Why aren't more men in therapy?

Research shows that men can benefit tremendously from talking with a psychologist. So why are there still so few men in therapy?

Oct 1, 2021 UPDATED
Featured Article

Do strong, “macho” men go to therapy? Does therapy even work for men? 

These questions sound ridiculous to folks of all genders who have benefited from counseling, but for some men, they’re all too real. Despite increased mental health awareness these days, the advocacy by star athletes, and the multi-million dollar campaigns to de-stigmatize mental illness, the myth that men and therapy do not mix still looms large. 

But getting treatment from a mental health professional is common sense however you identify. When you break a bone, you go to the doctor, wear a cast, and heal up. When you’re overwhelmed by anxiety you find a doctor to help you back to full health, right? It seems like a no-brainer, but there's a good deal of data that suggests men are still not seeking help. 

How common is it for men to go to therapy? 

A 2019 national survey of U.S. adults found that only 7.2% of men received therapy or counseling in the last 12 months, compared to 11.7% of women. 

A Monarch by SimplePractice infographic comparing the percentage of men versus women who received counseling in the past 12 months in 2019.

Men seeing therapists are outnumbered by women nearly two to one. There are only 6.6 million more women than men in the U.S.; the difference in population isn’t nearly enough to account for such a huge gap. How does one make sense of these numbers? Why do so few men receive counseling or treatment relative to women? 

The myth that men and therapy do not mix still looms large.

What percent of therapists are male?

Only 32%. Not only are men outnumbered on the client-side of the equation, but there are far fewer male therapists than female therapists. A report by the American Psychological Association (APA) noted that women comprised 68% of the psychology workforce in 2013 and concluded that “for every male active psychologist, there were 2.1 female active psychologists in the workforce.” 

How do cultural norms influence men?

There’s a common belief that men are just tougher. It’s no secret that American males are born into a society that teaches resilience and self-sufficiency. Boys are taught that men should be stoic and solve problems on their own. 

This brand of masculinity is presented to children early in life and reinforced by most of the media they consume. The Marlboro Man would never sit on a sofa and share his feelings. Pressure to conform to this macho mold comes from all sides and it doesn’t stop at adulthood. Failure to embrace traditional male gender roles often results in exclusion, bullying, and lack of social opportunity. 

Real men are tough enough not to need help. The question is: Are they really? 

If you’ve been conditioned to believe that being a man and asking for help are mutually exclusive, going to therapy might sound unthinkable. So it’s no great mystery that men who value “manliness” don’t seek treatment. Real men aren’t supposed to show weakness. Real men are tough enough not to need help. The question is: Are they really? 

Do more men need to be in therapy?

Sobering statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention show that men died by suicide 3.5 times more often than women in 2018. White males made up nearly 70% of suicide deaths that year. The highest rate of suicide in 2018 was among middle-aged white males.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than twice as many men as women fatally overdosed on opioids in 2018. The National Institute on Drug Abuse confirmed that men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs and are more likely to die or end up in an emergency room because of it. 

A Monarch by SimplePractice infographic of male suicide and overdose rates compared to women in 2018.

Women outnumber men when it comes to receiving care and men far outnumber women in suicide and overdose statistics. The sad reality is that “being a man” does not make someone immune to mental illness. 

On the contrary: A 2017 meta-analysis found that conforming to masculine norms can actually put men at higher risk of mental illness. The study concluded that “individuals who conformed strongly to masculine norms tended to have poorer mental health and less favorable attitudes toward seeking psychological help.”

Despite what they’ve been told, sometimes “real” men need treatment like everyone else. The stigma is real—but so are the consequences of refusing to get help. 

The sad reality is that “being a man” does not make someone immune to mental illness.

The good news is that the percentage of men who receive counseling or treatment has been slowly but steadily increasing across years. And technology has made it easier to find help than ever before with advances like telehealth. That’s not to say that there aren’t barriers to entry. Accessibility and affordability will always play a role in determining whether or not individuals end up receiving treatment, but masculinity doesn’t have to. Men can work together to get healthier and shatter the stigma of getting help. After all, who better to break down a barrier than a big, strong man? 

A Monarch by SimplePractice infographic with a man in a rainbow-striped shirt and gray pants crossing his arms while surrounded by statistics regarding mental health differences between men and women.

Article originally published Feb 6, 2021. Updated Oct 1, 2021.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2019, November 15). Suicide statistics. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

American Psychological Association (2015). Demographics of the U.S. psychology workforce: Findings from the American Community Survey. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from [PDF] https://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/13-demographics/report.pdf

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). (2020, February 13). Opioid overdose deaths by gender. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/opioid-overdose-deaths-by-gender/

National Center for Health Statistics. (2020). Mental health treatment among adults: United States, 2019. NCHS Data Brief, no 380. Hyattsville, MD. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db380.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 28). Sex and gender differences in substance use. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use

Wong, Y., Ho, M.R., Wang, S., & Miller, I. (2017). Meta-analyses of the relationship between conformity to masculine norms and mental health-related outcomes. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64, 80–93.

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