World-first program aims to transform mental health therapy for men

Dr. Zac Seidler, a member of UBC’s Reducing Male Suicide research cluster, is helping to improve how mental health practitioners engage with and respond to men in therapy.

Unhappy man sitting on couch meeting with male counsellor in office.
Headshot of Dr. Zac Seidler.
Dr. Zac Seidler

Every day in Canada, approximately nine men die by suicide. Men make up 75 per cent of all suicide deaths in the country. More men than ever are seeking help for their mental health challenges, but traditional counselling methods often fail them.

Dr. Zac Seidler, a member of UBC’s Reducing Male Suicide research excellence cluster, hopes to change that. Dr. Seidler, with funding from global men’s health charity Movember, has created “Men in Mind,” a new, man-centric form of therapy intended to improve the way men in crisis engage with and respond to treatment.

We spoke with Dr. Seidler about this new approach.

What is Men in Mind, and who is it for?

Men in Mind is the world’s first online program that trains mental health practitioners how to engage with and respond to men in therapy. It’s a five-module, eight-hour training that walks counsellors through a “101” of how men show up in therapy. It teaches therapists how to connect with men, meet them where they’re at, and create a treatment environment that is going to benefit them in the long run.

Men in Mind was originally intended to help practitioners feel more confident and competent working with men. After clinical trials, we feel pretty resolutely now that it does this. Practitioners who have taken part in the program come out with a clear understanding of what men need in therapy and how to attune and adapt their approach to meet that mark.

What motivated you to develop the training program?

As a PhD student—working with nursing professor Dr. John Oliffe in UBC’s Men’s Health Research Program—I started with the question, “Why don’t men seek help? The common narrative was that men simply don’t seek out support when they’re in distress. Yet, what became abundantly clear early on was that was actually a pretty dangerous and incorrect narrative in many instances. In fact, many men were entering treatment but not getting the type of therapy they needed. They were met with environments that were fundamentally foreign to them.”

A key statistic that drove this work was that 45 per cent of the men we surveyed had dropped out of therapy prematurely because they couldn’t connect with their counsellor. Our research showed that men were willing to pursue therapy if they could find a counsellor they could connect with.

At the same time, we started to understand that clinicians were facing challenges in engaging and connecting with men in ways they wanted. We realized that, rather than expecting men to adapt to clinical environments that weren’t meeting their needs, it made more sense to adapt the environment and the clinicians.

Why do men in therapy require a unique approach?

Depression, for example, manifests very differently for men than it does for women. Whereas depressed women are more likely to display common symptoms like sadness, hopelessness and not wanting to interact with anyone, many men express depression in ways like irritability, anger, risk-taking, substance abuse – all behaviours directly linked to the masculinity socialization process they learn growing up. Many men’s depression responses are externalized, whereas women’s are typically internalized.

Training counsellors to see these behaviours as a cry for help can ensure that men don’t slip through the cracks. Anger management has been the go-to treatment for men experiencing depression, but it’s often not the answer.

How will this training benefit men in therapy in the long run?

Men in Mind trains therapists to take an approach that is accepting rather than challenging of men’s responses to mental health issues. Therapy is focused on contextualizing and empathizing rather than shaming. Practitioners take a transparent, collaborative approach that places the man as the “expert” in his own life and respects him as such.

Ultimately, we want to make sure men know they are heard. Many have had a crappy experience in treatment and it’s not their fault. Now it’s up to us as researchers to work with men and reduce the negative experiences men are having. My long-term goal is to have this training built into curricular planning for all institutions working with mental health practitioners.

Related Event:

Digital Interventions for Men’s Mental Health, featuring Dr. Zac Seidler
June 15, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
AMS Nest
Register here