As a counsellor/psychotherapist who has not only worked with boys and men affected by various forms of sexual abuse for over 15 years, but also experienced child sexual exploitation and rape, I know how difficult it can be for boys and men not only to disclose, but to also engage in therapy.
Much has been written about this over the years and as a therapist predominantly working with the client group, I want to do all I can to make my practice as accessible as possible for boys and men by eliminating barriers and providing appropriate opportunities. This includes having a male-friendly website, adopting an informal approach, and engaging in what is commonly referred to as banter, when appropriate as this is a factor that can contribute to male-friendly therapy (Liddon et al, 2019)1. I now know that this also includes offering therapy online.
Due to current Government restrictions in relation to the Coronavirus, therapists such as myself have seen a decrease in referrals from both clients who self-refer and from Employee Assistance Programme (EAPs). Many therapists have moved their practice online making use of platforms such as Zoom and VSee. Before moving my own counselling and supervision practice online I familiarised myself with BACP competencies for working online, spoke with my supervisor, liaised with experienced therapists who have provided online counselling and utilised a number of relevant BACP resources.
Working online has brought struggles and benefits. Struggles include some men viewing online therapy as “not doing it properly” resulting in them waiting until in-person therapy becomes available. Other struggles include the usual technology difficulties; clients having a poor WIFI signal, Zoom deciding to randomly stop working and the client being unable to enable sound or the camera – all of which impact on my and the client’s ability to see and communicate with each other. Perhaps to some degrees these struggles are inevitable. You only have to watch the UK Government’s daily Coronavirus briefing to see the technology difficulties journalists encounter when asking Government officials questions. Whilst these difficulties are not something we have to contend with when working with client in-person in the therapy room, they can be managed and overcome by being prepared, increasing knowledge and having a back-up planned.
There have been benefits to working with abused males online. Some have said that being in their own space has made them feel more comfortable and that the physical distance has helped them engage in the therapeutic process. Others have said that working online has helped them to focus more, as they are looking at my face on the screen and not being distracted by other factors in the therapy room. Whilst all clients have the potential to become distracted in the therapy room, teenage boys are more able to tune out from white noise (Brizendine, 2010)2. Perhaps this ability can be enhanced by the use of online therapy as it helps boys to focus even more. I have also noticed boys and men being congruent with their anger. In the therapy room I have noticed how clients try to control their anger, but when they are online, they seem to feel more comfortable expressing it in a more immediate manner without filtering.
I also facilitate a BACP network group which has now moved online, and whilst only one meeting has occurred so far, attendees in general found the experience to be rather positive, proving vital opportunities for therapists to network and access peer support during these trying times.
1 Liddon, L., Kingerlee, R., Seager, M. and Barry, J. (2019). ‘What Are the Factors That Make a Male-Friendly Therapy?’ in Barry, J., Kingerlee, R., Seager, M. and Sullivan, L. (ed.) The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Cham Switzerland. (pp671 - 694)
2 Brizendine, L. (2010). ‘The Teen Boy Brain: The Emotional Lives of Men.’ The Male Brain. Bantam Books. New York. (pp54-73)
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Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.