What is LGBTQ Therapy?
Many lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (or questioning) individuals seek counseling for reasons similar to non-LGBTQ individuals (i.e. – depression, anxiety, grief, couples therapy, work stress, etc). And while some issues have little to do with sexuality, gender, or identity, the LGBTQ community does have their own set of unique challenges as well.
LGBTQ Mental Health Issues and Coping with Stigma
Research suggests that LGBTQ individuals seek mental health treatment at a higher rate than their non-LGBTQ counterparts. This may be due to the stigma and discrimination LGBTQ individuals often face on a regular basis, from society, family members, peers, co-workers, and even classmates. This discrimination contributes to the higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles seen amongst LGBTQ. Those in the LGBTQ community are also much more likely to have a substance abuse problem, engage in self-harm behaviors, and/or experience suicidal thoughts. Thus, it is not surprising this population seeks mental health services at higher rates. In addition to the effects of stigma and discrimination, the LGBTQ population also often obtains mental health support for:
- Gender dysphoria – according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), gender dysphoria is a psychological condition experienced by individuals whose gender identity and expression does not match with the gender assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria can cause significant distress and affect a person’s overall mental wellbeing.
- Sexual identity issues – sexual identity issues can refer to numerous concerns. Sexual identity (or sexual orientation) refers to the emotions, thoughts, feelings, and fantasies that contribute to a person’s sexual or romantic attraction to another person. LGBTQ individuals often go through periods of questioning their sexual identity, which can cause confusion and stress. Also pertinent to the LGBTQ community and sexual identity issues is the “coming out” process, and coping with the reactions of friends and family.
Over the past several years, the general public seems to have become more aware of the issues faced by the LGBTQ community. With this heightened awareness, mental health services have become more tailored to this population’s specific needs. One way this is being carried out is through LGBTQ affirmative therapy. This approach to psychotherapy is focused on the empowerment of LGBTQ individuals in all areas of life and relationships. Therapists working from an affirmative approach seek to honor the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals and help them navigate the challenges in an effective way.
Historically, many in the LGBTQ community who sought mental health services found counselors and therapists were uneducated about issues around sexuality, gender, and identity. Unfortunately, this often resulted in LGBTQ clients ending their treatment prematurely or never actually seeking the treatment and support needed. And, in some cases, the client would end up being the one to educate the therapist on the struggles unique to the LGBTQ population. Thankfully, with the emergence of affirmative therapy (as it is referred to in the mental health community), this gap has started to close, and there has been a significant increase in the effectiveness of mental health treatment for the LGBTQ population.
Discrimination and stigma, in any form, can seriously impact the well-being of those who experience it. In order to begin to combat some of this (or cope with the stigma if it is directed at you), here are things you can do:
- Learn more about the LGBTQ community and their struggles. Education is a way to increase understanding and raise awareness about the unique issues this population often faces (socially, economically, financially, etc.)
- Educate yourself on human rights laws and how they pertain to the LGBTQ population.
- Surround yourself with healthy people, such as supportive and encouraging family members, friends, and peers. Whether or not they are dealing with the same issues as you (or someone you know), it is important to have people with whom you feel safe to express yourself and be open with.
- Speak up if you witness (or are the victim of) discrimination. Although it can be scary to share these kinds of experiences, it is one of the best ways to advocate for yourself, the LGBTQ community, and fight back at the discrimination.
- Seek professional help. If you are facing a mental illness as a result of the stress from stigma and/or discrimination, getting support from a professional can help you learn ways to better cope, feel less isolated, and establish overall mental health and wellbeing.
- Share your experiences with others. Whether you are part of the LGBTQ community yourself or have friends or family who identify as LGBTQ, share what you can with others. The more the stigma surrounding this population is talked about, the more awareness it can gain.
- Join a political or advocacy group to combat unjust policies and/or unfair treatment of the LGBTQ community.
- Join an online support community to connect with others that can relate: LGBTribe.
Given the stressors that LGBTQ groups must confront, such as homophobia, societal discrimination and prejudice, coming out, and negotiating family relationships, finding a therapist that is openly LGBTQ or specializes in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender issues can offer some support and healing. Search TherapyTribe to find a therapist who is openly LGBTQ, LGBTQ-friendly, or specializes in LGBTQ issues.
- Ulrike, B. (2002). Twenty years of public health research: Inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations. American Journal of Public Health 92(7), 1125-1130.
- Mustanski, B., Garofalo, R., & Emerson, E. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health, 100(12): 2426–2432.
- Wolford-Clevenger, C., Cannon, C. J., Flores, L. Y., Smith, P. N., & Stuart, G. L. (2017). Suicide Risk Among Transgender People: A Prevalent Problem in Critical Need of Empirical and Theoretical Research. Violence and gender, 4(3), 69-72.