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Understanding LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapy

Any aspiring or fully-qualified counsellor understands that a ‘one size fits all approach’ simply doesn’t apply to therapy. No two sessions will be exactly the same, no two people’s needs will be exactly the same and no treatment methods will work exactly in the same way. When you combine this with the various limitations and prejudices faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, then, taking the right approach as a counsellor becomes even more challenging if one isn't armed with the right information and skills.



A female receiving therapy


The blatant bias that people who identify as LGBTQ+ have faced historically is undeniable. We see it happening on a daily basis - whether it be online or in real life, and the world of mental healthcare is no exception. Numerous studies have been conducted surrounding the topic of mental health and the LGBTQ+ community in the UK, many of which yield shocking results. Some of the most notable findings include:


  • Over half (52%) of LGBTQ+ people said that they’ve experienced depression in the past year.

  • 1 in 8 (13%) of LGBTQ+ people aged 18-24 said they’ve attempted to take their own life in the past year.

  • 1 in 8 (13%) of LGBTQ+ people have experienced some form of unequal treatment from healthcare staff because of their sexuality or gender.

  • 1 in 20 (5%) LGBTQ+ people have been pressured into questioning or changing their sexual orientation when accessing healthcare services.

  • 1 in 7 (14%) of LGBTQ+ people have avoided seeking treatment for health issues due to fear of discrimination because of their sexuality or gender orientation.

  • The transgender population are at an overwhelmingly high risk of experiencing mental health challenges through life, including:

    • More than 33% will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

    • More than 41% will be diagnosed with a form of clinical depression.


Although we as a society have come on leaps and bounds in recent years with regards to fighting against the prejudice that LGBTQ+ people face, based on these distressing figures it’s evident that we still have a long way to go when it comes to alleviating bias in various public sectors. The simple fact that it is still difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly transgender people, to access basic healthcare signifies that it is high time for a new approach. One way that this can be achieved is through affirmative counselling - therapy that seeks to inclusively meet the needs of any minority group, including those who identify as LGBTQ+.


So, exactly what is gay affirmative therapy? How does it work, and what training is available for counsellors looking to be more inclusive in their practice? We’ll cover all of this and more below.


What is LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapy?

Affirmative therapy, otherwise known as ‘gender-affirming therapy’ is one of many types of therapy used in LGBTQ+ counselling, effectively designed to validate the needs of minority sexualities, i.e. those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ+).


Therapists who undergo training to perform affirmative therapy learn to use both verbal and nonverbal tactics to take a positive, inclusive approach to clients who consider themselves to be anything other than heterosexual (people who are attracted to the opposite sex) or cisgender (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth).


Although the reasons that LGBTQ+ people attend therapy don’t vary that much (if at all) from the rest of the population, their life experiences are often largely shaped by their sexuality or gender identity, meaning that counselling should generally be approached through a different lens.


As a whole, LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy can work to:


  • Offer support and resources to vulnerable people.

  • Help people to withhold judgement around unconventional identities.

  • Acknowledge the many challenges that LGBTQ+ people face.

  • Allow people to let go of beliefs or needs that contradict how they identify.

  • Help therapists to address their own internalised homophobia or transphobia, even if they are unaware of it (these issues should naturally be resolved through training, and not whilst taking on LGBTQ+ clients).


How Does LGBTQ+ Affirmative Therapy Work?

Naturally, LGBTQ+ affirmative counselling courses are designed to teach therapists how to work with LGBTQ+ clients, who as a community have historically had to deal with higher rates of mental health conditions. Research has shown that a majority of therapists who have undertaken affirmative therapy believe that they feel more equipped to effectively help their LGBTQ+ patients, and also feel that they are much less likely to express any attitudes that could be deemed as prejudicial.


Throughout their lives, members of the LGBTQ+ community will often face obstacles that other people won’t, including:


  • Discrimination - whether this be at home, school, work, in public or online

  • Verbal abuse

  • Physical abuse

  • Hostility

  • Bullying


Not only does affirmative therapy help them to cope with these injustices, but also to avoid loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or any feelings of hopelessness or anguish that might arise as a result of not feeling accepted or supported.


Who Benefits From Affirmative Therapy?

In its focus on enhancing awareness and inclusion, LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy can benefit more than just the person in treatment, and in fact has a track record of providing support for both people in the LGBTQ+ community and those around them. Below is a rundown of the ways in which various groups of people can benefit from affirmative therapy, whether they are seeking the therapy themselves or know someone close to them who is.


LGBTQ+ Community

LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy offers us a way to rethink how, as a society, we approach an entire community. It reinforces the idea that we should all strive to better understand matters surrounding sexuality and gender identity, for instance, normalising the idea that not everyone has to conform to conventional roles. In its broadest sense, affirmative therapy can help us to begin to understand one another better, and act more compassionately as a result.

Families

Affirmative therapy can be beneficial for all members of a family, especially in the early stages after a loved one comes out. Coming to terms with new identities and letting go of pre-existing ideas regarding a loved one’s future can be difficult, especially if it’s all you’ve ever known. However, learning to accept and honour a loved one’s identity is often made easier through seeking affirmative therapy.

Couples

It’s logical that therapy tends to be most effective when it’s tailored to directly deal with issues and concerns specific to a couple’s relationship. A therapist who is trained in LGBTQ+ affirmative therapy will have a better idea of the types of dynamics an LGBTQ+ couple might be facing, and will be able to counsel them accordingly. Additionally, LGBTQ+ couples might even feel more comfortable and find themselves able to open up more when they know they’re working with a counsellor who is trained in this specialism.


LGBTQ+ Affirmative Counselling Courses

If you’re a counsellor who wants to broaden their client base or make their approach more inclusive, taking an LGBTQ+ affirmative counselling course is a great way to grow as a practitioner. Working with a counsellor who is fully-qualified in affirmative therapy can be genuinely life-changing for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are seeking therapy - whether they are looking into it for the first time, or they are yet to find a therapist that is capable of meeting their specific needs.


In providing gentle, understanding care and guidance, you can help vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community to not only accept but feel empowered by their identity, and also find ways to work towards more healthy, positive relationships with friends, family members and partners. Not only is this deeply rewarding work that will allow you to broaden your skill set exponentially, but you can also be safe in the knowledge that you are actively working towards making the healthcare sector a more safe, accessible space for those who have previously felt ostracised by it.


Key Counselling Training offer Gay Affirmative Therapy training courses, helping practitioners to understand and work with clients who identify as LGBTQ+ - exploring the challenges they face societally, including prejudice, exposure and rejection. Attendees will begin to learn about issues surrounding language, cultural barriers, communication errors and how to connect authentically with clients from this community in order to offer a better quality of counsel. Delivered via Zoom, this event is free to enrolled Diploma learners.


Key Counselling Training also provides a range of accredited counselling and psychotherapy courses, available in our training centres located in Birmingham and Devon, as well as remotely online. We work to help aspiring and qualified counsellors to reach their full potential by obtaining their certificates in counselling - whether it be a Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 Diploma in Counselling. Whatever you’re looking to get out of our courses, be sure to get in touch with a member of our professional and qualified team to find out more about how we can help you achieve your career goals.

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