I’ve learnt now that as a man it’s necessary and okay to stand up and say ‘I need some help with this’
Many men who have experienced sexual violence find that talking with a counsellor can be helpful. Asking for help can sometimes be a scary thing to do. Even though it might feel like a big step, it is really important to seek help if things aren’t going well. Counsellors are there to work with you to find ways of managing problems and improving your life. This page provides some information about counselling, what to expect, how you might prepare in order to make the most of counselling, questions you might ask a counsellor, what your rights are and different types of counsellors.
Sexual violence, men & counselling
For some men, the idea of talking to a counsellor can be quite alien. They have never spoken to a counsellor before, let alone about sexual abuse or assault. Sometimes men can become caught up with the idea that ‘as a man’ they should be able to stand on their own two feet and sort stuff out themselves, that seeking help from a counsellor demonstrates some kind of a failing by them as a man. Don’t let this put you off. Going to counselling doesn’t mean you’re weak or crazy – on the contrary, most people who go to counselling are just trying to cope with the difficult experiences, traumas or problems they have in their lives. The purpose of counselling is to assist you and everybody needs help sometimes.
Lifeline has produced a Tool kit for men experiencing difficult times which is a general guide for men in seeking help for a range of issues which might include childhood sexual abuse or assault.
For some men who have experienced child sexual abuse or sexual assault, counselling offers a way to ‘break the silence’ and speak for the first time about what was done. Counselling and meeting with other men with similar experiences can help overcome the sense of isolation you may feel. It can help you to stand up to ‘self-blame’ or unhelpful cultural beliefs about men and sexual assault.
Counselling provides an opportunity to look at the impact sexual abuse has had-or is having-on your life in a safe supportive environment. You and your counsellor can explore strategies that diminish the influence of sexual abuse or sexual assault and enhance your sense of safety and choice in relation to yourself and your relationships.
In counselling, you do not have to talk about the details of what happened if you don’t want to. If you understand sexual abuse or sexual assault as about taking away choice, counselling is about promoting choice. Counselling shouldn’t be all about the sexual abuse or sexual assault: it shouldn’t be all gloom and doom. The purpose of counselling is to help you to improve your life.
What is counselling?
There are lots of reasons why people choose to go and see a counsellor. For example, you might be feeling like life is a bit overwhelming and you aren’t coping well with your health and wellbeing. Or, you might feel like it would be helpful to talk with someone about something that’s happened and is impacting on your day to day life in a negative way. Sometimes problems just don’t go away, however hard you might try to put them behind you or forget about them. Sometimes people go and see a counsellor because they are concerned about a friend or family member and want to talk with someone about how they can help. Counselling is a supportive process, in which you can:
- Feel listened to and validated, where your experiences, thoughts and feelings matter;
- Be encouraged and have your strengths, resources, and choices acknowledged;
- Develop and move towards achievable personal goals;
- Heal emotionally, particularly if you have experienced sexual violence or other trauma;
- Gain valuable information and awareness about issues affecting your life;
- Develop strategies to enjoy life, to have fulfilling relationships, and ways of handling problems that arise in everyday life.
Note: Counselling does not make all problems go away, everybody has problems in their life at some point. What counselling can do, however, is to provide strategies and ways of managing problems so that they do not derail you permanently from what you want to do in your life.
How you might be feeling before your first visit
Before you visit to a counsellor or when thinking about seeing a counsellor for the first time you might be experiencing a range of emotions, including feeling:
- Worried or scared
- What will happen in the session?
- How will I tell the counsellor what’s going on?
- What if they can’t handle me?
- What if the problem isn’t really important enough and I’m wasting the counsellor’s time?
- What if the counsellor thinks I’m really strange?
- What if I become embarrassed?
- Maybe I should just deal with this myself and not bother with the counsellor?
Note: Experiencing any of these feelings is not at all uncommon. It is important to realise that counsellors are used to dealing with all sorts of issues with their clients and that no problem is too big or small. Every problem is important. If your issue is affecting your day to day routine and is troubling you, this is reason enough to talk to someone like a counsellor.
What might happen in the first session?
Going and talking to a counsellor can feel like a big step into the unknown. Sometimes it is really hard to say the things you are feeling because you are worried the counsellor might judge you. In the first session it is likely they will want to get some general information about you. They might ask questions about:
- How you have been feeling lately;
- What has been happening in your life lately;
- Your past;
- How things are with you and your family
- Your medical health in the past
- You might also have to fill out a questionnaire that will help the counsellor to understand what might be the most pressing problem.
The reason they ask you all these questions is so they can better understand what is going on for you. It is important to be honest and try and say as much as you can so that way the counsellor gets a better idea of things.
At the end of your first session, your counsellor will probably have a talk to you about what you would like to do from here. They may invite you to come back and see them. However, ultimately this decision is up to you.
Getting the most out of your sessions
Some general tips that you might want to keep in mind if you go to see a counsellor. These apply to your first visit and others after that:
- Write things down beforehand – you might want to take in some things you have written down that you want to talk about so you make sure you remember the important details.
- Go in with a positive attitude – going in with an open mind and positive attitude will help you get the most possible out of your counselling session. You may as well give it a shot!
- Be honest with your counsellor. If you are having trouble expressing what you are feeling that is totally fine and not unusual. Maybe say “I’m thinking/feeling this but I’m having trouble putting it into words”
- Don’t be afraid to change counsellors – Sometimes you won’t ‘click’ with your counsellor. If that is the case and you have given it a bit of time, it may be a good idea to try another counsellor. There are lots out there and just because it didn’t work with one, doesn’t mean it wont work with another. Sometimes you have to keep trying in order to find a counsellor that suits you.
- Don’t be afraid of your counsellor! – You can disagree with them and question things if you don’t feel comfortable. Also it is not your responsibility to take care of them, they can do that themselves.
- Ask lots of questions! – If you don’t understand why you are using a certain therapy or you want to know more then ask. (see below for some useful questions).
Some questions to ask a counsellor?
It can feel really uncomfortable to ask lots of questions of the counsellor you have just met, by telephone or in person, but it’s really important to find out what kind of service they can provide you with, what they expect of you, and what guides and rules determine the way they work. It also puts you in control of your choices. Most counsellors welcome questions about their approach, and are used to having these discussions before the counselling begins. Here are some questions that are commonly asked:
- What are your qualifications, training and experience?
- Do you belong to a professional association?
- What counselling approaches do you use? What does that mean?
- How many years have you been counselling?
- What special training in sexual abuse have you had? Where and when?
- Have you attended or conducted any sexual abuse workshops? If so, where and when?
- How much of your work involves responding to people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault?
- How experienced are you in working with men who have been sexually victimised?
- Do you specialize in any area of sexual abuse or sexual assault (working with offenders, clergy abuse, ritual abuse, recent or historical assault etc.)?
- How much experience do you have working with gay men (if this is a consideration for you)?
- How often do you have supervision/consultation? A requirement of professional counsellors is that they have regular clinical supervision. A supervisor is there to ensure the counsellor is able to provide the best possible practice.
- Has a complaint ever been filed against you?
- How much will each session cost?
- What is your policy on cancellation or “no shows”?
- Do you charge for telephone consultation or calls between sessions?
- What is your policy on confidentiality?
- Understand or ask about duty of care – Depending on your age and the state you’re from, client-confidentiality means that the counsellor can’t disclose information without your consent unless a court order is obtained. The exception to this is if the counsellor is genuinely concerned that you are at risk of harm or harming someone else (this is called duty of care). It’s best to ask your counsellor first thing to see what their particular policy is.
- Do you make notes, and what happens to these when my counselling is finished?
- Don’t be put off by note taking – Your counsellor will probably take down notes while you are talking. Often it’s things like names of people and events so they can talk about it later or specific things you have said that they see as important. If you feel uncomfortable with them writing things, you can ask to see the notes or talk to your counsellor about it.
Note: You don’t have to ask the counsellor all these questions, they are just some suggestions.
Your rights in counselling
Whether you see a free counsellor, a crisis counsellor, a private therapist or psychiatrist, there are both rights and responsibilities that apply to you:
- The right to be treated with respect and dignity;
- The right to discuss, negotiate and disagree with the ideas and concepts raised;
- The right to feel safe;
- The responsibility to fulfil any agreements you make, such as paying for counselling;
- The right to have your information kept confidential, except where there is a risk of harm to yourself or someone else.
How to find a counsellor
Finding a counsellor can appear quite a daunting process, especially if you haven’t been to a counsellor before or if you are looking around for somewhere to go to in a new area. In order to assist we have developed a list of services in Queensland that you might want to check out. See Queensland Counselling Services.
Difficulties for men in Queensland
A difficulty you will face as a man in finding a counsellor, is that historically in Queensland sexual assault services have been specifically funded by Queensland Health to provide assistance to women aged 15 or over only. In addition, you should know that these designated sexual assault services are only in a few locations around the state and are often working very hard to respond to the large number of women who require assistance. However, changes are occurring, it may be that your local Queensland sexual assault service will see you. If not, they may be worth giving them a call, as they may know local counsellors or services in your area who can assist.
What kinds of counsellors are there to choose from?
Counsellor: is a professional social worker or community worker, who is trained to provide support and assist people through therapeutic conversations. She/he may be a member of various counsellors’ associations, such as the Counsellors and Psychotherapists Association of Queensland (CAPA) that guide their professional ethics and standards of practice.
Psychologist: has university qualifications in Psychology, and must be registered with the Psychologists Board. Psychologists generally draw on a wide range of counselling strategies and techniques, and are guided by a strict code of professional ethics and standards.
Psychiatrist: is a medical doctor with extra training in psychiatry (the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness), who may use a variety of strategies, including medication, in treatment (they are more likely to say they provide treatment rather than counselling).
Free government and non-government counselling services
These are agencies established with government and private funding to provide free or low-cost community services. Please be aware that many of these services can only provide a limited number of counselling sessions.
Private therapists work from a private practice or privately run organisation, and they charge fees for the services they provide. If you are having trouble accessing a free service, or you need more counselling, a private therapist can usually provide longer term counselling. They are often trained as psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers or psychiatrists. Fees may be negotiable, or claimed on health care rebates.
Note, if you are considering seeing a private counsellor it is worth obtaining a referral from your GP, as counselling can now be accessed utilising Medicare.
What is crisis counselling?
Crisis counselling is usually free and is typically available through your local hospital. Services like this will try to assess the nature of the crisis, and work with the person to develop crisis containment strategies (to prevent the crisis from getting worse). Usually in crisis counselling you and the counsellor will also develop strategies to prevent further crises, or to get some more consistent support. This may involve referral to a range of other support services, like accommodation, financial, counselling, mental health, community or other services.
Different people respond to different kinds of support. It is important to discover what forms of support are useful for you. Some people have found that being part of a group helps them to realise that they are not alone in their experiences of sexual violence and that they are not alone in trying to get their life back on track.
Acknowledgement: The above information was adapted from the ‘Choosing a Counsellor’ document, developed by NSW Rape Crisis, from the reach out web resource available at http://au.reachout.com/ and ‘A Consumers Guide To Therapist Shopping’ by Ken Singer, LCSW available at https://malesurvivor.org/consumers-guide/