Speaking Up About Men’s Mental Health: Part Two

Barber Surgeon’s Guild is joined by Stephen Koepfer, a registered art therapist and the founding owner and head coach of New York Combat Sambo to share insights from his own life and experiences. 

“You’re going to have to try a few options, you know? You have to make some educated guesses, pick a therapist, and a style of therapy you think might work for you. The challenges you’re facing play a variable. Am I just dealing with my average everyday neurotic shit, or do I have something way more serious and way more detrimental to myself that I have to deal with? And I honestly think that therapy doesn’t work for some people. They’re going to have to find some other avenue to help themselves. I had a leg up on everybody else in finding the therapy that was right for me because I went to college and graduate school for art therapy and worked in the industry for ten years before my martial arts coaching career.” – Stephen Koepfer 

Freudian therapy typically focuses on helping the patient to bring conscious awareness to the patterns of their unconscious mind. Sessions are usually recommended 2-5 times a week over a few years. Freudian therapists are usually reserved, withheld, and disclose very little about themselves or their thoughts on the patient’s symptoms and behaviors. Freudian therapy focuses very little on current symptoms as they believe fixing current symptoms will not address the underlying causes and the symptoms will recur, perhaps in a new way. Common techniques used in this type of therapy to get people talking and acknowledge their patterns and impulses include free association, Rorschach ink blots, dream interpretation, as well as transference and resistance analysis.

“For me, my first therapy experience, was with a classic Freudian analyst. Although, I did resist the multiple times a week visits he wanted to do- I was doing just once a week for two years. I don’t want to say it wasn’t helpful, because it was helpful in some ways at that time in my life. That experience did help me in terms of gaining insight. Laying on a couch with the analyst behind me, taking notes, and for the most part being pretty silent wasn’t my preferred method of self-discovery. I did discover some things about myself but there was no challenge in that for me to modify my behaviors at all. I understood what it was that was bugging me, but nobody was like “hey, so you might want to try THIS instead.” -Stephen Koepfer 

Movement therapies typically work to integrate the emotional, physical, cognitive, and social well being. There are multiple approaches to movement therapy and many can be adapted to be accessible for use from the most able-bodied, to those who are wheelchair or bed bound. Types of movement therapy may include Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, and Sensory Awareness and may occur in group classes or in a one on one experience.

“The next time I was in therapy was when I was in grad school, and that time I went to a movement therapist. It was way better experience. Not only because I’m just a physical person by nature and profession and just everything that I do. So, that part was great. It was something I felt comfortable with, but also uncomfortable with because of what I had to do. But at least I was comfortable in my body. She also was very much about identifying a behavior, and working on changing that behavior. I am very supportive of that approach. Modifying behavior.” – Stephen Koepfer 

As you investigate therapeutic options, be sure to pick a method that suits your communication and learning styles, is sustainable for your budget and time commitment. If you are pressed for time, many therapists offer video-chat or phone call sessions. If you are having difficulty having your insurance cover your mental health or finding a budget friendly choice, consider starting you healing journey in support groups or by investigating the resources in your area. Many cities offer services that can connect you free or sliding scale therapists or social workers.

“I think it’s important to understand everything that lead up to who you are now as a person. But at a certain point you have to own who you are and just make changes. I know people who can rattle off every fucked up thing that happened in their life and why they’re this way or that way or issues they had with their parents… but you’re 35 now- stop blaming your kid self and start making some changes… which is very hard to do. Easier said than done, but I think for me at least a therapist that pushed me to do that was much more valuable than a therapist who just helped me figure out the past baggage. And sometimes figuring out the past baggage is less important than figuring out what I’m doing right now to fuck myself up, and changing it. So I will really respect a therapist who will be like “yeah, yo… We’re done with that problem, come back if you have another.” I don’t see it as a life long process, being in therapy. Learning about yourself is a life long process, but therapy doesn’t have to be.”  Stephen Koepfer 

Do you have a mental health healing journey you’d like to share? Be sure to tag @bsgdispatch and hashtag #BSGmensmentalhealth. For more information about mental health as well as help hotlines check out nami.org and mantherapy.org/about.