Individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community share many common issues, sometimes unrelated to their sexuality and identity. Oftentimes, one might come to therapy with relationship issues, identity issues, self-esteem concerns, and more. Despite the reasons that might bring someone to therapy, it is important to know that the therapist will be supportive, compassionate, and accepting. The understanding behind LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy is that a therapist will provide a space that feels welcoming and comfortable.
What is LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy?
LGBTQIA + Affirmative Therapy is defined as the acknowledgment and acceptance of a person’s sexual orientation and identity, working toward developing a better sense of self, building authenticity, and strengthening one’s voice.
Affirmative Therapy adds an important layer that’s often missing from traditional forms of therapy. Affirmative Therapy was developed to address the unique emotional and mental health needs of members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as provide acceptance and support.
Why do members of the LGBTQIA+ Community Seek Out Therapy?
The level of mental health issues in the LGBTQIA+ community is significantly higher compared to levels among cisgender peers. This is true at every stage of life, from childhood through the end of life.
LGBTQ individuals seek out therapy for a wide range of mental health issues seen in the general community such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trouble with intimate relationships.
LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy is defined as the acknowledgment and acceptance of a person’s sexual orientation and identity, working toward developing a better sense of self, building authenticity, and strengthening one’s voice.
However, being queer can often pose challenges to finding basic healthcare, let alone mental health services. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find mental health therapists who are affirming or even just trained to work with members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
However, LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapists are also trained to handle the unique mental health challenges of sexual minorities that drive them to seek therapy. Some examples include:
- Struggles with gender identity
- Internalized messages about gender expression
- Combining religious beliefs with their identity and lifestyle
- Tense familial relationships
- Rejection and discrimination resulting from mainstream belief systems
- Hurtful core beliefs
- Complex trauma
- Limited contact with friends and community
What are the key parts of LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapy?
Through LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy, a person can potentially navigate their life in a more meaningful and constructive way. The following are key parts of affirmative practices:
Creating a Safe Space
Creating a safe space is arguably the most important first step to therapy. LGBTQIA+ individuals should not feel judged or unwelcomed in any place, especially not in therapy, where individuals often disclose sensitive and confidential information.
To create a safe space, it’s important to be aware of one’s needs and wants prior to starting therapy. For example, some clients might prefer a therapist of a specific gender, age range, or with political views aligned to their own.
Once in the therapy room, it might be important to discuss preferred pronouns, any special accommodations, and other conditions that could contribute to creating a safe space. What seems to be most important to many clients is the trust and an alliance that’s built into the work. Although it can take time to build trust and alliance, clients usually have a sense of it early on.
LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapists are trained to handle the unique mental health challenges of sexual minorities.
Harnessing a trusting environment is a key component to therapy. One must feel that they trust their therapist enough to disclose very personal and difficult issues. Some issues that LGBTQIA+ Affirmative therapists might help with include:
- Relationship issues
- Intimacy concerns
- Coming out
- Gender and sexual identity
- Sexual orientation
- Confidence issues
- Contradictory beliefs
These issues can often lead to negative feelings, so it’s important that trust is built in therapy so that the focus can be on helping individuals deal with some of these concerns. A question you might ask yourself after seeing a therapist for a few sessions might be, “Do I feel comfortable with this person?” and “Do I get the sense that this person understands my issues?”
The therapeutic relationship can hopefully become an alliance where the individual feels that they are supported, connected, and celebrated.
Having an Ally
After establishing a safe space and building trust, the therapeutic relationship can hopefully become an alliance where the individual feels that they are supported, connected, and celebrated. Having an ally is an important component to therapy in order to address many of the issues above.
By having an LGBTQ+-Affirming therapist, the therapy can be catered to the individual’s specific needs and issues. While individuals can work with any therapist, having a therapist who understands the issues that the LGBTQIA+ community faces can result in a more validating and rewarding experience.
How to find LGBTQIA+ affirmative mental health care
Research clearly shows that people identifying as LGBTQIA+ tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues at every stage of life. However, there is still a shortage of therapists who are trained to provide Affirmative Therapy.
LGBTQ affirmative therapists create a safe space in which gender and identity are not pathologized. Instead, affirmative therapists validate and advocate for individuals with minority identities regarding sexuality, gender identity, gender expression, and more.
If working with an LGBTQ-Affirmative Therapist is important to you, don’t compromise. There are several ways to make sure someone has LGBTQIA+ Therapy experience. Some steps include:
- Looking for therapy practices that offer this specialty
- Asking for referrals from well known organizations
- Reading a therapist’s bio to learn about their background and training
- Asking any therapist you meet with about minority groups they’ve worked with, their beliefs about the LGBTQIA+ community, and their overall approach
Seeking therapy to support personal growth takes bravery and courage. You have the right to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and celebrated for who you are.
Clarity Therapy NYC provides LGBTQIA+ affirmative therapy in NYC and throughout the state of New York. Contact us to find a therapist who would be a good fit for you and to set up a free consultation.