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Jun 24, 2022

This week we are joined by St. Louis Professional Counselor, Michelle Steeg. Michelle, Brett, and. I discuss men in psychotherapy.


Contact Michelle


What kind of issues do men face?



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mike or like the facebook page at psych with mike now here's psych with mike
[Music] welcome into the psych with mike library this is dr michael mahon and i am
actually here with mr brett newcomb hello and mystery guest would you like to
introduce yourself yeah i thought you were going to do my intro i can no it's all right my name is
michelle stieg i am a former student of both of yours but i'm a licensed professional
counselor here in st louis as well and i'm here to put my two cents in today and i think that anybody who heard you
say that should not hold that against you right
because if the therapy sucks you'll train me right survival here we go i know
now anybody who's ever been in therapy with michelle says oh well that explains it makes sense now now i get it it all
checks out so uh we wanted to get together because my
understanding is michelle that you had had a conversation with brett about
some epiphanies that you had had and so why don't you tell us a little bit about that and
how that happened for you sure so i was you know by volume i've seen more women
in my career but i also think that's just because more women seek out counseling services but i would really
say that i do uh specialize in working with men and adolescent boys um and that's i mean
that's been typically from the very beginning of my career and so
i've seen quite a few more men over the past few years and i would say about 70
of my practice at this point has been men and what i had reached out to him about for
a potential topic with you guys was just some patterns that uh that i've been seeing and it and it
really goes kind of across the board with all of the men whom i see and so
then i was just also kind of observing the men in my life and seeing some of the similar patterns and so
um you know a consistent theme that i see with men who come into my office is a
genuine lack of self-awareness people not just men will come to
counseling and say i want you know i'm coming to you for this issue and here's what i want to get out of therapy and we
all know that that's you know what the presenting issue is is never the issue it's never the issue right
but i tell people all the time men and women alike that i cannot offer you
anything you are seeking without the awareness
if you don't have the awareness of the patterns and the things that you're doing in your life i can't offer you anything that
you've come here seeking so what you're saying is they have to be self-aware correct
but i would suggest that you can facilitate that if they don't have it absolutely open to the process yes they
have to essentially surrender to the process and surrender to the fact that they
aren't self-aware so yeah um i want to lay this on the table
i have also seen michelle in therapy as my therapist i uh practiced
therapy as a clinician for 35 years yeah and then i retired and in retirement decided it was time to
do something that people told me for 35 years i needed to do which is go to therapy and i thought the hell i know
everything why did i do that amen and i had also read a book which i think
is seminal for me the book was maybe you should speak to someone about a therapist who went to therapy
so i went to michelle and i
was worried about that because of the dynamics of our history student
friend therapist and all the corruption of those relationships but i was more worried about that
because of what i knew about myself yeah in that i can be very competitive and very gamey
and play lots of head games and i had to be and i ask you as a way to insulate you
from having to be real yes and to protect me and some people in power position and control the
circumstances yeah the one things that i asked michelle to do i said i am going to make an honest effort not to play
those games and not to be the professor the knowing therapist the mentor or whatever but be
me and look in the mirror for me and you wanted her to point it out whenever she saw me
not doing it and also to compound that issue my wife was sitting there because she went with me so these two women who
know me very well i asked them if i'm doing the thing please point
that out they were more than happy to do that [Laughter]
she and i were great co-therapists oh you are you are is always helpful
so that's all i want to put all that on the table before we got into this conversation about awareness because i think it's critical the critical
conditions so in response to what you were saying michelle as far as the idea of being
more aware i only can come at that from my own
experience as a man but also as somebody who's been in therapy done a lot of therapy over
the years and i remember when i first started in the process of recovery
there was a christmas and my wife had put the tree up and had strung the
lights on it and after she had done that she had asked me do you want to help me
put the ornaments on the tree and i said oh i got your ornaments right
here and i was taking these glass ornaments and i was flinging them up against the fireplace yeah and so i and
i i was just thinking about a four step for people who don't know a fourth step is where you do it fearless and
searching moral inventory and uh the first thing that i put on my fourth
step was people make me angry and so that was my first i thought you said you
were going to buy her some christmas ornaments no well somebody had to go buy some new produces
because she was like you're you're insane you're crazy and i was like oh well see here's the problem is people make me angry you make me angry
and then after a while when i was able to sit with that and think about it then i realized oh no i get angry right and
then i realized oh i get angry because i'm insecure because christmas in my house growing up was a time of fear not
a time of joy and so what i want to make sure that people understand is that
level of awareness is a process and you don't have to get to a point of complete
nakedness in the first session you should go through a process because
that's the only way that you're going to allow yourself to be real and genuine and that's my job
yeah that's my job to walk you through that process because if you could do it on your own we wouldn't be here but i
also want to state like for the record on records somewhere here in your psych
with mike library that it was the privilege of my career to work with you so i need that stated
now with that said um that'll get edited out no it won't okay
i would say yeah that's my my job is to get you to that level of awareness and
that it's a bit of an arduous process because i think as we were talking before
so much of a man's experience you know from
their childhood on has to be performative right so we're constantly competing with
one another trying to keep up with each other trying to not look weak trying to not look vulnerable
trying to look strong so everything up into a certain point in a man's life
has really been performative so it would make sense that men struggle to have
a lot of that self-awareness and we think yeah people make me angry when it's actually
so much deeper than that and i say it all the time like that's why men are so beautifully complicated
because it's not that they're being obstinate in not having the self-awareness they often just truly
don't ever see this just to play the game yeah and that's what they learn i'm interested in as you're saying this
are you framing that in terms of men's interactions and relationships with other men
or also with women i think it's all relative i think it starts with others yeah so i
think it starts with with other men you know i
the last when i was in education the last building i worked in was with 600 teenage boys all day every day so it was
i mean what i saw was just this highly competitive um
constant flexing constant roasting i would have kids come in the seniors would come in and they would be balling
saying like i don't know what i'm gonna do you know brett looks like he knows exactly where he's going he wants to be
an engineer he's going to ralla that's how it is i'd get him packaged up out the door and brett would walk right in and brett
would be crying going everybody thinks i should be an engineer and i don't want to do it but it looks like mike knows
exactly what he's doing so it was this constant cycle of performing that i then saw carry over like in my
practice like with females but they weren't even necessarily aware
that they were doing it but they did with females have the ability to soften
and the females were able their girlfriends or their partners were able to um kind of pull out of them more of that
sensitive intimate layer yeah and it would approach it from that
perspective though i want that piece from you i want that i want to know more about you and often men will look at themselves on
what you're talking about i don't have that people right why are you asking me for that one of my favorite things with
men and this one client who had so my favorite clients to work with are
men who think therapy is it's my favorite i love it like they set my world on fire so i have a guy i'm
working with who thinks therapy is of course and he says i asked him something i said how did it
make you feel and he goes frustrated because that's all that's typically the first thing i hear from men they're angry or frustrated i've also never met
a man who wasn't completely terrified of his anger on some level but he says i'm
it makes me really frustrated it's okay say more about that tell me more and he goes
i don't know how and we both started laughing because it's true and it wasn't that i was laughing because i was making
fun of me it's true they don't know how and part of that is vocabulary correct and being
able to say i'm frustrated instead of i'm angry right big step right i mean it's a breakthrough yes and and then you
you try to teach them other words for different layers of intensity i'm
i'm pissed off i'm miffed i'm irritated right i'm mad i'm angry i'm rageful
those levels are things that they were not taught no to distinguish no they might
be taught to read them in observation of another man how correct what's the temperature here uh
is he going to hit me right go to go to fist city uh but in terms of looking in the mirror
and seeing that no yeah well i always started off especially with men by saying
that big boys don't cry fear is a sign of weakness and so i did
he does this to me and i won't answer he won't answer really i know this is my first time i'll i'll let him hang there i'm gonna
do whatever you want i'll let him hang next time but i've been asking those questions for
close to 40 years and so thousands and thousands and thousands of times never gotten a different answer
and i would implore someone to tell me where these things are written down that's 50 of the
human emotional spectrum that we tell men they don't have the right to feel
and there's a lot of shame that goes into feeling those things and that to me is
the big hurdle that we go into therapy with men fighting against is how do we
make it okay for these guys to allow themselves even to contemplate that it's
okay to experience the complete spectrum of human emotions you're a human being
biologically andro chronology wise you are going to have these experiences what
do you do with that when you have this experience and then this shame message
tells you that you shouldn't have it you're going to sublimate that emotion you're going to take that energy you're going to dump it into something else and
usually that's anger and so these guys present as horribly horribly angry and
it's only because they're taking all of the energy for every emotion they've ever felt in their life and they're
dumping it into being mad because they don't know what else to do yes and then again like i said i've never met a man though who was not acutely afraid
of his anger but the shame that men carry is profound
like the the insecurity and shame that runs through their veins just
existing is it's i don't know i just have a lot of empathy in working with men because
underneath that anger is so much softness that
the world has kind of shamed out of them so a question from you
how as a woman and a therapist how aware are you of being able to sit in a
room with a rageful male and not having your own echoes in response to
that of anxiety or fear or submission yeah
because when i taught for 35 years people to be clinicians that was a real issue for
women wanting to be therapists uh how do you get out of your own way with your own passion your own history
of responding to angry men because the critical point i believe and i've said throughout all these podcasts
that we've done is you have to create the safe holding environment he has to be able to be there
and be present with those feelings and you have to be able to hold that and not come with your own issues
before you answer that question we're going to go to our break and then we'll have you answer that question on the other side okay
wow we've already done half of this traveler that'll get edited out
one hopes hey everybody dr michael mahoney here from psych with mike and i couldn't be
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it's friday it's psych with mike okay we're back and so uh the question
is again can you yeah as a female sitting in the room with a really
intensely angry man how do you create a safe holding environment for him to experience those feelings without
having your own alarms set off for your safety yeah so
a couple things first off my vetting process in working with men like um
i do believe that i specialize in working with men but i'm also not gonna work with a man who i don't
like just off the street he's gonna have to have a referral from somebody that i know and trust
or that i've worked with in the past um because i know the relationships there and they
wouldn't send me anybody who would harm me okay so first that's um
kind of the first piece is the vetting process but
i think you have to understand too that like my entire history has been surrounded
with men my two mentors were men jerry and jerry johnson and tom michler
um you know both of them don't you mike i do so they were my mentors when i was in
school with you guys and then afterwards i had you right we stayed in contact you are
profoundly impactful in my life then i was already working with men doing therapy i'm in my own therapy
but working especially with high school adolescent males really set the foundation for me to be
able to sit with grown men in their anger because you could see the high school
boy in there absolutely like when it's crazy because when i have a grown
man and i i mean like there's i'm picturing a handful of my clients i
mean they are over six three massive massive men filled with rage in front of me
and i i see a kid yeah so when i experience male rage in front of me
there is something that happens in my system that immediately softens so you
see woundedness i do i really i really really do because anger is a emotion it's a mask
it's it's it's sadness is bodyguard you know it's it's hurts bodyguard or at least that's how i see it in most
instances so as soon as that rage comes up i'm not activated because i see harm i
see shame and i also build i feel like the relationship with the men that i work with like
they're not going to hurt me yeah they care about me yeah and i they know
that i care about them so like it's not threatening to me
so you can do the reflective listening to say i feel your rage i feel you wallowing in it but
i also know that you're not going to hurt me or yourself no in this moment correct and so
can you talk out loud about what you're feeling can you put words to it yeah
that's an invitation and an observation but it's also a message correct okay correct because they i mean you have to
think about it too like i mean the man that i work with i mean they get really protective of me too and
they are afraid to rage in front of me because they don't want to scare me and so it's this
shift of energy that happens in that moment in the relationship where i have to show them
that i'm not afraid of them yeah and there's a lot of not in a muscle up
muscle up i'm not afraid of you i can't take you out but in a i understand yeah what this is happening
inside you and i'm not afraid of it tolerate your anger and not
shy away from it or need to control you or shut it down right so can you then allow yourself to
not be afraid of it because that's right the next step is that how do you then take that and
you know for me when i work with men in that situation you know my next step is
going to be what are you mad about i mean what's going on here that because
anger is a part of the fight-or-flight syndrome so the only rational reason to
experience anger is if you're going to defend yourself so you have to feel that whatever the threat is is significant
enough that that would be a warranted response what's happening in this moment that would make you feel this way and
99.9 of the time the answer is nothing and so it's not really anger it's it's
covering for something else i'm fine yeah right yeah right okay cool yeah
yeah so i lost it um that's because you're old
that's what nothing because i'm old i can't that's because i don't hear um
if you can invite them oh i know what it was
as a clinician one of the skills that you have to learn is to avoid counter transference
and counter transference issues are so subtle you don't always see them coming you don't know that you have them unless
maybe you're in therapy yourself which i avoided uh but how do you
not steer away and uh redirect the conversation redirect the
emotional experience how do you just sit in the presence of intense emotions whether it's grief or rage or sadness or
loss or guilt or what shame whatever it is without
steering it from your own agendas that to me is a clinical question and three clinicians in the room how do we
learn to do that how do we do that in a way that then facilitates the client
being able to safely be held while they feel whatever they need to feel
and then help them put words to it and i'm curious what you both think about that well i would say i mean you've
experienced so i am trained to do internal family systems theory
therapy so parts work um in ifs we talk about dropping into self so
essentially what that means is i'm not i'm not blended with a bunch of parts that are trying to take me places or
protect me or whatever so essentially i've kind of trained my body to become acutely aware
of what it looks like what it feels like in my system when i have dropped into some flare when you trigger correct so i
i'm really aware of the chatter that i hear in my head i think that like you have to train yourself to be like
acutely aware of parts that step into that have an agenda or they're trying to lead
um because when i'm in self when i'm sitting with one of those
clients who's raging or just filled with grief or shame i tell people all the time and it's
something that i do hear when i'm in self is my my job is not
my job is to hear you in a way that no one in your life possibly can
yes that including yourself including absolutely and so
when i hear a lot of chatter i know i'm uh something's happening there and so i can redirect myself or i
tell my client flat out like can you keep listening right now right right i'm hearing a lot of chatter in my head
right now so that tells me something's happening here so why can we can we redirect this i don't know that's
kind of how i approach it and for me when i hear that chatter what that says
to me is there's something real going on and this chatter is specifically designed to
elicit a response from me because people are so afraid of silence and so if i the
chatter comes up and then i react to it now we're running down the rabbit hole of i'm chasing the chatter and i think
that that is the point at which silence is a profoundly powerful tool don't
respond like people experience the emotion don't touch them don't don't
talk to a clinical skill yeah just absolutely let them be with it and i say you know i'm gonna let you simmer a minute and and we're gonna see what
happens and you're going to be the next person to respond so michael garzini
yeah taught us yeah you and i identity about projective identification i really like him and
his understanding of that was that if you sit in the silence and
feel the emotions from the client then you need to ask the client
your definition of understanding what you're feeling is it possible that this is coming from you
is that a message from you that i need to hear and clients will typically go oh no no no that's not me i i would feel
that or say that but michael taught us to do that and to work with the data feedback that we were
getting yes because it's a discovery process it's an invitation to the client
that says it's really okay if these are words that we use it's really okay if these are feelings that we have we can
have those we're in here with the door closed nobody else knows and then we can process that what does
it feel like to be asked that question if i can if you can't feel the feeling can you feel what it feels like not to
be able to feel the feeling now can we discuss that i do want to say since we are weird this is specifically designed
to be targeted to people who may be doing therapy right that one of the things that i am very very specific
about when we get to this point especially with men is i don't want you to act in the real world the way you're
acting in this room right now i don't want you to take this and act this way because you think this is the
way you're supposed to act you know and or because you're not ready right right you can't take this show on the road exactly right so it's okay for you to
feel this here for you to behave this way here but that doesn't mean you should behave this way
everywhere maybe you will eventually but not right now it's unsafe right yes it
would be unsafe for them to do that and explaining that to them along the way
shows them that like i i want you to do this the right way
because you have power exactly you've got options you've got power and every time you do that and explain that to them
you're creating more awareness you're modeling the awareness for them like it's it's
such a journey and the safety and the safe holding right we can have these uh
you married couples going through divorce counseling or marriage counseling may lead to divorce
i would often tell them one of the common daydream night dream fantasies
that people in your situation have is they fantasize that their partner was
killed in a car wreck or that they're walking down the street and a tree falls on them or something and they die because being the widow or widower
who now is free from the constraints of this dysfunctional relationship but without any responsibility yes is what
your subconscious is telling you wouldn't that be nice right and then they look at each other and they both go like
well but what what they don't acknowledge to themselves is through their own passive
aggressive behavior they've been trying to play out that fantasy for how many years before they came to the office so
people do that and i tell people all the time your partner is engaged in a passive aggressive activity that is
designed to get you to leave so that they can then say it's not my fault exactly right well it goes back to what
michelle said initially it's not my fault i didn't do it right has the power let's see what you made me do right the
power to not make choices to force people into corners so they make the choices on your
behalf and it's just such a delusion because the only thing that any of us actually have control over is our own
behavior and our own thinking but we delude ourselves into believing that we
should have control over all of everything everybody else does and never
take responsibility for what we do it's just so backwards but it feels comfortable but
it's also a great game that clients can play in therapy if i can get you to talk
to me about why did my father do this why did he behave this way why do you treat me this way instead of me talking
about what did that feel like to me correct or how can i respond differently so that i don't become my father but i
think that also depends on the clinician that you're working with if they're able to catch that we're focusing just on your dad
instead of we're not talking about you yeah which again i think with men in particular that's an easy dance to do
and you have to be able to hear it as their therapist and pick up on it like i see what your dad has done here let's
let's talk about you and that impact on you right so it's not that the information from the family of
origin isn't important but the only way that it's important is how did that
behavior how did those situations cause you to feel and respond you used to have
a conversation with uh people with abuse histories all the time to say you are not responsible for how you got
here you are a survivor of other people's victimization what you are responsible
for is how you leave here and you can have the power and the freedom to make these choices and do
different things and live differently but you have to do that mm-hmm yeah and you if you just keep looking in your
navel and saying oh this happened this is tragic you won't ever be any different no and your relationships will
never go to the depths that you're probably seeking yeah
so that actually is a good point for us to
bring this thing to a close uh let me just say that was an incredibly clinical
you're welcome as always the music that appears inside with mike is written and performed by mr benjamin the clue and
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