How Therapy Helped Me Become a Better Dad, According to 10 Men
Learning how to talk about your feelings — and process them — is a huge help.
Not so long ago, therapy used to be seen as weakness. What, you need to talk so someone? About YOUR FEELINGS? Thankfully, that stigma has been lifted and it’s easier to both find a therapist as well as admit to yourself that you might need to talk through whatever issues might be troubling you. A 2015 CDC study found that 40 percent of insured American adults and about 18 percent of uninsured American adults had sought therapy in the last year, found it effective, and wanted to keep going. Therapy is a valuable tool, particularly so for men who have been socialized not to talk about their feelings or examine the moments where they feel angry or vulnerable. Here, 10 dads talk about their own reasons for talking to a professional, and why they found it so helpful.
I Thought I Was “Man Enough”
One of the most difficult decisions in my life was admitting that I needed talk therapy. I suffered for over a year, believing I was “man enough” to get through our family crisis without help. Macho men didn’t go to counseling. Macho men do not admit weakness. Mental illness just doesn’t happen to successful families like ours. This will pass and everything will go back to “the way things were.” But things never went back to the way they were. I felt humiliated, shamed, and mortified that our dirty laundry would get out and our friends, acquaintances, and anybody that comes into our life will know what happened and that our child was too weak to fight off mental illness.
I suffered from both extreme trauma and profound clinical depression because my life had become my child’s life, and my child’s life had become my life. I felt like I had let my child down and was a failure as a parent. Twelve months of weekly face-to-face counseling allowed me to learn how to separate myself from my child’s issues and understand that the responsibility for living life was their issue, not mine. Understanding that depression and the other issues that my child confronted were chemical, were not done on purpose, and could be corrected with medication. It opened my eyes to the glaring holes in our medical system when it comes to mental health. I became a better spouse because normality returned to our relationship and we were on the same page. — Damian, 64, North Carolina
It Helped My Wife and I Work Through Postpartum
I am currently attending group therapy once a week with my wife while she is experiencing postpartum depression. There have been a lot of challenges that we have both faced becoming parents. Sometimes as a father, you get so busy taking care of things that you forget to take care of yourself in the process.
Group therapy has been an amazing time for us to step outside of everyday life, connect with each other, and learn skills to navigate the challenges that come with postpartum. — Josh, 26, Salt Lake City
I Had to Grapple With How Much My Life Had Changed
Becoming a parent is such a huge life change. Along with the amazing moments you can easily go into a negative space by contemplating everything from “Am I good dad and husband?” to “Am I providing enough for my child’s future, all while adapting to the responsibilities of a newborn?”
Group therapy allowed me a safe space to discuss how much my life has changed and not feel guilty for being tired all the time and not able to give my family and friends the same energy I used to. It helped me learn positive coping mechanisms for when I felt overwhelmed or my wife and I didn’t see eye to eye. Most importantly it gave me an opportunity to put everything into perspective and remember how fatherhood, just like anything, has its peaks and valleys. — Fawaz, 30, Florida
I Got the (Professional) Sounding Board I Needed
I’ve gone to therapy on and off for several years. The primary benefits I’ve seen include validation, objective critical analysis of my problem, and support in implementing a real plan for change. Everyone’s problems are different, but a therapist is more than a sounding board. A good therapist will check you and let you know when your thinking is distorted and provide validation where needed.
The primary type of therapy I’ve been through is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This method really helped me think genuinely about how my thoughts and actions impact my family. — Ben, 32, Michigan
I Just Needed to Feel More Confident
I had many sessions with a brilliant Marriage and Family Therapist a few months back for a variety of reasons. I’m a self-made successful entrepreneur, husband, and father to three amazing children. About a year ago, I wanted to switch career paths, which can be terrifying as a self-employed independent contractor. After each session, I would walk away with more confidence in the knowledge that was uncovered through good-old honest conversation. While reaching into the business side of things, I was happily surprised to rediscover that all my inner workings were connected and being a good parent helped me to be a good businessman, helped me to be a good husband, neighbor, friend, etc. Going inward to figure out what was manifesting the fear holding me back from change really helped me learn about honesty, open communication, fear itself, and more. All of these findings have helped me communicate with my own children and help them understand their emotions and work through fear, anger, or negative feelings with positive, healthy tools that my therapist taught me. — Marc, 35, California
I Wanted to Prepare for My Kids
Mental health was a factor when my wife and I were thinking about children. Depression runs in my family, and I’ve suffered throughout most of my life. I didn’t want my child to feel the way I felt, and if he did, I wanted to be ready to help. I went back to talk therapy when my son was born so I could attempt to break the cycle. Sitting down with my therapist is like going to the gym for an hour. I work on my confidence, my sense of self, and my perspective. I’m not sure I could parent without it. — Evan, 31, New York
I Needed to Deal With My Panic Attacks
Around the age of 17, I began suffering from severe panic attacks. I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and prescribed Xanax and Lexapro. My condition continued to worsen, to the point going outside of the house would cause me a panic attack. I began Cognitive Behavior Therapy at the age of 23 and continued for 18 months. The results were amazing. I began to associate things that caused panic attacks, such as driving, with happiness. I learned that the way we associate actions in our brain can trigger different emotions. I have minimal anxiety now and have learned to think my way through panic attacks. — Calvin, 35, Michigan
I Needed to Get Through My Own Childhood Trauma
I’ve done a number of different types of therapy, but the kind that helped the most in my parenting was talking through my own childhood trauma. Doing so helped me to recognize it, properly process it, and notice when it was being triggered or popping back up in my adult life. That helped my parenting because, when you have three little people running around who look like you and you’re always thinking about kids, it reminds you constantly of your own childhood. That can be difficult if you’re not prepared to work through all that it brings up. Therapy, and mindful parenting, has made me a better person. — Mark, 36, Toronto
I Just Needed to Deal With Stress
I’ve been in cognitive behavioral therapy for about 18 months now. The therapy began to help me deal with depression that is successfully being managed now. The depression stemmed from some professional struggles and the stress it placed on my marriage. Now that the depression is under control, I’m focusing on developing a growth mindset and learning to not let emotion impact the things that I say or do. The idea is, essentially, to identify how I’m feeling (angry, frustrated, hurt, etc.), accept that I’m feeling that way, and then place those feelings aside so that the proper thing can be said or done to resolve whatever is causing me to feel that way.
It’s taken a lot of practice, and I’ve failed at it plenty of times but bit by bit I’m making positive strides toward not letting emotions impact my words and actions. The other important tool that therapy has added to my toolbox is the idea that there are only two things in the world under my control: what I say and what I do. Everything that happens or exists outside of those two things is out of my control and I have to accept it at face value then turn my focus to what I can say or do to create a positive outcome. — Ray, 34, Pennsylvania
I Needed to Work Out My Relationship With My Dad
I was at therapy the other day talking about how important therapy has been for me, now that I have kids. You don’t have time to reflect on your emotional reactions much when you have a newborn or toddler. Things that annoyed you annoy you more; things you love seem to shine all the brighter; baggage that you had with your family can deepen and your anger and resentment can bubble up before you’re even aware it’s there.
I love my dad. But I have issues with my dad, many of them stemming from some very tumultuous teen years. I worked on that, for years with a therapist (a few, honestly). I learned to accept my feelings and bring in a bit of empathy. I learned to check my reactions and let rest the details of that time in my life. There’s truth in the past and it carried, but it can be differentiated from the present. No? Well, let’s just say I made peace.
Once my baby arrived, I was so very happy to have done the work. He cried holding my infant son and I felt nothing but joy for him. He now plays with my toddler boy and they laugh and dance and don’t stop and I can enjoy it completely. I’ve found my flow state with my dad. The baggage is still real, and there, but it’s past and I know how to appreciate the present relationship of a smitten son and infatuated grandfather. — Tyghe, 37, New York