In this blog post, I will try to deal with an issue that seems to be troubling LGBTQI+ individuals when they think about going to therapy. How will I know which therapist to choose? How will I know if a therapist is right for me?
The discussion here arises from the fact that gay, lesbians, trans* and non-gender conforming individuals have been oppressed by mainstream beliefs and society. It was believed that having a different sexual orientation or a different gender expression or identity (than that which society wanted you to have), meant that you had a mental health issue. Well, that is definitely not the case.
In a heteronormative environment, heterosexuals were deemed “normal” and anyone else was not. Despite the oppression, times have changed and through many efforts of the LGBT community and bright minds, diversity is eventually accepted regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity etc. at least in some parts of the world. There is still a long way to go.
Society’s demands put an oppression upon LGBT people. In many places around the world, local communities are still responsible for such an oppression. This is one of the reasons behind issues for many healthy individuals. When society forces a person to hide and view themselves as a pariah, it is only natural that they will develop some kind of ineffective coping mechanisms. Shame, guilt, paranoia, self-harm and acting out through drugs, alcohol or sex addiction, might be only some of the problems; Lack of integration in the healthy part of society favoured LGBTQI+ individuals in creating these inner prisons for themselves. These remarks are not for pointing a finger but for understanding the cause of the problem.
Going to our questions…
How will I know which psychotherapist to choose?
Gay affirmative therapy means that therapy is valuing authenticity and self-expression. So, pick a therapist who is gay affirmative. Someone who welcomes and accepts who you are and what your desires are. Someone that will not try to change you according to their agenda or their belief system. Desire is a natural expression of your being and you should be able to express it freely in the safe-environment of the therapy room.
Be mindful of experts who know what is best for your life. Of what you should be doing and what you should be feeling. It is unethical for any counsellor, psychotherapist or anyone in the health professions to engage in conversion therapy – thus to try to change your sexual orientation, gender identity or whatever in you by force and by the entitlement or privilege given by society or a religious dogma. This is wrong and has been condemned by all associations. See the UKCP web page for conversion therapy or the recent BACP statement on joining the coalition for banning conversion therapy.
Does this mean that I need to select a gay or lesbian or trans* therapist?
Not at all. However, you need to select a therapist who is comfortable with their own sexuality, gender identity and gender expression and can be non-judgemental with and respectful of your sexuality, gender expression and gender identity. If they feel threatened or uneasy in discussing such issues, then you should probably think about finding another therapist.
A note of caution
Be careful of the following: because gay people have been judged in the past even by their own parents sometimes, it is easy to misinterpret concern from the therapist with judgement. Expect that your therapist might challenge you if your behaviour is putting you in some kind of danger (i.e. being in an abusive relationship or using recreational drugs). However, this concern is highly beneficial to your overall well-being. If on the other hand, the therapist is dismissive of your choices on the basis of society’s assumptions and religious beliefs then you should move on.