Do we still need LGBTQ specialist services in 2019?
Many counsellors ask me why I run a service aimed at LGBTQ clients. Some worry this can cause more segregation in society and some state that as counsellors we should work with everyone.
Firstly, just to clarify I don’t only work with LGBTQ people. My approach is above all about providing a safe and open-minded space to enable people to make the changes that they want in their life, regardless of how they identify.
People from many backgrounds come to my practice, and the issues that they want to talk about are unique to them. Having said that, gender and sexual diversity is an area where I have particular expertise, and clients from this group find it helpful to have an LGBTQ identified counsellor who is experienced in counselling LGBTQ clients.
I identify as a lesbian, however it is not this personal identity that makes me quailed to work with LGBTQ clients, just like if someone has been bereaved by the death of their dad it doesn’t mean they would automatically be a bereavement counsellor. It takes training and experience to specialise.
Having worked for many years in LGBTQ organisations in Brighton (MindOut,
LGBT Switchboard and Allsorts Youth Project) and through my personal and professional experience, I am all too aware that unfortunately we live in a society that is heteronormative and cisnormative. What I mean by this is that, professionals and people in everyday life often assume that we are straight or cisgender unless we correct them, so it’s really important that that’s not happening especially in the counselling room.
7 Reasons clients choose an LGBTQ identified counsellor
1. To not have to worry about ‘coming out’
2. To have their pronouns respected
3. To avoid the risk of having to ‘educate’ you on LGBTQ issues
4. To have a shared language of LGBTQ terminology
5. To avoid the risk of being pathologised
6. To feel more understood in having a shared background of identifying as LGBTQ
7. To avoid being your ‘token’ lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer client
Sadly, this means that many LGBTQ people are marginalised and often fear the risk of not being understood.
Many people who come to see me have had a bad experience where they felt they had to educate their previous counsellor or correct pronouns.
Some have felt that they haven’t had a shared language and that although they have not necessarily been judged, they didn’t feel fully accepted. And then there are the many people who have never had counselling before, but have had bad experiences with other professionals, but may have had a good experience with an LGBTQ service, like the excellent ones here in Brighton like Allsorts, MindOut and LGBT Switchboard for example where they like seeing an LGBTQ worker. Here they have not had to worry about ‘coming out’ and instead felt able to start to talk about what they need to.
We are all humans and we all experience things like bereavements, work stress, depression and anxiety. So it’s important to note that just because someone is LGBTQ, it doesn’t mean that their gender or sexuality would necessarily be the reason why they would be seeking therapy. In fact, it is more common that this is part of who they are but not the ‘issue’ they want help with. There’s not a one size fits all when working with LGBTQ people, as each person is unique and on an independent journey.
I hope this helps clarify why LGBTQ specialist services still need to continue to exist.
To show my support for LGBT History Month - help spread the word about the great services out there - every day in February I am using social media (Twitter and Facebook) to spotlight a local Sussex service who supports LGBTQ people. I hope you can join me there and share the posts to spread the word even further! A full directory of local LGBTQ services can be found here.
If you are a counsellor or therapist reading this and would like to build you confidence in this area you might be interested in the basic LGBTQ awareness training day I run which will give you an introduction to working with LGBTQ clients. For more details click here.