get things off their chest. Friends are biased and can give some wild advice (remember: your friends don’t have to live with the consequences of their advice, but you do). Some men don’t want to burden their families and spouses with how they really feel. And, conversely, sometimes men might not have other people in their lives to share their lives with.
We give men the space to vent or process without worrying about the consequences from those around them. Ultimately, through action steps, tangible skills and mindset shifts, we help men be better husbands, better fathers and better men.
What rewards do you get from the type of work that you do?
Because Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is intended to be a goal-oriented, brief therapeutic model, I am immensely grateful to see progress happen nearly immediately with almost every man I see. Clients regularly return after 1, 2 or 3 sessions and enthusiastically report all the different ways in which their lives have changed for the better.
Our clients put in the work, earn the progress, reach their goals and get back to living their lives in ways that are more meaningful and valuable than before. For me, it is rewarding being a part of so many men in Northern Colorado that are working hard at changing their lives and, as a ripple effect, changing the lives of people around them. A better man raises a better family. A better family raises a better community. A better community raises a better nation.
I’m honored to just be a small part of that.