Young Men's Experiences Of And Attitudes Of Counseling
There are numerous studies that have been conducted of men's experiences and attitudes of counseling. A majority of these have focused on the relationship between gender roles and attitudes. Many of the studies that have been conducted suggest that men are more likely to have a negative perception of counseling and are less likely to report positive experiences of counseling in part because they are more likely to rely on other methods of intervention in order to resolve problems. There is a large body of research supporting the notion that men tend to 'self-medicate' or resolve rather than seek out professional assistance for psychological problems. These ideas and the research supporting them are explored in greater detail below.
Lucas (1997) suggests that men and women differ with regard to identity development and psychological development, and these differences may impact counseling approaches (p. 123). Further he concludes that men are more likely to rely on self-reliance methods for dealing with psychological issues than women, and that this difference rests largely on male's perceptions of what is considered socially normal and acceptable. A large majority of the differences that exist with regard to identity development and psychological development may be attributed to social and environmental factors rather than biological ones based on the information presented in this study and others that examine the role of gender and behavior.
Blazina & Watkins (1996) find that men are generally more hesitant to seek out counseling services and that successful therapeutic intervention is often based on the ability of the therapist to build a relationship with males that is symmetrical in nature, meaning a balance of power is established (p. 461). Men are more likely to see counseling as a situation where their power is reduced and thus less likely to be comfortable in a clinical setting (Blazina & Watkins, 1996). This is why it is critical for counselors to re-establish a balance of power if men are to perceive the counseling relationship as helpful and effective. The researchers also point out that men are more reluctant to seek out counseling for problems initially and more likely to end treatment early than women, due in part to the perceived rejection they might receive from other men for expressing emotions or insecurities (Blazina & Watkins, 1996:461).
Other studies suggest that men are more motivated to conceal their feelings and emotions and those men typically use other methods to deal with emotions including drinking as opposed to counseling, as many men are raised with the belief that it is not acceptable to demonstrate emotion (Blazina & Watkins, 1996:461). This falls in line with 'gender norms' that associate traits such as self-reliance and sufficiency as male oriented rather than female oriented traits.
Cherry, Cournoyer, Defranc, Mahalik & Napolitano (1998) suggest that men are under more gender role strain and thus are less likely to seek out counseling based on male socialization and cultural norms which have resulted in male gender role conflict with regard to counseling. Other studies suggest that both men and women are ingrained to adopt behaviors and attitudes that are congruent with the process of socialization and gender role standards and expectations (Meth, 1990; Pleck, 1995; Cherry et. al, 1998) which tend to dictate that men are more likely to 'tough things out' rather than seek out counseling when necessary (Cherry, et. al: 247).
Bergman (1995) suggests that an early age men are taught to disconnect rather than connect from relationships and to be more self sufficient and reliant when it comes to solving problems and overcoming obstacles. In the process they learn to hide their emotions, making counseling more difficult. For counseling to be perceived as effective men will have to engage in a therapeutic experience that establishes an adequate level of comfort and support (Bergman, 1995).
When men do participate in counseling studies suggest that they are less likely to view the outcome as helpful or successful than women (Pleck, 1995; Cherry et. al, 1998). This may be due in part to the gender role strain paradigm described by Cherry et. al, 1998, which suggest that boys from a young age are "required to block their feelings and restrict the expression of their vulnerable and caring emotions" (p. 247). This may prevent men from feeling comfortable in a setting that requires them to release their emotions and speak openly and honestly.
Brooks-Harris, Heesacker & Millan (1996) suggest that more studies need be conducted that question the traditional norms for the male role in order to adequately examine the attitudes and effects of counseling for men (563). They further suggest that men's attitudes regarding counseling and emotional health might best be altered by an approach that includes psycho educational interventions (Brooks-Harris, et. al 1996). They argue that it is males avoidance of femininity that is at the core of male role identity and subsequent beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, and suggest that these attitudes are generally deeply ingrained and as such more difficult to change (p.563).
Epting, Vogel & Wester (2003) suggest that the most effective counseling interventions are those that directly address gender issues rather than avoid them. There is a large body of evidence that suggests that males attitudes and perceptions of counseling are not confined to the gender, but more the result of expectations and stereotypical assumptions from other people and even counselors that men should act or behave in a particular way, which may impact their outcome for successful intervention and healing (p. 131).
Men are more likely to downplay psychopathological symptoms when in counseling and thus more difficult to diagnose, which may lead to the increased prevalence of dissatisfaction with service and failure to continue counseling once it is started (Epting et. al, 2003:131). A willingness to heal has been identified as an essential component of any successful counseling program, and men are more often less 'willing' participants to change and thus are often perceived as less treatable or less inclined to be successfully treated (Epting, et. al, 2003).
Sharpe & Heppner (1991) suggest that it is critical that psychological well being be established in men, but also acknowledge that it is more difficulty to achieve this state as men are more likely to adopt traditional gender roles that require that they are less open and communicative during counseling sessions.
The role of gender and attitudes has been examined by many researchers (Sharpe & Heppner, 1991; Epting, Vogel & Wester, 2003; Brooks-Harris et. al, 1996). Generally research suggests that men are less likely to seek out counseling and less likely to perceive counseling as effective primarily based on the assumption that counseling is a tool more often utilized and effective for women. One might conclude that counseling can almost be described as 'feminine' in nature whereas self sufficiency are qualities more often associated with men (Brooks-Harris et. al, 1996).
The purpose of this study is an examination of the attitudes and experiences of young men in counseling. The information obtained from the literature review suggests that men are less likely to seek out counseling as a form of therapy than women. This discrepancy may be due in part to perceived role norms for men and women. A majority of the studies that have been conducted with regard to men's attitudes of counseling have focused on the role gender valuation and norms play in attitude and perception. This pilot study will take a slightly different approach in an attempt to develop a concrete scientific foundation for identifying and explaining men's attitudes toward counseling.
Thus, in order to adequately assess the information obtained from the literature review it will be essential to conduct a short pilot study.
A short pilot study could be implemented of young men who have completed a counseling program within a 6-month to 2-year time frame. Subjects examined could be men from 14-24 years of age that have participated in a counseling program for a number of disorders. Among the questions that would be asked of participants including the following:
1) Do you believe that counseling is effective?
2) Is counseling a positive or negative approach to managing problems?
3) Has counseling impacted your life in a positive way?
4) Is counseling an acceptable method for recovery/problem management?
5) If given the choice would you pursue counseling in the future to help manage problems/issues?
6) Do you perceive counseling in a positive manner?
7) Do you feel that it is acceptable for men to seek out counseling?
8) Is counseling more effective for men or women?
9) Is it socially acceptable to seek out the services of a counselor?
10) Would you recommend counseling as an alternative for a male friend?
11) Would you recommend counseling as an alternative for a female friend?
12) Would you continue to seek out counseling?
13) Did you continue counseling for the entire duration of your program?
14) Would you recommend counseling to your friends?