Why is gay, bi, trans and queer focused therapy so important? Along with all humans, psychotherapists participate in social and cultural systems and subsystems. Socially, most individuals participate in these systems unconsciously. So, often individuals, including therapists, are unaware when cultural systems like homo-bi-transphobia move through us. Without the specialized training to serve Queer clients, therapists practicing within a standardized education to meet the standard of care are not equipped to address the psychological needs of this population.
The Psychotherapist’s Oath (American Psychotherapy Association, 2016), states that therapists must possess an awareness of their participation in socio-cultural systems and the degree to which they enact dominance over subordinate groups. Without this awareness, re-harming and the retraumatizing of clients will occur in therapeutic relationships. To be a sexual and gender minority specialized therapist requires a strong clinical foundation working with sexual and gender minority clients. Additionally, therapists must maintain a dedicated commitment of continued cultural humility and self-education of affirming theory and perspective.
A term originally meant to describe something as odd, eccentric or different and later used as a derogatory homophobic slang toward homosexual individuals. In the last three decades the term has been reappropriated to describe sexual identities and gender expressions outside of normative heterosexual contexts. At the same time, Queer is a social, political and theoretical perspective that questions, deconstructs and rejects assigned social norms. The label has taken on many forms in different communities around the world. The use of the term ‘Queer’ within a therapeutic context is one of empowerment and inclusivity.
What is Queer Specialized Therapy?
Gay-affirmative clinical social worker, sexologist, and author Joe Kort (2008) produced a guide to support therapists in conducting affirmative therapeutic relationships with LGBTQ+ clients. Kort noted, “Although the psychotherapy field has changed dramatically in its attitudes towards homosexuality over the past 50 years, homophobic therapists are still around, often treating patients while keeping their homophobia in the closet” (p. 2). Kort’s view highlights how the therapeutic field has made great advancements in reducing harm inflicted on LGBTQ+ clients, but still needs work. Kort’s writings outline steps that contemporary clinicians can take to reduce the unintentional harm and enhance their therapeutic practices with sexual minority clients. Kort (2008) highlighted self-education as being paramount in a therapist’s pursuit of effective treatment. He wrote, having a healing, affirmative stance in the therapy room does help some of the distorted thinking that most clients bring in. But, having an affirmative stance without being informed about specific issues that lesbians and gays experience limits your clinical effectiveness. (p. 18)
Kort’s perspective highlights the unintentional harm that underprepared clinicians can inflict when presenting an affirmative stance without proper education. Kort used the term “Homo-Avoidance” (p. 28) as a label for therapeutic microaggressions against LGBTQ+ clients from under informed therapists. He suggested that the avoidance of the topic of sexual orientation erases large portions of the client’s identity, reaffirming a negative self-image instilled by cultural heterocentrism.
A key contribution Kort provided to the contemporary psychotherapeutic field in regard to sexual minority concerns included his attention to speak to the unspoken. Through naming aloud in an affirmative manner, the oppression experienced by many LGBT clients healing can unfold. Without attention to detail, unconscious personal biases, microaggressions, and enacting dominant-subordinate power dynamics in therapy can perpetuate oppression and the client’s symptomology.
So, what does Queer Specialized Therapy Look Like?
Queer Specialized Therapy can often feel more like a very engaged conversation. The traditional therapist role of neutrality, silence, and openness can often be harmful to clients who have been oppressed based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This approach leaves too much room for a client to project negative bias from the therapist. To be affirming is to be engaged and proactively demonstrate understanding, acceptance and validation.
Psychoanalyst, feminist, and founder of relational-cultural therapy, Jean Baker Miller’s (1986) perspective stressed the importance of Proactive Interventions. Proactive Interventions are conceptualized through discussion of Miller’s (1986) approach to cultivating awareness of oppression and its subsequent psychological effects and externalizing efforts to reclaim autonomy. It is important for clinicians to know when they can successfully be affirmatively proactive or constructively challenging with a sexual minority client. A powerful intervention can be applied when a client shares an experience of discrimination, imposed heteronormativity, or rejection based on sexual identity. When clinicians can appropriately acknowledge these instances, they normalize the client’s lived experience and greatly reduce shame. Likewise, this naming and labeling intervention will inform clients and support them in not internalizing discriminatory offenses in the future. Proactive interventions can also normalize shame, hurt, and anger associated with lived discrimination and counter clients internalized shame.
What does Queer Specialized Therapy look like with me at Denver Men’s Therapy?
The style of therapy that I provide highlights and acknowledges the differences Queer individuals experience from living outside of heterocentric, gender binary and cis-gender cultural norms and expectations. My passion as an LGBTQIA+ community member and affirmative psychotherapist is to honor the strengths that are unique to our community resulting from being different. At the same time, it is paramount to address the negative impact that homo-bi-transphobia has on the community and how it is internalized into various forms of shame, guilt and low self-esteem. An effective method of affirmative therapy is to examine how one’s Queer identity is intersectional, and encompass the makeup of race, ethnicity, religious, cultural, personal experiences and differing values. Affirmative therapy takes into account all of the nuanced life experiences of each Queer individual.
I center therapy sessions within the personal empowerment model. This is a method of discovering and building the intrinsic and inherent Self that has been lost, concealed or hidden due to social, cultural and or relationship pressure. This process explores safe and effective ways of finding, honoring and expressing your true and authentic voice. Empowerment can come in many forms: self-care, assertiveness, community building, nurturing relationships, creative or artistic pursuits and countless other methods of growing self-awareness and confidence.
Strength Based Approach
You are the expert of your life. When life becomes challenging, the power of an objective outside observer can help parse through issues and support forward progress. I help clients by pulling from their existing coping skills and inherent strengths to develop strategies to overcome obstacles in their lives. A Strength based approach looks at resolving problems and stressors with the innate gifts and unique perspectives which already reside in each client. Sometimes they just need to be understood and applied in new or different ways.
In short, I find it most paramount to foster and seek connection with clients. It is important to share that I identify as homosexual, queer, cis male. I allow my identity and experience in LGBTQIA+ culture to be a part of the work we do, to affirm and reflect shared experience. Sessions are tailored to meet the needs of each client uniquely through conversation, laughter, emotional expression, creative projects/homework and reflection. I also enjoy sharing interesting community and cultural information and I’m always happy to explore affirming resources and additional relevant research material with clients.
Ready to start therapy with Jesse, our Queer Specialized Therapist? Book today and let’s get started.
Kort, J. (2008). Gay affirmative therapy for the straight clinician: The essential guide. New York, NY: Norton.
Miller, J. B. (1986). Toward a new psychology of women. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.