Cultivating Hope; Why I Work with the LGBT Population
Dirty mirror selfie for your nerves.
Recently, a client admitted they had been searching for an older, gay male clinician. They desired to connect with an elder from within their own community. Who can blame them? But, as they discovered, there really aren’t any in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Part of that is due to the barriers that exist within this profession—graduate school and licensure to practice taps into the greatest resources there are--money, and time. Commodities that many LGBT folks do bit possesses due to their marginalized status. Also, there is still a stigma attached to identifying oneself as a gay or lesbian professional. You run the risk of alienating clientele that may possess certain opinions about said “lifestyle”. So, I imagine that some clinicians have had to forgo that title to stay in business. And how unlucky we are as a population to be missing out on such a needed resource!
Can we talk about the big elephant in the room? Let me just put it out there for you—I am a cis, white, female who has a passion for working with the LGBT community. I know, I know—let’s make room for that big eye roll. It has been a process accepting where I fit in with this desire to help ostracized folks while also acknowledging my own inherent privileges. Allyship is not so much a title I wear but an active position I am constantly improving upon. I don’t think I would be a good therapist if I didn’t take time to reflect on the ways that my life has been exponentially easier than most of my clients who identify as a sexual minority. So, then, why even bother at all?
Feelings that accompany many people, especially within the LGBT community include;
Because we’re in South Louisiana and, if I’m being honest, if not me and the other clinicians out there who specialize in this area, then who? I’m of the mindset that all lived experience possesses certain universal truths. And from those truths I try to find common ground with my clients. I think to myself, “What does it mean to be LGBT in South Louisiana in 2021?” And from the feedback I have heard within sessions it usually entails; isolation, fear, otherness, and a certain level of sacrifice to survive. Those are the truths that I can relate to and provide therapeutic support for in my office. Being different in these parts is significant. It means having to hide pieces of yourself so that you can exist at work, at home and even sometimes in the most intimate places so that you get to see another day. Therefore, I see it as my job to provide a space where one can experience wholeness without fear. This belief aligns with my therapeutic orientation of Person-Centered psychotherapy. Person-Centered or Rogerian counseling is based on;
“the idea that the client knows what is best, and that the therapist’s role is to facilitate an environment in which the client can bring about positive change.”
Despite noted improvements in legal protections against discrimination I am still hearing stories of rejection, invalidation, and oppression. And while it is easy to say that people these days have it easier than ever before, I don’t believe it can be rationalized in such a sweeping notion. Yes, life in many ways in easier, but in a lot more ways it is even harder to exist. To that end I like to combine my Rogerian approach with Systems theory;
“Systems theory is concerned with the web of connections between persons and world, self and others”
How that manifests in a session is asking a client to consider the global, national, and personal systems that are contributing to their overall functioning. If there is a law being drafted that threatens your rights as a human being it makes sense you would be experiencing symptoms of anxiety. If your local politician refuses to acknowledge a month where your sexual identity is celebrated, you may feel sadness or shame. If your coworkers make a joke about someone’s gender expression, you might feel unsafe. The world we live in impacts how we see ourselves and how we exist in it. On the surface that makes complete sense, but there is usually an accompanied feeling of “Well, it doesn’t directly affect me so why do I feel this way about it?” I see it as my role to explain the significance of living in a world that does not feel welcoming at best, and hostile at worst.
All this is not to say that people within the LGBT community cannot find happiness or contentment within their lives. It is often the exact opposite! I relish the moments in session when a client expresses hope, excitement and looks to the future with an eager anticipation. Cultivating these feelings is one of my greatest pleasures in being a counselor. Instilling the idea that the world can be good, and that they deserve to play a part in that goodness is an honor.
Therapy can cultivate feelings of;
By constantly working on my allyship I’ve concluded that I want to use my privilege of education, training, and licensure to support folks who may not otherwise get the support they need or want. Though I do not know their experiences personally, I have done my best to educate myself on the lived experiences of the LGBT community through books, documentaries, continuing education classes, certification courses and keeping an open dialogue among members of the community to ensure I understand what is needed of me as a mental health professional. I also abide by the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC) competencies to ensure I am not only providing quality but informed care to all my clients.
So, while that elephant remains in the room, I hope he’s a little bit smaller. I hope that this explanation helps you feel safer in a world that has proven to be scary. I hope that you feel compelled to ask for the support that you need. I hope that you allow me to create a space where you get to be you, all of you and that you get to reap the benefits of your beautiful existence.