For many people, the process of finding a therapist can feel confusing, but the process of finding a therapist you trust can feel downright daunting. This can be especially true for the LGBTQIA+ community. (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other sexual, romantic, and gender expansive communities). The LGBTQIA+ community as a whole faces various health disparities, largely due to higher rates of discrimination in the health care field, which includes mental health. Many individuals have experienced discrimination either first hand or vicariously. Even just the potential for discrimination is enough to deter LGBTQIA+ individuals from seeking mental health care when needed.
LGBTQIA+ individuals being deterred from seeking mental health care is particularly troubling due to the fact that this community is exceptionally vulnerable to mental health struggles. The community is more than twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders in their lifetime, compared to heterosexual, cisgender people. It is crucial to point out here that being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is NOT a mental illness or disorder by any means. The way society treats LGBTQIA+ people contributes to the increased vulnerability for mental health struggles. The problem does not lie in their identity, the problem lies in how society often fails to affirm, support, celebrate and love their identity.
An affirmative therapist understands this. An affirmative therapist understands the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people, and understands the barriers and challenges they face. An affirmative therapist helps to navigate challenges and views mental health struggles from this perspective. They do not make any attempt to change someone’s identity. Affirmative therapists celebrate and support all aspects of identity, and seek to nurture self acceptance. Affirmative therapists view LGBTQIA+ identities as perfectly valid, and reject the idea that being heterosexual and cisgender is the “normal”.
So why is an affirmative therapist important? An affirmative therapist can provide a safe, supportive space for individuals to explore gender, sexuality and other aspects of their identity without judgment. Not all LGBTQIA+ people seek therapy for reasons related to their identity. However, having an affirmative therapist means they don’t have to teach their therapist what it means to be LGBTQIA+, they don’t have to fear judgment when speaking about sex, gender, attraction, relationships, or any part of their story. This frees an individual to explore themselves fully, to heal pain, to improve mental wellbeing, and to be seen fully and authentically. Having an affirmative therapist means experiencing true, deep empathy and celebration of their authentic, beautiful self. For many LGBTQIA+ people, this can be life changing, and even life saving.