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Helping males unmask

Bermuda has its first counselling service for males.

Fitzgerald Williams, Tyrone McHardy and Ernest Peets Jr opened Masc in February.

Having worked as probation officers, the trio understood the issues men faced and were certain many wanted to talk but couldn’t find a therapist they felt comfortable sharing their concerns with.

“We know that males are probably less likely to engage in assisting services and perhaps may have some resistance to them,” said Dr Peets, a therapist who is also an international certified drug and alcohol counsellor.

“The thought process for us was: is one of the issues contributing to that resistance the lack of males providing the services? We felt that actually might be the case; that having a male to talk to is something that they may consider.”

Combining their different “therapeutic styles and therapeutic interests” was something the men had discussed several years ago. Covid-19 showed that the need was still there.

“It does create changes in people’s behaviour and mood, particularly around depression and anxiety; adjustment,” said Dr Peets. “We’ve also had referrals from high schools, middle-schoolers who are having issues, in my opinion, that are somewhat related or complicated by Covid.”

The pandemic also caused many people to reflect a lot more on their life and how they could change it for the better added Mr McHardy, who has a master’s in clinical criminology.

“It pressed a reset button in terms of what they wanted their lives to look like, what they wanted to accomplish [and] who they could speak with to help them do that.”

At the moment Masc offers individual counselling to males age 13 and older from its offices at 87 Front Street. The men plan to eventually incorporate group counselling and establish support groups and education services into the programme.

As stated on their website, the goal is to “help males successfully navigate barriers preventing them from becoming fully functioning individuals and offer them a safe space where they can receive services designed to positively impact their lives and help them overcome obstacles to their personal growth and development”.

As far as they are aware, the service is a first for Bermuda.

“There have been a number of groups for men however what we have started is the first of its kind – a therapeutic counselling business,” said Mr Williams, who has a master’s degree in guidance and counselling and an advanced certification in rational-emotive behavioural therapy. “There was the Fathers’ Resource Centre years back but they were a charity and I believe they had a different mandate.”

He also believes that males “are just more open to the idea” of seeing a therapist than they once were.

“Guys have received a higher education, they have more of a world view, they’re more progressive in terms of speaking about their emotions and things that are taking place in their life. And so from that standpoint I certainly believe there are a number of factors that contribute to them now being open to the idea of accessing us.”

Despite that there is “a big misconception” that men don’t want to talk.

“It’s not true,” Mr Williams said. “Men do want to talk and they talk all the time. If you go in a barber shop, guys are in there talking. You go on street corners, guys are talking, if you go in a bar, guys are talking. And yes, they’re talking about things that actually matter to them it’s just that the feedback that they receive is not therapeutic in nature.”

Since opening in February men have sought help for “relationship issues, employment issues, anxiety and loss”; students have been more interested in speaking about conflicts with their parents or issues they have with their education.

“Typically if a boy falls down we tell him get up, brush it off, stop crying,” Mr Williams said. “If a girl falls down the injury is the same however the girl gets the love, the hugs, the kisses. So it’s about the things that have been learnt throughout the years and we’re just here to challenge that to let them know you’re worthy of love as well.

“It’s OK for you to tell your son that you love him, it’s OK for you to hug him and kiss him and what have you. It doesn’t mean that you’re soft. This is the psychology that has been passed down through the years to men and so we just want to help broaden that scope and help them to understand listen you’re not ‘less than’ simply because you show love to your son.”

It’s the type of behaviour that gave Masc its name said Dr Peets, the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport.

“There are two things going on with the name. It’s short for masculine – and we’re three guys offering a service to males – and it’s actually a play on a metaphor. By and large males wear masks. We have a tendency to present to the public a false perception of who we really are; a false persona of how we really feel. We wear it so often that, not only do the public think that’s who we are, we begin to believe that’s who we are as well. When you came here at Masc you have an opportunity to unmask yourself, to be authentic, to be real and to show the authentic self: your feelings, your thoughts, your fear, your hopes, your dreams, all of those things so you can truly be whole.”

It’s not unusual for clients to feel angry without understanding the underlying causes, Mr McHardy said.

“When you look at the sports we participate in, it’s about being aggressive, it’s about going in hard it’s about being tough and rugged and all of that,” Mr Williams added.

“Oftentimes when we are experiencing something, it will often come out as anger. That’s how it manifests itself when it’s really something else. It could be sadness which comes out as anger, it could be fear which comes out as anger; it could be just about any other thing. I’ve even seen happiness that comes across as if it looks like anger. That’s the one emotion we perfect.”

Said Dr Peets: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And our job is to increase their emotional intelligence, their emotional vocabulary, develop new tools so that you don’t use a hammer for everything.”

For more information: mascbda.com; 601-6272; contact@mascbda.com

Masc counsellors from left: Tyrone McHardy, Ernest Peets Jr and Fitzgerald Williams (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 10, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated August 11, 2021 at 8:03 am)

Helping males unmask

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