Michael Swales graduated from TAC’s Diploma in Integrative Counselling programme a year ago. For Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month, he reflects on his training experience and his clinical practice as a male therapist.
‘Men focus on the outside. They also need to deal with their insides.’
Becoming a therapist
I think it goes right back to my early life. My role models were not able to model healthy behaviours and relationships to me. It was this void that sparked my fascination with how people interact and the dynamics of relationships. I had to work out for myself how to do life, and it was through observing people and reading a lot of books that I managed to teach myself coping strategies and understand myself and others a bit better.
I began therapy as an adult because of the transformations I witnessed in those around me. For me, the experience of therapy had a profound effect in all areas of my life. It lightened me and my life became more vibrant. After what therapy did for me, it seemed completely natural to want to learn more about it through the training. My own personal experiences in therapy influenced my curiosity and my want to do the training.
My biggest learnings on the Diploma course
It was the range of tutors I met on the course. It was so useful to get a sense of what they were like as teachers, therapists and as people. That was powerful for me because the range of styles and approaches really broadened my view of what therapy could be. To have so many examples of therapists sharing their passion in their own unique ways really helped me find my own way as a therapist.
My experience as a man during training
My course colleagues were a warm and diverse group, with me as the only straight man on the course. At times it felt that I was the male voice for a lot of issues, which was unfortunate because I have my own perspective based on my background and lived experience. I noticed how societal and patriarchal privilege played out, with me being deferred to a lot, and also where I experienced the paternal projections of others.
I was aware of my privilege, and my stretch was to sometimes choose to stay quiet, to allow more space for others who were not afforded the same luxury I was given. I like that I have found a place that suits my strengths and values in a role many imagine to be a female one.
My experience on clinical placement
I did my clinical placements in the low-cost and NHS counselling services at TAC. I became aware of my level of countertransference with men who reminded me of me, and who brought up feelings of guilt and shame and anger. There was a certain way of being a man in the world that raised my hackles. I remember quite powerfully not wanting to work with some of them. This took supervision and a lot of reflection in therapy to realise I was looking at earlier versions of myself. This was all part of my process and was a powerful learning.
Working with male clients
What I notice with some male clients is that they want a solution, that their expectation is to come to a therapist and be given a list of things they need to do and then they’ll feel better. The way I practise is relational and experiential, so it’s not going to be for everyone. But I have found that by being transparent about the therapy I offer, and what I work with, gives them the choice – and if I am not the right fit for them, I generally refer them to someone who may be more suited.
I am seeing more men who are open to looking at their relationships, and open to questioning what it is to be a man, a father, a son. Much of the work is around congruence, connection, belonging and community. This challenges the stereotypes we grew up with of the tough guy fighting battles, winning, and riding off into the sunset, which can be a stretch for us men. That takes work.
What I wish men knew about therapy
That yes, it can be uncomfortable, but it won’t kill you, and sometimes it’s fun. As men we spend most of our lives working out how the outside world works. Very little time is given to our inside life. Yet even when, on the outside, life looks good and we have all the toys, there can be that feeling that something that is missing. Therapy is an opportunity to address that.
For anyone considering doing the Diploma in Integrative Counselling
It was an amazing experience for me as a student and I have recommended it to people looking for a two-year course. I think there was something really holding about the placement at TAC too. Since qualifying I have done some additional training and my practice has evolved. I have a busy practice in Central London, working with individuals, couples, and groups. My peers from the course have also moved into private practice and are flying.
If you would like more information about training to be a therapist or doing a placement with The Awareness Centre please visit the Training School and Counselling Placement pages on the website. If you feel ready to start your own therapy journey please contact our front of house team and they will support you in finding the right therapist for you [email protected].