Why Brief Therapy Is A Good Fit For Men

About a year ago, a study out of Australia did a bit of a deep dive into men’s experiences with therapy and how to better engage men in not only trying therapy out, but actually continuing with it beyond a single session. (abstract) (article based on findings)

Some of the results of that study, along with recommendations from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), make it clear to me that men would benefit from a brief therapy orientation. (quick guide to SAMHSA findings here)

I should note that the “brief” in brief therapy can mean different things. For me, it follows the rough definition of “not one session more than necessary,” as defined by Solution Focused Brief Therapy co-founder Steve de Shazer. From the resources mentioned above, a few things become clear as key points:

  1. Men want structure in therapy, and get frustrated when therapy becomes a “talkfest” with no point. Structure should happen not only during the sessions, but prior to them. Men want to understand the process and the point of the therapeutic intervention.

  2. Men expressed hope of an active component of the therapy, beyond talk. They want to attain skills and use them in the real world. Also encouraged was the use of specific action plans to help men make changes between sessions.

  3. Men want more control in the process, along with a strengths-based orientation that examines not only what is wrong but positive and neutral topics.

  4. All these points must be made with the asterisk that every man is an individual and that gender stereotypes should be avoided.

The reason I think that brief therapy is a great fit for men is that the main brief interventions are structured, strengths-based and action-oriented. There are differences, of course, among the various models. For example, Behavioral Activation is focused on action planning and scheduling activities (and doing them in spite of mood at the time), while Solution Focused Brief Therapy is more focused on behavioral descriptions of potential changes that can then be applied more creatively by clients. There is room for nuance.

One of the benefits of brief therapy is general is that it tends to focus on actionable outcomes, while at the same time harnessing the strengths and creativity of the client. This mix is a good match for the findings about engaging men.

Also, brief therapy makes the experience useful from the first session. There is no “well we just have to do this long intake, and ask you a bunch of questions that don’t really apply to you, and then we can figure out what you want to work on.” It seems obvious to me that a major reason many men (and women) don’t return after a single session is that they didn’t actually do anything in that single session except answer questions about their history.

If you’re a man thinking about trying therapy for yourself, or you have someone in mind that could benefit but is ambivalent about the whole idea, then I think that any of the brief therapy models would be a great place to start and give therapy a try.