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Why Men Don’t Sign Up for Dialectical Behavior Therapy

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For the majority of my life, it seems, I’ve been one of the only men in my life experiences. I was raised by a single mother, I had plenty of female friends in school, and even my career in retail has had me in positions where everyone else on my management team were women, overseeing a staff of other women. Why, then, should I have been surprised when I started taking dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) classes that were comprised of and led by only women?

Sure, occasionally a couple of guys would show up for the introductory class, but they’d soon drop out for whatever reasons. By the end of the four to six-month sessions, I was usually the only male left. And that’s fine; I typically get along with strangers in classroom-type settings. Besides, I wasn’t there to make friends; I was there for me.

I should note that because of my upbringing and career experiences, I’d like to consider myself as already having a unique perspective on gender relations (though I’m by far no expert). Being the lone male in a trusted inner circle of females is a special honor… you’re part of “the club,” You’re in on the gossip, the struggles and the conversations about men they can’t have with them at times. They know I won’t judge, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount because of that level of inclusion.

DBT, on the surface, should be no different. I visit my mental health clinic on average at least a couple of times a month, and there are always men and women waiting for whatever their personal reasons are. Surely, there has to be more than just myself who can learn from the different coping mechanisms and methods DBT offers, right?

I’m no doctor, but after having taken DBT a couple of times now, I believe I have an understanding of why more men don’t sign up or stick around. In my opinion, it has a lot to do with stigmas: both the ones surrounding men and mental health in general, and the traditional gender roles and stereotypes between the sexes as well. Men are supposed to be strong and just “plow through” their emotions; women are more likely to seek and follow up on health concerns of all kinds, including mental health.

Studies have shown that one of every four people has some kind of mental illness or behavioral affliction; this statistic doesn’t jump around or pick out one gender first over the other. It doesn’t discriminate. There aren’t separate water fountains or diners or laws that forbid men from struggling with their emotions, and recognizing it’s OK to do so is the very first step in learning how to manage them.

It means putting aside your ego and turning a blind eye to the idea you don’t need help. It can be a big mountain to climb for some, but you have to realize you’re doing what’s best for you first in order to be a better husband, father, son, co-worker and so on. With the help of a good therapist or counselor, you should already be prepared for what to expect when you start DBT. And when you walk into the class, remember that everyone else is there for similar purposes. There is no judgment. Things don’t have to get personal. You’re there to discuss topics like mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. It shouldn’t matter if you’re one man in a room of ten, 100 or 1000 women. The skills taught are applicable to everyone regardless of gender.

But like I said, accepting it is the first step up a mountain. Men and women aren’t very different when it comes to needing help in areas like interpersonal relationships. And every situation I’ve seen discussed in DBT can be flipped around to apply to either gender. From one guy to another, #ItsOKMan. You aren’t and shouldn’t be the only one.

By the way… I just started a new session last week as a refresher course. There are two other guys in the group this time around, and I hope they stick it out.

What do you want to say to support men who might be living with a mental illness? Join our #ItsOKMan campaign here.

Photo by explorenation # on Unsplash

Originally published: November 8, 2018
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