I (Laurie Swanson, LMP) sat down with Justin Pere, MA, LMHC several months ago and was impressed with his approach specializing in counseling for men and couples. Recently I asked him some questions about self-care for men and he responded with a lot of helpful info and resources (scroll down for a great book list)! Check out his web site for more about his practice on Lower Queen Anne.
Laurie: I have quite a few male clients. Do you find that men are becoming more open to taking care of themselves?
Justin: Yes, men are certainly beginning to find more ways to care for themselves, as evidenced by your male clients and the many that show up in my counseling practice. Services like therapeutic massage and psychotherapy don’t have nearly the stigma for men that they once did, thanks in part to public figures, popular culture, and men in our own lives becoming more visible and forthcoming about their own ways of looking after their physical and mental health. Finally we’re realizing that utilizing what’s offered within the healthcare field doesn’t mean that we are weak, unable to help ourselves, or that there is something wrong with us!
Laurie: Are there self-care strategies unique to men that you might recommend?
Justin: Well it’s hard to imagine how any of the following wouldn’t also apply to women, so it isn’t so much that these suggestions apply specifically to men but rather that men are much less likely than women to recognize the following as beneficial, and in some cases, essential to mental and physical health:
· Diet & Exercise: We’ve been told of this recommendation so often that we seem to not hear it anymore, yet doing regular cardio workouts and watching what we eat are the first things psychotherapists recommend when our clients struggle with mood problems like depression or anxiety. The impact of diet and exercise on mental health just cannot be exaggerated.
· Check-up: When people report symptoms of depression or anxiety (stress really is anxiety, by the way) it’s always wise to first get a full medical workup to rule out physiological causes of mood difficulties. This is also an opportunity for men to get their testosterone checked if they are experiencing sexual problems.
· Massage/Acupuncture/Bodywork: As you well know, these methods have proven to be extremely helpful in improving stress, sleep, digestion, mood and thought. Men love proven methods!
· Psychotherapy: People in the psychology field actually recommend that each of us go through a year of therapy to flesh out issues resulting from childhood that will surely impact us throughout our lives if not addressed. The more obvious past experiences – childhood abuse, less-than-healthy parenting – are of course standard issues that therapy addresses, but there are a host of other aspects of our pasts that play out in adulthood and insidiously impact us if not worked through: parents role-modeling relationships (for better or worse), family culture/norms/teachings, various formative experiences that influenced our sense of self and the world, adaptive survival skills that helped as children but hinder in adulthood, etc. With an experienced and skilled therapist people can learn about how their past and current thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships are at play in preventing them from getting what they want in life.
Laurie: Are there any particular challenges men have in prioritizing self-care?
Justin: Absolutely. Subtle messages received through popular culture, as well as the beliefs our parents (and sometimes grandparents) instilled in us, all contribute to a mindset that, though shifting, still advocates men pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of us still believe that we should be able to solve our own problems (and, by the way, all of our partner’s problems) without seeking the help of friends or loved ones, and especially professionals. Many men still struggle to accept that part of being courageous and strong is to actually be willing to engage in self-care practices when needed, even when that necessitates asking for help from others.
Laurie: How do you help your male clients work on self-care?
Justin: Though my clients always determine the agenda of what we’re working on in counseling, I do make sure to advocate the need for self-care practices as part of their therapy and work with folks to find ways to incorporate them into their daily lives. In addition to the self-care strategies I mentioned earlier, I help men assess a number of other considerations that are likely impacting their moods, their bodies, and their relationships, including:
· Creating a support network of close friendships (and leaning on those people when needed, which we often resist)
· Developing a meditation, or “mindfulness”, practice to better understand how thoughts & feelings impact them
· Unplugging from work and electronics, to allow their brains to rest (this is necessary) and their partners to be prioritized (this is extremely necessary)
· Pursuing hobbies and interests, though limiting video game play
· Working on relationships, both intimate ones and those in our community, as the quality and quantity of relationships have been proven to be the number one determinant of happiness (people are built to need people)
· Making time for themselves (people are also built to need some amount of alone time to recharge)
Laurie: And finally, do you suggest any particular books for your male clients that augment talk therapy and address some of what we’ve discussed here?
Justin: Yes, absolutely. Another challenge men have is that they are often averse to “self-help” books, which I understand but am quick to point out that most of those books were written by highly educated masters of their fields who usually know their topic inside and out. If we’re willing to listen to a psychotherapist, or attend a class or workshop by someone in-the-know, a recommended book should carry just as much weight.
Having just defended the self-help industry, I do still only recommend a small handful of books, as over the years I’ve been able to distill the ones that have proven to be most up-to-date and helpful. Here are a few:
· Depression/Anxiety: “The Mindfulness Solution”, by Ronald Seigel; “The Mindful Way Through Depression”, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn; “The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life”, by Susan M. Orsillo, Lizabeth Roemer and Zindel V. Segal
· Relationships: “Hold Me Tight”, by Sue Johnson; “The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work”, by Terrence Real
· Affairs: “After the Affair”, by Janis Spring
· Childhood sexual abuse: “Beginning to Heal”, by Helen Bass
· Adult children of alcoholics: “After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma”, by Jane Middelton-Moz
· Introversion: “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World”, by Marti Olsen Laney
· Self-esteem/Forgiveness: “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind”, by Kristin Neff
Laurie: If someone wishes to get involved in counseling with you, what is the best way to get that started?
Justin: Sure, well a phone call (206-910-1218) or email (Justin@claritycounselingseattle.com) is of course the usual way of getting questions answered and scheduling an appointment, though therapists are notoriously difficult to reach, as we are usually in session and unable to answer our phones. Therefore I’ve recently set up an online scheduling option through my website, ClarityCounselingSeattle.com, that has been working really well for folks.