Studies of lesbian and gay individuals in therapy indicate that there are still counselors who are either hostile to LGBTQ clients or lack knowledge of gay, lesbian, or transgender issues. The following are actual quotes from a recent study (Kelley, 2014):
"When I 'came out' to my therapist, he all of a sudden wanted to focus on that as if it was a problem. But my sexuality isn't a problem for me. I was in therapy for other reasons and so now I feel awkward bringing up certain topics with him."
"I spent about six months training my therapist to understand my life."
"I had to explain differences in lesbian relationships vs straight relationships."
Things Your Therapist Should Already Know
When working with individuals, therapists should be familiar with characteristics of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals and the impact of stress and stigma in daily lives.
Members of the LGBT community are more likely than the general population to have experienced abuse, neglect, or bullying experienced in childhood and adolescence. As a result it is common to see higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide risk in LGBT youth, adult, and elderly populations.
Your therapist shouldn't be learning about the ins and outs of same sex relationships for the first time. Psychologists and counselors should be aware of the different ways relationships are molded in the community, the unique pathways to becoming an LGBT parent (family blending, adoption, artificial insemination, etc.), and, frankly, the facts and myths about lesbian and gay sex life.
A good therapist should also be aware of learned prejudices regarding traditional gender roles and the more fluid, less restrictive ways gender can be experienced and expressed today.
Finding a Good Therapist For You
A few hints and suggestions when looking for a LGBTQ therapist or finding out if a therapist's practice is truly knowledgeable and friendly:
- Advertises in the gay and lesbian community or uses LGBT language in online or general advertising.
- Look for the use of neutral words like "relationship status" instead of "marital status."
- Advertisements, web pages, or brochures should show gay, lesbian, and transgender images.
- LGBTQ people frequently feel more comfortable in secular rather than religious organizations.
The bottom line is that you are entitled to a therapist who understands your issues in an environment that feels safe and accepting.
Kelley, F. A. (2014). The therapy relationship with lesbian and gay clients. Psychotherapy. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037958 Retrieved from psycnet.apa.org.
Scott, S.B. & Rhoades, G. K. (2014). Relationship education for lesbian couples: Perceived barriers and content considerations. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 13(4), pp. 339-364. DOI:10.1080/15332691.2014.930704