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 queer; however, it is not this personal identity that makes me qualified to work with LGBTQ clients, just as someone having been bereaved by the death of their dad wouldn’t automatically become qualified in bereavement counselling. 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 especially important that in the counselling room that’s not happening.
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’, instead feeling able immediately 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 is necessarily the reason why they would be seeking therapy. In fact, it is more common that, though this is part of who they are, it is 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.
If you are a counsellor or therapist reading this and would like to build your confidence in this area, you might be interested in the LGBTQ trainings I run which will give you an introduction to working with LGBTQ clients. For more details click here.