• Stereotypical notions of masculinity can still inhibit lots of men from seeking the help they need

  • Therapist Christian Chalfont reflects on the particular benefits of men's retreats and group therapy

  • We have therapists who specialise in supporting men – find them here

In a world where men are often expected to maintain a facade of strength and stoicism, the concept of vulnerability can feel foreign and intimidating. However, beneath the surface lies a profound need for genuine connection, emotional expression and personal growth. 

In recent years, men's retreats have emerged as a powerful alternative to traditional one-on-one therapy, offering a unique space for men to explore these needs collectively. These retreats combine somatic practices, coaching workshops and the cultivation of mature masculinity – fostering a sense of brotherhood and community that is both transformative and healing.

At the core of many men's retreats are somatic practices that reconnect participants with their bodies and emotions. Practices such as breathwork, mindfulness, cold water therapy and Tai Chi, serve as gateways to self-awareness and emotional release. Men are taught to tune into their physical sensations, uncovering layers of tension and stress often held within the body. This reconnection with the self allows for a deeper understanding of one's emotions and experiences, creating a foundation for further personal growth and healing.

Breathwork sessions, which involve controlled breathing techniques, help men access altered states of consciousness where they can process unresolved emotions and trauma. Mindfulness practices teach participants to stay present and grounded, reducing anxiety and enhancing their ability to cope with life's challenges. During cold water therapy, men are instantly transported out of their minds and into their bodies. This practice improves sleep, increases energy and reduces stress and anxiety, all whilst increasing resilience and enhancing mental clarity.

Coaching workshops focus on personal development by cultivating resilience and effective communication. These workshops are designed to equip men with tools and strategies to navigate life's complexities with confidence and purpose. Through interactive exercises and discussions, participants explore topics such as emotional intelligence, goal setting, conflict resolution, boundaries and self-care.

Men learn to identify and challenge limiting beliefs that may be holding them back. They gain insights into their behaviour patterns and develop new, healthier ways of relating to themselves and others. The coaching aspect of the retreat fosters a sense of empowerment, enabling men to take proactive steps towards achieving their personal and professional goals.

Exploring masculinity

One of the most profound aspects of men's retreats is the exploration and cultivation of mature masculinity. Unlike traditional notions of masculinity that emphasise dominance and emotional suppression, mature masculinity embraces vulnerability, compassion and authenticity. 

Group contracting at the start of a retreat establishes a mutually agreed-upon code of behaviour, which all participants agree to adhere to. The facilitators of the retreats model vulnerability throughout the weekend, speaking about their own life experiences and how they overcame their challenges and struggles. This creates an environment of equals, where no man is set above or below another.

This shift allows men to redefine what it means to be strong and resilient, integrating qualities such as empathy, patience and self-reflection.

In the safe and supportive environment of a retreat, men are encouraged to share their stories and experiences openly. This process of sharing and listening helps dismantle the internalised beliefs that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Instead, it becomes a source of strength and connection, fostering deeper relationships and a more authentic sense of self.

A defining feature of men's retreats is the sense of brotherhood and community that emerges among participants. Through shared experiences, men develop bonds that transcend superficial interactions. This brotherhood is built on trust, mutual respect and a shared commitment to personal growth.

Group activities, such as team-building exercises and outdoor adventures, further strengthen these connections. Whether it's through hiking, group discussions or collaborative projects, participants learn to rely on one another and work together towards a common goal. This sense of camaraderie is invaluable, providing a support network that extends beyond the retreat itself.

Combatting loneliness

The communal aspect of the retreat also addresses a significant challenge faced by many men: the feeling of isolation. In modern society, men often struggle with loneliness and a lack of meaningful connections. By participating in a men's retreat, they experience a sense of belonging and acceptance that can be profoundly healing.

One of the key advantages of group work and retreats over traditional one-on-one therapy is the opportunity for modelled vulnerability. In a retreat setting, men witness their peers opening up and sharing their struggles, fears and triumphs. This modelling of vulnerability creates a powerful ripple effect, encouraging others to do the same.

When men see others being vulnerable, it normalises the experience and reduces the stigma associated with expressing emotions. They realise they are not alone in their struggles and that it is possible to be both vulnerable and strong. This shared experience of vulnerability fosters a deep sense of empathy and understanding, helping men feel seen, heard and validated.

Over the past three years, working both as a counsellor one-to-one and as a facilitator of men's retreats, I have seen first-hand the impact retreats have as a unique and transformative alternative to traditional therapy, providing a holistic approach to personal growth and healing. 

Through somatic practices, coaching workshops and the cultivation of mature masculinity, men are given the tools to reconnect with themselves and others on a deeper level. The sense of brotherhood and community that emerges in these retreats creates a supportive environment where vulnerability is embraced and celebrated.

For those seeking a path towards authenticity, connection and emotional well-being, a men's retreat is a journey worth taking. It is an opportunity to break free from societal expectations, to rediscover one's true self and build meaningful relationships that last a lifetime. 

Christian Chalfont is a verified Welldoing therapist in Manchester and online

Further reading

Top 10 excuses for men not to start therapy

'I was all kinds of upside down': My recovery from PTSD

Men and anxiety: A tool kit

How the therapy experience may differ for men