LGBTQ+ allied therapy
A fundamental truth of therapy is that it’s about you. The whole process is centred around you, what your needs are, how you see the world and what you want to achieve. There is an understanding that the therapist may be an expert in technique, practice and theory, but the client is the expert in self and, as such, we have to be led by you.
Any qualified (and we will come back to that term) therapist learns to be empathic, understanding and non-judgmental. We do a lot of work on exploring our own biases and prejudices, challenging them and learning to set them aside in favour of seeing the person in front of us in the client’s chair.
But that collective “we” is not a universal truth. I keep having conversations with clients about the most horrendous experiences they’ve had with therapists who have judged their lifestyles, marginalised or invalidated their experiences and made them feel ‘less than’.
I started my practice with an emphasis on racial and cultural identity, making it inclusive and diverse and considering myself an LGBTQ+ ally for this and for my genuine lack of judgement. But we know allyship in any form is not passive. Being ‘OK’ with difference is not enough. If you are not actively changing the system with the power you have to do so, you are not an ally.
I had a lightbulb moment (therapists have them too!) when I realised my reluctance to actively define myself as a therapist working with LGBTQ+ identity was masquerading as respect for a community I was not a part of. It was, in reality, withholding a safe space from that community and allowing less safe spaces to gain traction. I felt I might be stepping on toes when I had no reason to be on the dance floor in the first place, but saw from my place on the side that people were being trampled instead. I was hearing the most soul-destroying stories of people’s experiences and to not step back onto the floor and actively retake that space was not allyship.
As therapists we are discouraged from self-disclosure as the emphasis needs to be on the client, not ourselves. We can’t help some self-disclosure – I would not pass as a white man, for example, and that has a relevance to my work— but the rest is not evident and so we can choose what to disclose. I am open about the fact that I do not identify as LGBTQ+ because I think if you are a client who is, you have the right to choose to work with someone who is too and to know when this is the case. But I will say I am an ally (as, I know, will many of my clients). I do not occupy your understanding, but I can guide you through what it means for you. I may not have the same questions around my identity but I can walk with you while we find your answers. I can not know your pain but I can sit with you and help you heal.
My role as a therapist is to help you find that sense of self and to accept it and express it in a way that is safe for you, free of your own biases and judgements and even celebratory in its freedom.
I firmly believe that is the role of all therapists and anyone who does not do this falls short. Unfortunately, ours is a profession which is (unbelievably) unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a therapist and fall completely shy of this standard. The potential for harm is huge. There are therapists who effectively practice forms of conversion therapy, influencing and pushing people into certain thought processes. There are those that judge, that believe certain ways of being are wrong or that people are to be ‘cured’. To have this attitude in therapy-a place and time of huge vulnerability- is unacceptable, immoral, unethical and abhorrent. That is my opinion but also my truth and I am calling those therapists out. Please research the person you trust to take you through your therapy journey. My LGBTQ+ clients are not identified by their queerness but queerness is part of their identity, which will be explored, accepted and embraced. In a world of unkindness and judgement allow yourself the same empathy and understanding.