R&B legend Bill Withers wrote his hit song ‘Lean on Me’ after leaving his hometown and tight-knight community of Slab Fork, Virginia:
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
As a Registered Clinical Counsellor with Anxiety Canada, I’ve seen many men achieve significant mental health benefits by leaning on each other during the men’s group therapy and the education/tools they’re introduced to in the sessions I facilitate. In this article, I will explain how group therapy helps men.
Research suggests that half of Canadians will experience a mental illness issue by age 40, while suicide deaths are 3 times higher among Canadian men than women. Taking care of our mental health has never been more vital.
What is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?
We all have negative thoughts now and then. But if you consistently apply negative meanings to events and situations, you are more likely to experience anxiety and/or depression. These thoughts often create a vicious cycle of negative emotions and behaviours that only worsen the problem.
For many, CBT helps break that negative cycle. It provides accurate, realistic, and practical ways to think about your challenges, along with tools to overcome them. This form of psychological treatment is proven to be one of the most effective ways to manage anxiety and depression. Research also shows that people are less likely to relapse when treated with CBT: They tend to get better and stay better!
The unique power of group CBT for men
In MindShift CBT group sessions, I often hear from men who were raised to keep their emotions bottled up. Indeed, one of the main reasons Anxiety Canada introduced group sessions specifically for men was the enduring stigma and shame associated with sharing their feelings and being vulnerable. That’s why the sessions often cover subjects that members are not fully comfortable discussing with others. For example, they might feel that they want to avoid burdening their partner or other family members with their challenges and uncertainties.
The 90-minute sessions often produce what many therapists refer to as “group magic.” Men will often feel like they are alone in their struggles with anxiety and depression. With group CBT, it’s the exact opposite: participants facing similar struggles get to share their experiences, allowing them to feel less isolated and alone while learning from others. Everyone gains valuable insights from the feedback and perspectives of others. Working with other men in similar situations or experiencing the same struggles can be less intimidating than working with a therapist one-on-one.
The unique benefits of group CBT for men
Find your voice
Men are encouraged to express and openly discuss their emotions. Honing these skills within the group boosts members’ confidence, enabling them to apply it in their everyday lives.
Lean on each other
I’m always inspired by the encouragement and support group members offer. Being part of these sessions allows participants to listen to the experiences and progress of others, fostering a sense of belonging and providing hope for personal improvement. The emphasis is on seeking feedback, connection, and support from each other rather than solely relying on the facilitator.
Live and learn
Challenges that arise in the outside world are often unpacked in CBT groups, allowing members to explore and practice coping skills in real-time with others who share similar challenges.
Cost-effective and easy access
As well as taking advantage of the unique treatment benefits of group therapy, the cost is divided among participants. For Anxiety Canada’s men’s groups, no referral is required at all.
What to expect in a group CBT session
While some initial discomfort is not unusual, most men share that this subsides and becomes easier within the first 2-3 sessions. During each MindShift session, facilitators guide discussion among the group. Members are free to decide what and how much information they wish to share and progress at their own pace. The goal is to guide you through that progress by offering support, encouragement, and understanding.
What is required in a group CBT session
A commitment to attending and participating in eight weekly 90-minute sessions
A significant part of group therapy is group trust. Of course, life happens, and sometimes a session may need to be missed. But by committing to all 8 sessions, you are committing to being part of a group of men who are there to learn from and support each other, which is essential to the process.
After the 8 weeks have ended, it may not be realistic to expect to have resolved your anxiety completely, but you will have the tools you need to continue managing your anxiety more independently.
The ability to complete a home practice assignment
This means practising the skills you’re learning and applying them to your daily life. Like the homework that you were given in school, you need to practise those skills every day so you can use them when you need them most: when you are feeling depressed or anxious. The good news is that the more you use your new CBT skills, the easier it gets, and the better you will become at managing your anxiety and/or depression.
How a group CBT session unfolds
We start with a general check-in. This involves everyone sharing how they’re doing that day so the group can have a sense of what they can expect from others and who may require additional support.
After reviewing and troubleshooting anything from the latest home practice, we move to the current week’s lesson, which introduces a new tool that is practiced together to ensure everyone knows how to use it when they’re alone.
Just like developing a healthy new habit, practicing these tools takes time before becoming a regular activity. Essentially, the tools teach new or different ways of thinking and behaving. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected. Changing one has an effect on the other two.
Confidentiality and respectful communication are key
Joining group therapy may seem intimidating to some men, especially since personal and vulnerable topics are discussed. Rest assured that information shared with Anxiety Canada’s CBT facilitators and their groups is kept private and confidential.
All members are required to sign confidentiality statements when they register. While you’re allowed to discuss your participation with friends and family, you are asked not to share names or any other information that might identify anyone else in the group.
Group facilitators can respond to non-urgent questions outside of sessions but may only be available at certain times.
How to join a group CBT session (and more)
Another great resource is the free MindShift CBT App, which is used during every group session and is required to participate in the group. Developed by Anxiety Canada, it uses scientifically proven strategies to help you learn to relax and take steps to help manage anxiety.
There’s also the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation’s MindFit Toolkit, which provides free resources, reliable information, and counselling services to help improve your mental health.
In other words, there’s no shortage of anxiety-busting resources for guys to lean on. As Bill Withers sang:
You just call on me brother when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on…