Celebrating Masculinity: A Therapist’s Point of View

Chandler Chang, founder and psychologist at Therapy Lab, with her husband Steven Chang.

Can we embrace masculinity again?

When I spoke about this essay topic with my two sons and husband last night, they expressed concern. Is Mom stepping in it by exalting a gendered construct? My older son thought I should use the synonym-finder and avoid the word masculinity altogether. I’m a feminist, feminine woman, and I appreciate my masculine energy. I’m not a fan of rigid gender norms, and, yet, I’m showing up here for masculinity. Let’s talk about the men we love, and the masculine in ourselves.

As a psychologist and therapist for almost 15 years now. I’ve worked with boys, teenagers, college guys, young men, dads, husbands, husbands having affairs, divorced men, and men discovering the aging process. As you might imagine, we’ve talked about grief, lies, loneliness, alcohol, shame, rage, body image, productivity, family, sex, God, parenting, and love. So much love.

As a witness to the love expressed by men in sessions as they speak of their lives, their families, themselves and their vulnerability, I’m certain that I’m a better mom to know how deeply a man can feel.  Because it’s not always obvious that men feel so deeply in everyday life.

As we go about normal life—going to work, meeting up with friends, resetting after a pandemic—men are just not as accustomed to talking about feelings or to showing them.  And that’s why real masculinity deserves attention and possibly, some encouragement.  

I hope it goes without saying that I deeply understand and reject toxic masculinity. Bullying, rigidity, belittling behaviors, violence, racism, hatred that takes the form of a “dominant” group of people is simply bad.  Recognizing what’s toxic in masculinity and rejecting that is always good.

And yet I intend to celebrate the good in masculinity before we lose something of value.  Let’s drain the putrid bathwater, but save the baby boy!

I’m not writing about the scientific construct of masculinity. Rather, this is an admittedly subjective view of men and masculinity. And, again, I think every human can appreciate and even embody some of what’s masculine so lets no one get their panties in a bunch with concerns about who gets to feel masculine!

Let’s flow.

Masculinity is what you might expect: strength, persistence, drive, and determination. And it goes further. It’s reflective, principled, introspective and mindful. Masculine is not simply the “opposite of feminine.”  Rather, masculine is a complement and co-creator. Together, the creative energy and fire of both masculine and feminine holds us and makes us whole. Masculinity, as I’ve witnessed it at its most meaningful, is nurturing, compassion, kindness--especially when unexpected kindness calls for strength and persistence and firmness, such as when opposing wrong disguised as “normal.”  Masculinity is contemplative, such as when grieving one’s loneliness and longing to find companionship.

To me, masculine people understand self-sacrifice, restraint, judgment, and judicious and generous acts towards others. Men seem most truly themselves in therapy when they tap into strength and vulnerability, as they are two sides of the coin that is honest self-awareness.

Find yourself.

So how does one tap into this truth about masculinity—that strength is almost always paired with vulnerability? Finding your masculine calls on you to find yourself, your heart, and the urge you may have to mask your feelings. Because in your vulnerable self, when you’re still and lean into those uncomfortable feelings—shame, rage, jealousy, insecurity, fear—you come to know who you are. And you find meaning in your life and strength and patience and judgment. By knowing your own emotional landscape and walking there, you find masculinity.

Seeking masculinity and finding no support.

Men have not always been encouraged to seek emotional support from other people. This is unfortunate, as communication—expressing emotion, even chatting about your day, enjoying small talk—is the Swiss army knife of mental health. Men are far less likely to speak with other men about their mental health, so they miss out on helpful conversations about how to find therapy. Men’s friendships are usually more activity-based and less about conversation (Greif, 2008).

Only about a third of folks in therapy are men, according to this source. In general, women tend to “show up” for therapy with reports of anxiety and depression, while men typically present with alcohol or addiction problems, or antisocial-type behaviors or acting out. I suspect that men, as compared to women, just show up later in the cycle of distress after their anxiety, depression, or distress has peaked and led to impulsive and dangerous behaviors or addiction. In other words, I think men should be encouraged to seek therapy at the first signs of internal distress rather than waiting for chaos and life disruption to ensue.  

Let’s get men into therapy sooner.

Also, men are four times as likely to die by suicide than women.  Seriously, let’s get men into therapy sooner.  Here are some additional barriers for men seeking therapy:

  • Some people may perceive pursuing therapy as outside traditional male norms—as “weak” or less manly (Pederson & Vogel, 2007).
  • A harmful cycle can ensue: rigid gender roles may contribute to psychological distress, but men are less likely to reach out because it’s not “manly” to seek therapy (Brooks & Good, 2001).
  • Friends and family may recognize a problem but hesitate to recommend therapy due to their own internalized ideas of male gender norms and their own mental health stigma (Vogel, Wester, Hammer, & Downing-Matibag, 2014).
  • Because men often “act out” their emotional distress with addiction or unsafe behaviors, loved ones may be less likely to name the problem and suggest help.

Support your man.

Importantly and triumphantly, a loved one who refers a man for treatment can make a big difference. One study found that men  who sought mental health services were more likely to have had friends or family recommend therapy than those who did not seek help (Dew, Bromet, Schulberg, Parkinson, & Curtis, 1991).  Another study showed that 70% of men in therapy reported that a loved one recommended the support for them, and having this support led to more positive expectations (Vogel, Wade, Wester, Larson, and Hackler, 2007). Having positive expectations about therapy also makes a big difference.  

Family and friends who recommend therapy to a man in distress may affect his quality of life in a profound way.

Normalizing men’s unhappiness in middle-life can also help. Growing research suggests that unhappiness is hill-shaped, and the average age when peak discontent occurs is 49 years old. “There is an unhappiness curve” (Blanchflower, 2020).  

The good news for men is that staying socially connected in midlife helps, as loneliness is the primary driver of stress and inflammation in that period. Therefore, social connections and community are protective for men journeying through their 40s and 50s. This type of information is what a therapist might provide to a man, and that information is an ideal starting point to a discussion of solutions and healthy ways to manage distress.

Not your father’s therapy...or is it?

If I were a man wanting to find a therapist who appreciates masculinity, I might talk about today’s masculine heroes. To me, these voices include Marc Maron, Steph Curry, Martha Stewart (yes, her), Matthew McConaughey, and Tim Ferriss.  

Furthermore, and this is self-serving but true, I would try Therapy Lab for man-style therapy.

We’ve found that Therapy Lab’s menu of treatment plans attracts more men to therapy than a traditional practice.  I didn’t design Therapy Lab uniquely for men, but men have found the design highly appealing.  We’re all for it!  

Therapy Lab offers plans that are goal-directed, pragmatic, budget-conscious, and tied to outcomes. In fact, there’s research to support what we are seeing in our overwhelming product-market fit. In a study conducted by Seidler and colleagues (2018), findings indicated that men preferred structured, goal-oriented, time-limited therapy over traditional models of unstructured talk therapy.  

Let’s get men into therapy.

Happy Father’s Day to all the good men, and there are so, so many of you.

Get started


Blanchflower, D. G. (2020). Unhappiness and age. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 176, 461-488.

Brooks, G. R., & Good, G. E. (Eds.). (2001). The new handbook of psychotherapy and counseling with men. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dew, M. A., Bromet, E. J., Schulberg, H. C., Parkinson, D. K., & Curtis, E. C. (1991). Factors affecting service utilization for depression in a white collar population. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 26(5), 230-237.

Greif, G. (2008). Buddy system: Understanding male friendships. Oxford University Press.

Pederson, E. L., & Vogel, D. L. (2007). Men’s gender role conflict and their willingness to seek counseling: A mediation model. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54, 373–384.

Seidler, Z. E., Rice, S. M., Oliffe, J. L., Fogarty, A. S., & Dhillon, H. M. (2018). Men in and out of treatment for depression: strategies for improved engagement. Australian Psychologist, 53(5), 405-415.

Vogel, D. L., Wade, N. G., Wester, S. R., Larson, L., & Hackler, A. H. (2007). Seeking help from a mental health professional: The influence of one's social network. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(3), 233-245.

Vogel, D. L., Wester, S. R., Hammer, J. H., & Downing-Matibag, T. M. (2014). Referring men to seek help: The influence of gender role conflict and stigma. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(1), 60-67.

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