Mike Ensley of Comeback Story Counseling is here to shed light on the challenges that men face when it comes to seeking help.
Mike's insights and expertise are invaluable as he shares the necessary steps to get started on the road to recovery and guided help. Whether you're struggling to figure out where to begin your mental health journey or how to initiate important conversations about mental health, Mike provides a compassionate and informed perspective that is sure to inspire and encourage.
Most importantly, Mike reminds us of the transformative power of therapy and how it can positively impact individuals on their journey towards healing and self-discovery. So, let's come together and start an important conversation that is long overdue.
LS: What are some common mental health issues that men face, and how can therapy help?
Mike: Men sometimes seek therapy after a long solo battle with some degree of frustration or unhappiness that’s perplexing to them. They wonder, how can I feel this way? Maybe they don’t think they have a right to. Sometimes it’s after a surprising encounter with behavior that‘s very foreign to how they know themselves. This can look like incidents of anger or any kind of acting out that is out of character. One way in which therapy is incredibly helpful is just connecting the dots and understanding the root causes of some of these issues, which enables us to seek out a path forward.
LS: Why is it important for men to seek therapy, and what are some of the potential consequences of not seeking help?
Mike: It’s a common misconception that men are simple, that we only really want one thing. The fact is, we are multifaceted and complex beings and we can’t adequately maintain or improve ourselves without acknowledging and caring for the whole person. Yet, men are less than half as likely as women to enlist outside support in working on their mental and emotional well-being. The rate of substance use disorders among men is triple that of women, and of the Americans we’ve lost to suicide, about 80% are men. I think our hesitance to engage in intentional care of our inner selves is a big reason why.
LS: What are some of the barriers that prevent men from seeking therapy, and how can these be overcome?
Mike: Many of the things we tell ourselves that keep us out of a counselor’s office are rooted in a common lie: I’m supposed to do this on my own. My past, my pain, my progress—if I ask for help then I’m not authentically ‘making it’. I often point to movies as an illustration (I started off in college pursuing screenwriting). Think of the heroes we look up to, that we emulate in real-life ways. They all had advisors, they all turned to someone for wisdom and even comfort. Not one of them finished their story entirely solo. It doesn’t happen that way in real life either.
LS: How can men identify a therapist who is a good fit for them, and what should they look for in a mental health professional?
Mike: This is one way the internet is helpful. Lots of therapists write content for their websites. Check out their social media accounts. You can start to get a sense of who they are and how they operate. Most counselors will offer a free initial meetup with no strings attached. We know this is a very personal process, and it’s important that you feel you’re in the right place. We want you to find the vibe you like and the skillset that will benefit you most.
LS: How can men address feelings of shame or stigma associated with seeking therapy, and what are some strategies for managing these emotions?
Mike: First, just notice that they’re there. Feelings just happen. And here’s an exercise I routinely walk through with clients: separate out emotions from the stories you’re telling. For instance, I cannot ‘feel like a failure’. That’s not a feeling. I can feel ashamed because I’m telling myself I’m a failure. Emotions just exist and can’t really be changed on command. When we confuse the two, we mistakenly give our faulty stories that same power. The truth is I can notice that my hesitance or embarrassment is coming from a thing I’m saying to myself. Then I can ask about that story. Where did it come from? Why am I deciding it’s true? I’ve found the piece I can work with. And this can even be your first step in the counseling office. Talk with your counselor about how weird you feel just being there. Don’t worry about us; we can take it.
LS: How can therapy be integrated into a broader approach to self-care and mental wellness for men?
Mike: Understanding that you are a whole person may seem like an obvious statement, but the fact is we can easily neglect whole sectors of our being. Starting to look at therapy as you would consider going to the gym or getting a financial advisor is a good way to shift perspectives. Your body needs intentional maintenance, as does your career path and your marriage and other relationships. Your mental and emotional self is just as important and isn’t going to take care of itself if you ignore it.
LS: What role can friends and family members play in supporting men who are seeking therapy, and how can they be most helpful?
Mike: Pay attention to your words and attitudes around mental healthcare. If you stop and notice, are you holding onto assumptions that therapy is for people who have screwed up or are defective in some way? Or do you recognize the value of a person taking purposeful care of their whole self, and how that benefits others? And if you have found use in counseling at some point in your story, consider talking more about it. People are much more likely to consider something they’ve heard was helpful to someone else.
LS: How can men continue to prioritize their mental health and well-being over the long term, even after they have completed a course of therapy?
Mike: Figuring out a template for continuing growth is always a big part of the counseling process. I’m always focused on helping clients know themselves better, building with them a greater ability to interpret the emotional data they get so they become their own counselor. You won’t be in therapy forever, but you’ll take with you a more robust toolbox for the challenges ahead.
"Many of the things we tell ourselves that keep us out of a counselor’s office are rooted in a common lie: I’m supposed to do this on my own." - Mike Ensley