Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

"Good Grief! It's a Men's Group, Charlie Brown"/« Dieu Du Ciel! C'est Un Groupe D'hommes, Charlie Brown »

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

"Good Grief! It's a Men's Group, Charlie Brown"/« Dieu Du Ciel! C'est Un Groupe D'hommes, Charlie Brown »

Article excerpt

Well, I went to the doctor

I salii, "I'm feeling kind 'of rough"

He said, "Let me break it to you, son

Your shits fucked up. "

I s4id, "My skit's fucked up?"

Well, I don't see how-"

He said, "The shit that used to work -

It wont work now. "

Warren Zevon (1999)

"What the hell am I doing here?" I ponder this question after taking my seat in a circle of men on a wet spring day at a retreat centre outside a major city in Ganada. I'm sitting pensively in a metal chair, legs stretched out, arms crossed, eyes directed at the floor. There are 12 guys seated around me. We're a mixed hunch. Some of the men are old enough to be my father; others are in their thirties like me. Hometowns, professional backgrounds, and life experiences are varied and unknown to each other, but we are there for a single terrifying purpose: to soft out our shit. I have my share.

For me, this "men's workshop" is the culmination of events that began a year earlier At the time, my life had all the traditional markings of male success. I had a respectable income and a career in the high-powered world of investment banking. I was physically fit, had three wonderful children, and my marriage looked healthy enough. Inwardly, however, I was in a state of severe psychological discomfort, the sort categorized by Erikson (1963) as stagnation. In layman's terms, I was a mess - in a dark place and acting out in ways that threatened to unravel my world.

Generations of men have been conditioned to be independent, be silent, and deal with their shit on their own. I did not seek help, because I learned at ayoung age to suppress my emotional truth. Eventually, however, I took a risk and disclosed my story to a trusted friend. It turned out I was not alone. My friend had gone through a process of healing and inner transformation. He talked about the questions each of us needs to explore at some stage of our existence - Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? What do I want?

My friend introduced me to a therapist who specializes in helping men. I was subsequently invited to participate in a men's group and then an intensive weekend workshop where men could speak rheir truth in a safe environment, a place we could do our "work" and discover who we are, individually and collectively. My friend and the therapist had established a strong rapport with me. I had a sense that they understood, at a gut level, what I was going through. Feelings of safety, trust, and inclusion gave me the courage to go deeper and eventually do significant repair work around old wounds that had played a key role in my decisions, behaviour, and psychological health for over two decades.

The evolution ofthat journey - from the initial encounter with my friend to my seat in the circle of men - is the focus of this article. Using autoethnography as a methodological approach, the article describes personal experiences in the style outlined by Ellis, Adams, and Bochner (201 1), with data derived from field notes, memory, and interviews with other participants. I explore practical issues for counselling men in a group setting through a carefully crafted narrative that is designed to engage the reader in my personal journey (Adams, 2006; Lamort, 1994). The narrative is interwoven with analysis that draws on research on masculinity and male-male friendship, and uses reflexivity as described by Ellis and Ellingson (2000), and modelled by Brooks (2007), to identify the concerns that drove me and other participants to seek help and explore how we were drawn to that particular group.

I examine the steps taken to create a safe and inclusive environment for partlcipants and reflect upon and convey the challenges and benefits of counselling men in a group setting. This meditation on deeply personal experience is an effort to move forward, partly by looking in my own rearview mirror, and debunk the' masculinity myth in the process, moving beyond stereotypical images of stoicism and strength (Osherson, 2001). …

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