By Jourdan Bartels, LPC Associate
Supervised by: Jennifer Buffalo, LPC-S, LMFT
Competent, affirming mental health care is crucial for the LGBTQIA+ community, who experience higher rates of mental health struggles like suicidal thoughts, depression, and substance use disorders, and are at higher risk of experiencing identity-based discrimination and trauma (NAMI). Therapy is most effective when the therapist and client create a shared sense of safety, and when the client feels unconditionally accepted and supported. In fact, when these conditions are not present in the therapeutic relationship, therapy can be harmful to the client. Unfortunately, finding truly affirming and knowledgeable LGBTQ+ allied therapists can be a challenge.
Being an Actually Affirming therapist takes more than having a gay friend or supporting gay marriage. An affirming therapist would have training and knowledge in the systemic issues, mental health concerns, and social issues that affect LGBTQIA+ folks.
While we’d like to assume all therapists are identity-affirming, sometimes therapists, even those who are marketed as LGBTQ-allied, may not practice truly affirming care. If asked generally about their acceptance of the queer community, these clinicians might say the right things, yet when it comes down to real discussions of the queer experience, they might show major bias and prejudice, which can be traumatizing for clients who were expecting to (and deserve to) experience safety and understanding. At Luminary Counseling, we prioritize creating a safe and affirming environment with all our clinicians and other team members, and we want you to find safe therapists no matter where you receive services. So, we’ve put together a list of tips to figure out if a potential therapist is Actually Affirming.
Before you have a consultation with the therapist, you can look for indications that they are queer affirming on their website, in their description, and in their email signature.
- As you read their bio, look to see if they list “LGBTQ+ community” as a population they specialize in, and look for any kind of expansion on that specialization. (i.e., why they work with that group, what makes them qualified to list that)
- You can also review their website for badges from different organizations that indicate they’ve been verified by that organization. Some organizations that you’d look for to indicate queer safety include: Therapy Den, Inclusive Therapists, The LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory
- On TherapyDen.com, you can filter for therapists who have indicated that they are part of the LGBTQ+ community as well.
- If you are able to email the therapist to schedule a consultation, see if they have their pronouns listed in their email signature. You can also check their bio for pronouns as well!
When you do get to talk with them during a consultation or first session, you may want to ask questions about their experience, training, and beliefs regarding working with the queer community, or your identities in particular. Here are some examples of questions you could ask a potential therapist:
- Have you worked with people who identify like I do? How many queer people have you worked with? For how long?
- What training do you have in working with the LGBTQIA population? How long ago was the last training you did related to queer folks?
- How do you create safety for queer people in your practice?
- How do you feel about conversion therapy?
- Do you offer letters for other gender-affirming services?
Remember, a consultation with a therapist is for *both* of you to decide if it’s the right fit. Ask as many questions as you need to. It can be nerve racking to begin therapy, especially if you’ve had a negative experience in the past regarding your identities – it’s totally understandable to feel nervous or unsure about the process. A good therapist should be willing to explain any part of the therapeutic process, their beliefs, their commitment to affirming care, and their approaches to the work.
If you’re looking for a therapist, check out our clinicians here at Luminary Counseling! All of our therapists offer free, 30-minute consultations prior to scheduling a first session, and would be happy to answer any questions you have.