Are barbers the new therapists? Maybe they should be!
Updated: Aug 3
Recently the barber shop has become a site for the creation of safe spaces for men to have honest and daring conversations with other men about their emotional concerns and vulnerabilities. The practice of cutting someone's hair requires trust and, alongside on-going cultural shifts in masculinity, has led to the barber shop becoming a potential space to discuss and promote mental health and awareness. It can also profoundly contribute to generating new narratives of masculinity.
Photo above of Mark Maciver, Slider Cuts, Hackney. Video below, Modern Masculinity by Iman Amrani.
"Barber shops are by far the best places to have conversations about masculinity, are they not?' Iman Amrani, Guardian journalist
Barbers, such as Eric 'KleanKut' Dixon in Maryland, USA, and Mark Maciver of Slider Cuts in Hackney, London, passionately advocate black men's mental health. Eric speaks openly about being in therapy himself and how this has enable change in him. Further, this experience has enabled him to undertake a counselling training, broadening his offer beyond 'just ' a haircut. Similarly, Mark has become a cultural force and business role model, embodying changing notions of masculinity. He has created a community-based space that promotes new conversations around masculinity to take place.
Photo of Neil Smedley, King Korby barbers. Video below, Modern Masculinity by Iman Amrani.
Neil Smedley from King Korby in the north of England speaks passionately and articulately about how men may learn from other men, which is the central method of participatory practice. His chain of barber shops advocates for honest conversations that promote men's mental health. He argues for the need for young men to find meaning and purpose in life, to help propel them through hardship that is inevitable, further down the road.
"We need men talking to men, but there are no male figures talking to eighteen, nineteen, twenty-year- olds saying 'look, life is going to be brutal, malevolence is waiting for you, evil is waiting for you, hard times are waiting for you'. And prepare them then, and tell them that the antidote to that is to find meaning now so that when those times come, you have if you like, an iron rod to hold on to, that will get you through that storm." Neil Smedly
With these kinds of conversations spontaneously emerging in barber shops, it certainly raises the question if a mental health first-aid or counselling training should also be part of all barbering courses? While clear ethical issues need to be considered, it may also be useful to ask how the barber shop may be broadened out as a place for men to access psycho-educational support. Should this occur then the barber's chair could — when appropriate— also function as the 'therapeutic couch'. The barber shop might just be that space where men feel able to express themselves, openly and honestly, and this potential should be harnessed.