It’s important to remember that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals seek therapy for the exact same issues, problems and concerns as anyone else. However, they are also affected by having to live in a homophobic and transphobic world.
What additional problems may LGBT clients want to address in therapy?
1. Coming Out Problems for LGBT Individuals: Coming out refers to the process of acknowledging your own sexual orientation or gender identity, deciding whom to talk about it with and how you can do that. Coming out is in reality a process which occurs again and again throughout life for most LGBT individuals.
Examples of coming out issues commonly explored in therapy include:
- Do you need a safe place to discover your sexual orientation? Are you battling internalized shame or anxiety about what it is to be LGBT?
- If you’re LGBT, you may be at ease with your sexual identity yourself, but fear rejection by people you’re closest to.
- Perhaps you fear discrimination at work.
- You may also be questioning what it says about your identity if you unaccountably find yourself attracted to someone of a new gender.
- Coming out issues are not limited to the LGBT individual – parents of LGBT children may seek therapy in order to help them help understand how best to support their child in coming out, whilst partners of transitioning men and women may also find they need the support provided by therapy.
2. LBGT with Relationship Problems: Stigma and shame and our upbringing all affect our ability to have healthy relationships and attitudes to our own sexuality, regardless of where we are on the spectrum.
- Are you having difficulties with your ability to form and maintain wholesome relationships?
- Are you questioning whether or not your sexual behavior is compulsive or reactive?
- Are you wondering whether or not monogamy works for you and considering your options for about exploring other choices?
- Do you identify as polyamorous and fear this becoming pathologized as negative by other people?
- Are you fetishistic?
- Are you wanting to look at the distinction between BDSM and abuse?
- If you’re bisexual, have you grown tired of explaining that this doesn’t necessarily equal non-monogamous or that you’re unable to commit?
3. LGBT-Related Trauma: LGBT people encounter the same range of traumatic events as heterosexual individuals. However, they may additionally come up against traumas specifically related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- You may have experienced bullying as a child or adolescent as a result of your presumed sexual orientation or gender identity.
- You may have encountered physical or sexual assault (gay bashing).
- You may have encountered same-sex domestic violence, which brings with it even more stigma and barriers to appropriate support.
- You may have experienced earlier therapy which concentrated on attempting to “cure” your sex orientation or gender variance or characterized as part of a particular pathology.
- You may have been traumatized by cultural institutions that continue to stigmatize LGBT people and identities.
- Were you rejected by your faith community? Discharged from the military? Shunned by friends or family members? Dismissed from a job?
- If you’re bisexual, are you dealing with misconceptions from straight and queer culture alike?
These are all traumatic events that can be examined in therapy.
4. Accessing Support from Within the LGBT Communities: We frequently speak about the LGBT “community”, as if there were only one! In reality there are lots of sub-communities and discovering your particular niche can prove hard initially. Therapists with awareness of the communities locally and further afield can assist you in looking for support and people who are able to meet your needs socially. LGBT affirming churches, support groups, recreational activities are all readily available if you know exactly where to look.
Why look for a therapist with awareness of/expertise in LGBT culture and problems?
In order for the LGBT individual to have a positive and beneficial experience of therapy it’s essential that his or her therapist have a thorough understanding of the therapeutic problems presented inside the context of homophobia and transphobia.
LGBT culturally competent therapists understand that you consist of much more than simply your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This being the case, it’s obvious that there are reasons other than sexual orientation and/or gender identity that cause LGBT people to look for therapy! At the same time, it’s essential for the therapist to “get” the complex ways in which societal prejudice and discrimination produce issues that LGBT customers may seek to address in therapy.
Although things have improved dramatically over the last few decades, many institutions and individuals within our society continue to maintain anti-LGBT biases, such that growing up LGBT is frequently a stigmatizing and traumatic experience. If you’ve been felt stigmatized by others simply because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, the last thing you want to be investing valuable time in is educating your new therapist about your orientation or identity, or discussing about your sexuality/gender ad infinitum simply because your therapist thinks it’s a “problem.” You’ve a right to a therapist who is both affirming and knowledgeable about the LGBT communities.