Therapy: Men want quick results, women happy to talk

  • 20/01/2017
A man getting therapy (Getty)
Men and women often expect different things when they get therapy (Getty)

Fewer men might commit suicide if therapists focused on getting results, rather than urging patients to talk about their feelings, according to a new study.

Researchers in the UK spoke to clinical psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists about the differences between their male and female patients, and their findings were unanimous - men want a "quick fix", while women want to talk.

"Despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate that women do, men don't seek psychological help as much," says John Barry, University College London, who co-authored the study.

"This might be because the types of treatment on offer are less appealing to men because many psychological interventions are more about talking than about fixing problems."

In New Zealand the gap between men and women isn't quite so dramatic - for every Kiwi woman that committed suicide in the year to June 2016, 2.4 men took their own lives.

The gap has narrowed in the last two decades - in 1996 the ratio was about four-to-one. 

Auckland-based psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald says while it's true in general that men and women have "slightly different" needs, care needs to be taken to avoid stereotyping patients.

"Any therapy ideally is going to be tailored to the individual - whether that's male or female, or whether that's tailored to the particular difficulty they're having."

He says one of the most important fixes many men would benefit from is, ironically, learning how to talk about their feelings.

Therapists reluctant to admit differences

The study, conducted by the University of Portsmouth and the British Psychological Society, noted most of the therapists they spoke to were reluctant to talk about the differences between men and women.

"This could be due to the culture in academia, where discussions of gender similarities are more acceptable than discussions of gender differences.

"Psychology might be more effective in treating men if gender differences were taken into account more," says Dr Barry.

In a separate study which Dr Barry also worked on, researchers spoke to nearly 350 members of the public about what kind of therapy they'd like to have.

The results confirmed what the professionals told them - men want informal groups focused on getting and giving advice, while women wanted to focus on "feelings and past events".

"It is likely that men benefit as much as women from talking about their feelings, but if talking about feelings appears to be the goal of therapy, then some men may be put off," says Dr Barry.

"Our study found that men were more likely than women to say that there is a lack of male-friendly therapies available."

Thanks to the improving suicide stats for men, New Zealand's overall suicide rate dropped from 14.7 per 100,000 population in 1996 to 12.2 in 2007/8, where it's stayed.

"People like John Kirwan, people like Mike King have done a great job at normalising and encouraging people to engage in treatment, and understanding that mental health and depression difficulties are something half of us are going to experience in our lifetime - so there's no need to be ashamed."

Of the participants in the second study who'd found their own ways to cope, women were more likely to resort to binge eating, while men took solace in sex and/or pornography.