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LGBTQI specific counselling

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Posted: 21 August 2017
First and foremost, LGBTQI specific counselling, is not about intentionally or unintentionally creating a ‘difference’ among people. It is, however, about recognising the inherent differences and experiences that are already there, and working in a way that honours these AND the full person of the client.

There are many aspects to working in a therapeutic counselling relationship with LGBTQI people (or with sexuality and/or gender issues - referred to here as SGD, sexuality and gender diversity) that are specific to having grown up, and developed as a person, that is part and parcel of either living as an LGBTQI person, or when dealing with SGD experiences.

If these aspects of experience (which I will talk more about in a moment) are not understood or even recognised by a counsellor, either from ignorance or an attitude of “I can work with everyone and anything - I’m just that good”, then a lot of potential harm can be done inadvertently to the person of the client.

Some of the aspects of experience that are directly relevant in a counselling relationship with LGBTQI or SGD people, can include such things as:

• Gender dysphoria - feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be opposite to one’s biological sex.

• Internalised homophobia - the involuntary belief by LGBTQI people that the homophobic lies, negative stereotypes and messages of a heterosexual/homophobic society are to some degree true - note the word I used ‘involuntary’, it has been suggested in academic/therapeutic research and writings that it is almost impossible for any LGBTQI person to avoid, to some degree, learning and inheriting these messages. Usually at a young age, so there can at times be only a little or no awareness of this for the person.

• Heterosexism - discrimination or prejudice against LGBTQI people on the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation. This can be obvious or very subtle in practice and is different to homophobia.

• The coming out process - there are several different therapeutic/theory models in regards to how this process works and what is involved. Regardless, the important point is to recognise that this can be a hugely challenging and long term process, unique to each person.

These are just a few of the issues or relevant experiences that can come up in therapy for LGBTQI/SGD people. To me, the most important point however as a counsellor, is not only to have knowledge of these issues, but to have engaged in training around this as well as have direct client experience. Equally as importantly, a therapist advertising themselves as specialising in this area, needs to have looked at their own beliefs/values/attitudes to LGBTQI issues and SGD experiences, not just in their own self, but directly in relation to how they practice as therapists/counsellors.

Very few accredited counselling courses/qualifications, actually look in any depth at this area. Which is why, to all potential therapy clients reading this, it is important that when you arrange to first meet a counsellor (preferably this will be an initial consultation, as opposed to just starting counselling straight away), so you can ask the prospective counsellor, what experience/knowledge/learning do they have to work closely with this area of your life & person. And they should be able to give you a clear and committed answer.

During my 4yrs of training to become a qualified counsellor, and as a gay man myself who had a real passion to work in this area, I quickly realised that my counselling course (just like the majority of counselling/therapy qualifications) barely touched on this area of therapeutic practice. Hugely frustrating, but this encouraged me to do my own learning. I made the specific focus of my final counselling dissertation, deliberately about working therapeutically with LGBTQI clients dealing with GSD issues (and anyone who has ever done a dissertation of any sort knows how much learning/researching/reading & reflection is involved in this). I went out of my way to successfully get a placement with the one & only LGBTQI specific counselling service in all of Sussex, so I could get first hand experience working therapeutically with people from this wide and varied background.

(Counselling placements are a requirement of most counselling qualifications/courses, this involves working in a voluntary/unpaid capacity as a trainee/newly qualified counsellor, with various charity or council funded organisations, to gain a requisite amount of direct client hours, while bringing all learning from this back into the counselling course to cement and consolidate this practical experience with the academic/theoretical learning provided by the qualification)

All because people who are LGBTQI or dealing with SGD issues, deserve therapy that is geared directly for them. I certainly deserved it when I was struggling as a young person, and it wasn’t there. What was available was generic counselling, that had no idea how to deal sensitively and in an affirmative manner with SGD issues. A subtle form of Heterosexism, an attitude of - there was nothing more to know than what was being offered, distinctly heterosexually orientated counselling.

It is also worth pointing out that I do not believe I am qualified to work with LGBTQI/SGD clients/issues, solely because I am gay, as if this simply gives me a magical insight that heterosexual therapist/counsellors don’t have. Most definitely not, even an LGBTQI therapist, if they have not studied, learnt, researched, had direct LGBTQI therapeutic client experience, and considered all of this in relation to their own self and attitudes/beliefs, will likely do as much harm as good for LGBTQI clients.

This is why I believe it is important to recognise the need for specific LGBTQI and SGD counselling services, and why I am offering such a service. While we are all human and share many common experiences, we are also all unique, we have similarities AND differences. To not recognise this, means that for LGBTQI people, these very real and significant differences, go unheard, and unacknowledged, so there is less opportunity for support, growth, change and healing of trauma. Personally, this isn’t acceptable and in my own small way I want to change this for the better.

Thanks for Listening :)
Written by: Macfarlanetherapy
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