Learn / Learning True Strength in Men-Only Rehab 

Learning True Strength in Men-Only Rehab 

Kayla Gill
 November 7th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Men face unique challenges that affect how they experience mental health and care.
  • Many of these come from societal expectations of what it means to “be a man.”
  • Addressing this in rehab can help your treatment outcomes.

Men face a unique set of challenges that affect the types of mental health issues they have, their likelihood of seeking help, and their experience in treatment once they do. Thankfully, more rehabs are specializing in care for men, addressing male-specific struggles in a safe and supportive setting.  

Mental Health Challenges Facing Men Today

Growing up in a culture with specific expectations about what it means to “be a man” shapes male psychological development. This impacts the types of mental health issues men have, and the methods they use to cope:  

Because it can be harder for men to voice their problems, this suffering often happens in silence. Men’s mental health researcher Benita Chatmon, PhD says this raises concern: “These statistics are troubling because they reinforce the notion that males are less likely to seek help and more likely than women to turn to dangerous, unhealthy behaviors.”

A Note on Gender

In the past, gender has been thought of as being either male or female, but we now understand it to be far more nuanced. Those who aren’t cisgendered men may still be affected by cultural expectations of masculinity. And those who don’t see gender as a major factor in their experience may not find gender-specific treatment necessary. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which aspects of your care are most important.

Soberman’s Estate in Cave Creek, Arizona offers daily group therapy and equine therapy as part of their men-only treatment program.

Masculine Norms

“Men are subjected to a culture where the standards of masculinity are literally killing them,” says Chatmon. 

This happens through what men’s mental health activist Dan Griffin calls the “internalization of the ‘man rules.’”4 Sometimes called “toxic masculinity,” this set of rules tells men how they’re supposed to behave:

  • Don’t show weakness. 
  • Don’t express your emotions. 
  • Don’t cry. 
  • Don’t admit that you’re afraid. 
  • Don’t lose control.
  • Don’t ask for help. 

Unfortunately, following these rules leads many men to struggles with depression, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse. And, it cuts them off from support when they need it most. 

“When men adhere rigidly to the kinds of norms that encourage them to not share their emotions, to be sort of relentlessly self-reliant without seeking the help or support of others, they can have poorer mental health outcomes,” says health behavior professor and men’s mental health expert Wizdom Powell, PhD, “because doing so cuts them off from the social networks and social supports that might help them get through a difficult time.” 

Everyone’s Journey is Their Own

Of course, just because certain issues tend to be more challenging for men doesn’t mean all men experience them in the same way. These norms show up differently for different people, affect men to different degrees, and vary according to context. “A man who enacts a particular masculinity in the boardroom may enact a very different kind of masculinity on the street corner,” says Powell.

Why is it Harder for Men to Ask for Help?

Mental illness is often overlooked in men,5 and is therefore more likely to go untreated. SAMHSA’s guide on Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men states that there are “specific issues facing men that can affect all elements of the treatment process,6 including the decision to seek treatment in the first place.”

Social conditioning can influence how likely men are to talk about their feelings or reach out when they’re struggling. And there’s far more to this picture than what appears on the outside: 

Trauma and Shame 

Intense shame is a common theme for men in recovery,7 in addition to “histories of violence, sexuality, family issues, and difficulty accessing emotions.” Some men feel this as a result of trauma they’ve experienced, or inflicted on others. And some feel shame around violating masculine norms. 

Shame is a powerful emotion.8 It affects the way you see yourself, how you interpret the world around you, and the choices you make. That includes your willingness to address the traumas underlying your addiction, anxiety, or depression. 

But working through shame is a necessary part of healing. Psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association Ronald Levant explains: “We have to brave the shame. We were made to feel ashamed of ourselves for not being fully masculine,9 and that was nonsense…Those lessons you learn as a child are not valid. A better approach is to have an open heart, an open mind, and to freely express your emotions to the people you care about.” 

That includes yourself. 


Mental health stigma exists across all genders, but especially so for men, who are under extra pressure to seem like they have it all together.

In a report from the 2019 Behavioral Health Aspects of Depression and Anxiety in the American Male, experts agreed that “stigma is an extreme barrier to those needing mental health treatment,”10 and that men’s acculturation affects the way they experience mental health issues.

When men do get into treatment, that acculturation also affects how receptive they are to the process.

Next Step Recovery in Asheville, North Carolina is a 12-Step intensive outpatient program offering adventure therapy and optional sober living.

Adjusting to the Treatment Process

Many of these unspoken rules are the opposite of what recovery asks us to do. The healing process requires us to be vulnerable, make room for our emotions, and be unflinchingly honest with ourselves. Residential rehab, where feelings are shared with therapists and in groups, may feel inherently unsafe to someone with little practice doing any of these things. 

“Men are expected to be independent, self-sufficient, stoic, and invulnerable,” says SAMHSA. This means that, often, men struggle with certain issues during treatment:11 

  • inability to see or express weaknesses
  • difficulty opening up to therapists or peers
  • competitiveness with other patients 
  • defensiveness 
  • unwillingness to take direction or accept suggestions 
  • anxiety around privacy and confidentiality 
  • lack of ability to connect feelings to the problems they stem from 
  • a false sense of security in their recovery status 
  • resistance to attending continuing care or ongoing meetings 

Intensive treatment is only the beginning of the recovery journey. After treatment, men return to their home communities, where they face the same societal pressures as before. That’s why it’s important to prepare for life after rehab by gaining tools that reduce your chance of reverting to old coping habits. 

Common Male Coping Strategies 

Suppressing Emotions

Men are often taught that expressing emotions is wrong. But regularly holding them in doesn’t make them go away—it just makes them come out sideways.

“Suppressing emotion in and of itself isn’t necessarily harmful,” says Powell. “It’s when you do it habitually; if it’s your go-to response to all the stress that you experience. Eventually, that suppression will cause a rebound in some other areas, like whack-a-mole. You hit it down in one place and it pops up in another.”

Humans are blessed with an astounding range of emotions—and ideally, we should be fluent in all of them. But this is easier said than done. Many men are limited to just a handful of emotions that are considered acceptable to express. 


When we’re stressed, we tend to respond with the emotion that’s most readily available to us. And for men, who may not be well-versed in expressing sadness or fear, that emotion is more likely to be anger. 

Sometimes, we channel anger and other “negative” feelings into behaviors—some of which are harmful to us. Especially if we feel the need to “suck it up” and get through hardships on our own, those behaviors are less likely to look like talking through our problems with a friend or therapist, and more likely to look like social withdrawal, overworking, aggression, or alcohol and drugs. 


Substances are a common way to cope with problems we’d rather not face head-on. And for men, anger and the inability to untangle difficult emotions can lead to more substance use. 

Data shows that “men tend to use more alcohol as opposed to women when they are stressed.”12 According to Powell, “we can see higher rates of substance abuse in males because of that anger and emotional response.”

Mental Health Among Minority Men 

Mistrust of treatment professionals comes from a particularly deep-rooted place for men and boys of color. There’s not only a verified link between racism and poor mental health,13 but an established history of racial trauma and access inequities in the American healthcare system.14  

The good news is that this can be changed. “Even with those experiences in the background,” says Powell, “when Black men have more patient-centered, empathic experiences with physicians, they report lower medical mistrust. So in other words, mistrust is not immutable. It can be fixed. It can be intervened upon.” 

Fortunately, some treatment programs are evolving to be more responsive to the societal issues their patients are grappling with. 

How Treatment Can Help  

Looking at deeply held traumas and unprocessed emotions is a necessary step toward healing. “When they feel safe enough, [men] are willing to look at many important, although difficult, issues commonly overlooked in traditional treatment. Some of these are relationships, sexuality and sexual behavior, power and control, criminal behaviors, privilege and entitlement, and grief,” say the authors of Helping Men Recover: A Program for Treating Addiction

Rehab can be a safe place to do just that. 

Gender-Responsive Care Takes Men’s Issues Into Account

“The keys to developing effective treatment for men,” says Griffin, “are acknowledging their life experiences and the impact of living as a man in a male-based society.”

In men-only rehab, patients can ease into the treatment process alongside others facing similar issues, with less distraction and a chance to build lasting bonds. 

Soberman’s Estate in Cave Creek, Arizona caters exclusively to adult men. They find that this gender-specific grouping raises the comfort level, leading to more sharing and honesty in group sessions. This creates an environment conducive to recovery, comradery, and true release. And because they make special efforts to accommodate working professionals, business access time is built into the daily schedule

For those who prefer to live at home during treatment, Next Step Recovery in Asheville, North Carolina offers a men’s-only intensive outpatient program (IOP) with optional sober living options for men ages 18-40. In addition to a focus on building a healthy daily routine, the center offers a range of therapeutic outdoor activities including river rafting, paintball, and high ropes.

Face the Fears That Keep You From Your Best Life

Being a man doesn’t need to mean foregoing care that will make you well, and ultimately more capable of living to your full potential. 

See our directory of men-only rehab centers to learn more about their programming, facilities, activities, and more.

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