Homosexuality was listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1973. Even after removing homosexuality from its "disorder" classification, the DSM continued to list "gender identity disorder" in their diagnoses before replacing it with "gender dysphoria" in 2013.
LGBTQ+ affirmative counseling and therapy oppose these historical practices and help clients embrace their identities. So often, LGBTQ+ folks face many barriers when seeking mental health treatment, including discrimination, bias, and judgment. Affirmative counseling aims to validate identity while exploring how sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression can impact an individual's life experiences. An LGBTQ+ affirmative counselor can also help advocate for clients in the community and with other care team members.
How does this differ from traditional therapy?
LGBTQ+-identifying individuals experience higher rates of mental health issues than non-identifying individuals. Unfortunately, folks within the LGBTQ+ community have unique challenges in that they often have extra layers of shame, trauma, and family turmoil due to their identity. While affirmative therapy does focus on identity, the therapy experience still incorporates and validates any other struggles that the client may have (depression, anxiety, OCD, trauma, etc.). LGBTQ+ affirmative therapists still use traditional therapeutic approaches and techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectical-behavioral therapy. For example, while working on challenging thoughts within traditional CBT, the therapist may also encourage the client to challenge their internal judgments or biases surrounding their identity.
Who would benefit from this type of therapy?
Anyone that falls under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella could benefit from affirmative therapy. In addition, individuals seeking therapy for their mental health and are also looking for an inclusive therapist could benefit from someone who specializes in this.
Families who have LGBTQ+ members can also benefit from affirmative therapy. Affirmative therapy can be particularly beneficial when a family member is newly out, and perhaps the family needs support in acceptance and education. In addition, many families struggle with pre-existing biases or expectations, so this type of therapy can help them navigate learning more about the LGBTQ+ community and seek understanding in ways that they can support their loved ones.
What can I expect during my first session and follow-ups?
- During the intake assessment, the therapist will ask specifically about sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. The therapist will also ask for the client's pronouns and share their own.
- The therapist will typically use gender-neutral terms throughout sessions, such as using the term "partner" rather than asking if the client has a husband or wife.
- Part of affirmative therapy includes exploring the client's coming out process and what it looked like internally and externally while processing reactions they received.
- Exploring family dynamics and relationships, especially if the client has a strained relationship with family/friends due to their sexuality or gender.
- Processing through ways the client has experienced judgment, homophobia, transphobia, or discrimination, as well as acknowledging how this has impacted the client.
- Expect validation! LGBTQ+ affirmative therapists work hard to validate their client's identities as well as any and all emotions that they have surrounding this.
Identity acceptance and loving ourselves are integral to achieving happiness and fulfillment. So often, being in the LGBTQ+ community can feel isolating, so finding a therapist who understands and is part of this community can be especially validating and helpful. Therapy should feel like a safe space, and LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy aims to create just that.
You don't have to go through this alone. Kate is a Milwaukee-based Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with the LGBTQ+ community and can help you work through feelings of isolation, anxiety, or depression. Schedule an appointment today for LGBTQ+ affirmative counseling in a safe and supportive environment by calling, texting, or scheduling online.
Ready to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation?
Kate Valente MS, LPC
More Questions? Call, text or email
1429 N. Prospect Ave
Milwaukee WI, 53202