By Grace Manger
Throughout our lives, many of us will come up against obstacles or experience traumatic or stressful situations that keep us from feeling happy and fulfilled. Therapy, despite the heavy stigma it still carries, can provide an immensely helpful environment to work on the things that hold us back. Finding a therapist that we really click with and feel comfortable talking to can be challenging but worthwhile work. Every therapist is totally different in their personality and their approach to counseling, and sometimes two people, for whatever reason, just don’t click. That is totally ok, and all it means is that you keep looking for someone you do feel comfortable with.
For LBGTQIA folks, therapy can be doubly scary to access. There are unfortunately still homophobic and transphobic therapists out there who believe that LBTQIA identities can be “fixed,” which can be the exact opposite of helpful. The key, then, is to do your research. Here are some helpful tips I have used personally to find a therapist who is welcoming of and has experience with LGBTQIA clients.
1. Make a list of what you want.
This is hugely important, and not something enough people do when looking for a therapist. Spend some time thinking about what you want your therapy experience to be like. Do you have a preferred gender of therapist? Do you want them to be younger or older? Do you want them to be LGBTQIA themselves, or does being an active ally suffice? Do you like to be prompted with questions the whole session, or would you prefer a more conversational structure? Do you want to do things like coloring or going on a nature walk while you talk, or does sitting on a couch seem more comfortable? These are all great questions you should think about before you even start the therapist search.
2. Ask for recommendations.
These can come from other LBGTQIA people you know, from your local LGBT center or PFLAG group, or even your doctor’s office or insurance company! Seriously, I’ve called my insurance company before to ask for therapists in network who have experience with LGBTQIA issues. It’s not the end-all-be-all, but it’s a great starting point.
3. Once you have some recommendations, do some further digging.
Does the recommended therapist have a website, and do they say anything about their experience with LGBTQIA clients? Even something as simple as their entry forms asking about preferred gender pronouns is a really good sign that they are conscious and up-to-date about queer and trans issues. You can also call the therapist’s office and ask the receptionist some preliminary questions to get a feel of the office’s attitude towards LGBTQIA issues. Some of my top questions would be:
• I am struggling with anxiety. I am also gay. Will my sexuality interfere with my access to affirming care from this therapist?
• What is this therapist’s perspective on the LGBTQIA community?
• Does this therapist have experience working with LGBTQIA clients?
• Does this therapist have any special training or certification to work with LGBTQIA clients?
4. Go into the first session with plenty of questions.
When I’m meeting a new therapist for the first time, I always treat the first session like an interview—but this time, I’m the interviewer! I always ask them about their experiences with multiple facets of my identity—not just with queer issues, but also with feminism, gender, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. For me, it is extremely important to have a therapist who is on the same page as I am in terms of feminism, activism, politics, and LGBTQIA stuff, because those are all such big parts of my life that are bound to come up during sessions. You can even take your list of preferred qualities to your first session and use those as a guide to see how many of them align with the therapist sitting in front of you.
5. If it doesn’t feel right, move along.
I’m a big believer in trusting your gut when it comes to finding a new therapist. While it may take two or three sessions to really know if this is the therapist for you, know that there are other options available. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a few trial runs before settling in with someone for the foreseeable future. We all deserve someone we can feel comfortable talking through life’s obstacles with.
All in all, finding a therapist can be a long process of trial and error, but it is entirely worth it to get the support and understanding we all need. You’re taking huge steps just by starting the search, so be proud of that. Good luck!
Grace is the Senior Managing Editor here at My Kid Is Gay. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger
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