Counseling and the LGBTQ Community

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The term LGBTQ refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transsexual and/or Queer sexual identities, but how does LGBTQ counseling help those who have unique sexual identities? Kiya Immergluck, Ph. D., LCPC, an Urban Balance therapist who specializes in LGBTQ counseling, provides an overview of what LGBTQ counseling is and how it provides a safe, non-judgmental environment.

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What are common problems that prompt LGBTQ clients to seek counseling?

Basically, LGBTQ clients are often seeking counseling for any of the same issues that heterosexual clients are dealing with.  Besides basic human issues around addictions, money issues, career, relationships, and self-esteem, an LGBTQ client may be struggling with unique issues around coming out, dealing with family rejection after coming out, and facing both external and internal homophobia.

How are those problems addressed in therapy?

The most important factor for counselors to explore is to be keenly aware of any of their own issues of homophobia. A client needs to feel totally safe and accepted by the therapist.  The counselors need to educate themselves about various aspects of the highly diverse populations. The term “LGBTQ” lumps together vastly different groups. Often, their only similarity is that none of them fit society’s assumptions about “normal” sexual identity and practices. It would be a mistake to assume that Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transsexual and/or Queer clients necessarily have anything in common with each other.

Does therapy encourage LGBTQ individuals to openly identify and embrace sexual orientation?  

That depends entirely on a case-by-case assessment. In some cultures or families, coming out might be quite dangerous.  In job situations, a person might have a legitimate fear of losing their job. Even in areas where discrimination based on sexual orientation is strictly forbidden, a person may legitimately fear that a company will find a way to fire them.  At the same time that a person might need to remain “closeted” in society, it is important for each individual to work on accepting and loving themselves exactly the way they are. If a person has been raised to believe that they will “go to hell” because of their sexual orientation, very delicate counseling must be done to allow a person to both honor their religion and at the same time, honor themselves!

How do family and friends impact the effectiveness of therapy?

If an LGBTQ person is surrounded by loving and accepting family & friends, very often the person’s issues have little to do with sexuality. Whether a person is “out” or not, they may be profoundly affected by the prejudicial statements they hear from loved ones against “gay people.”

What are the positive outcomes of LGBTQ counseling?  

The positive outcomes are similar to those for any minority or ethnic group. No matter what negative stereotypes they may be exposed to, LGBTQ clients have a very safe place to be themselves without judgment.

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Although the term “LGBTQ” groups non-heterosexual identities together into one, LGBTQ counseling is not a one-size-fits-all form of therapy. Like all forms of therapy, LGBTQ therapy is tailored towards the individual. The difference is that therapists who specialize in LGBTQ counseling have more experience and familiarity with the LGBTQ community. This familiarity and experience can add an extra layer of comfort for those seeking help, especially if their problems are related to sexual identity.

Learn More about LGBTQ mental health issues in UB’s Wellness Resource Directory

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