“It’s widely believed that men don’t like to seek help, and that this behaviour typically stops them from visiting the doctor or using face-to-face counselling services,” says Dr Rebecca Feo, a Visiting Research Fellow in Psychology at the University of Adelaide.
“Until now, past research in this area has suggested that when men do seek help, they need practical advice and solutions only, because that’s the kind of people they are. However, our research has told quite a different story.”
For her PhD at the University of Adelaide, Dr Feo analysed talk and interaction on a men’s telephone relationship counselling helpline.
“We found that the callers and the counsellors were engaging in a kind of ‘tug-of-war’, because of a disconnect between the counsellors’ expectations of what the men wanted, and how the men actually used the service,” Dr Feo says.
“In a bid to provide a more ‘male friendly’ service, the counsellors were prepared to talk with men about the types of practical coping and problem-solving strategies they could employ to better manage their situations. Instead, they found the men wanted to talk for long stretches at a time, predominantly about their emotions and how their relationship issues were affecting them.
“The counsellors routinely attempted to steer the conversation towards practical information and problem-solving strategies, but many of the men were just there to talk about their problems. In some cases, the calls went for well over an hour. Clearly, these men just needed to speak with someone,” she says.
Dr Feo, who is also a Research and Evaluation Officer with Relationships Australia (SA), says this behaviour may indicate a lack of other opportunities for men to discuss personal problems and express their emotions.
“If they feel they can’t talk with their partners, their best friends or family members, they may find it easier to speak with a counsellor. For some men, they may have bottled these
issues up for a long period of time,” she says.
Dr Feo says further research is needed to better understand the emotional and help-seeking needs of men, and how these needs can best be met through the provision of services. “This work has implications not just for counselling services but for health practitioners of any kind,” she says.
University of Adelaide