Barbershop Therapy Helps Men Open Up

This community-led initiative trains barbers as mental health advocates.

Aug 25, 2020

When a man lies back in the barber’s chair with a steaming, hot towel across his face, he relaxes. Going to the barbershop is an intimate, trusting experience as well as a wonderful opportunity for men to gather and share life stories. After spending just an hour in this community setting and taking time for self-care, men walk out feeling great.

With the barbershop being an ideal place for men to open up and share, Lorenzo Lewis decided barbers are in a unique position to listen and be there for their clients. This was one of the few safe spaces where men felt comfortable to share their feelings openly, he told Arkansas Online.

In 2016, Lewis formed The Confess Project, a community-led initiative that trains barbers as mental health advocates, focusing on reaching men who may be reluctant to seek support from therapists.

Matt Dillion, who owns a barbershop that participates in The Confess Project explained to Arkansas Online why he agrees that barber shops are the ideal venue. "This is our country club. There's fellowship, and it's an outlet for our culture, and there's that feeling when you're around guys that have been through what you're going through."

Opening up and sharing is healing, both mentally and physically. Speaking about one’s emotions and being listened to in an accepting way provides a major boost to mental health, as reported in this study from the University of Amsterdam. Another study shows that when people share their emotions, they tend to have stronger immune systems.

But because of societal expectations around masculinity, some men struggle with opening up about their feelings. Lewis’ grassroots organization is dedicated to providing a holistic solution addressing the needs of men who may benefit from mental health services. 

“The project trains barbers on the importance of active listening, having empathy, and giving their clientele validation when they feel sad or helpless,” Lewis told The Huffington Post

While the program teaches barbers how to recognize signs that a customer may need help, it does not train them to be therapists. Rather, the barbers serve as “first responders” who can provide a supportive ear for their clients in crisis. 

The barbers support their clients in the moment, building trust and opening a pathway for communication. They encourage their customers to seek support services from therapists and other mental health professionals.

Lewis founded the program after decades of struggling with his own mental health. “I didn't grow up with my parents, and there were a lot of emotional issues that came along with that disconnectedness from my parents. That developed into behavior issues. The childhood trauma [led to]...unresolved grief, untreated depression,” Lewis explained.

Lewis spent time during his childhood at his aunt’s beauty salon in Little Rock, Arkansas, where a local barber became a mentor and father figure to him. After seeing Lewis struggle throughout his teenage years and early twenties, the barber recommended that Lewis seek therapy.

Following the barber’s advice, Lewis found that therapy was life-changing for him. But he understood that many men were unlikely to follow in his footsteps. Some in his community were wary of therapy because it meant opening up to a stranger in a clinical setting. 

“It’s an effort to break the stigma and make Black men more comfortable and vulnerable enough to address their trauma,” Lewis told The Huffington Post. He explained that when he gets personal about his own life struggles, it is like a green light for others to open up and start sharing on a personal level. 

Since its inception in May 2016, the project has reached an estimated 30,000 people via barbershops in New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis, and Columbia, South Carolina, and other cities across the United States. 

With Lewis at the helm actively recruiting and training new barbers for outreach, it’s clear that barbershop therapy is an incredible solution for reaching those who may not have sought out support on their own. And with that smooth lather, spicy scent of aftershave, and the accepting feelings of camaraderie, men will appreciate taking the time to visit their barbershop.  

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LAUREN MARCUS, CONTRIBUTOR
Fascinated by storytelling since childhood, Lauren is passionate about the written word. She’s a freelance writer who has covered everything from the latest developments in tech to geopolitics. When she’s not writing, Lauren is interested in genealogical research and family folklore.