What is LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy?

In a world where heteronormativity, prejudice, and harassment continue to run rampant against the LGBTQ community, meeting with an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is imperative. An LGBTQ affirmative counselor can provide the tools for unpacking shame, deeper understanding, and overall acceptance. An LGBTQ affirmative therapist can remind you that nothing is wrong with you for being a part of the LGBTQ community. Despite the campaigns calling for inclusion, legalizing same-sex marriage, and anti-bullying education in schools, the LGBTQ community still encounters ongoing challenges.

Antiquated societal norms that label people as “normal” and “abnormal” create immense pressure for the LGBTQ community. These pressures double the likelihood that members of this community will develop a mental health disorder as compared to heterosexual individuals. Moreover, according to the CDC, they are 2.5 times more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. On top of the “usual” societal stressors, LGBTQ people have to endure bullying, discrimination, and abuse based on their sexuality and/or gender identity.

What is LGBTQ affirmative therapy?

The National Library of Medicine defines LGBTQ affirmative therapy as “a form of therapy that helps a person accept their intrinsic identity, gender, and sexual orientation and see beyond the damaging concept of ‘normality’ as imposed by a discriminatory society.” Fearing judgment and discrimination, many people find it hard to accept themselves as they are and embrace their gender or sexual identity. Unfortunately, this too often manifests as internalized transphobia or homophobia for many LGBTQ individuals.

The role of an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is to create a safe space for the client to communicate their emotions, thoughts, and actions and validate their needs. Unfortunately, many therapists still find it hard to accept LGBTQ people as “normal”. As a result, many of these therapists provide care that is subpar and can interfere with overall well-being. Still, even today, many states have not banned conversion therapy.  Many LGBTQ people have experienced horrific trauma from conversion therapy.

As an affirmative therapist and advocate for the LGBTQ community, I stand by the life-saving belief that affirmative counseling will never attempt to convert or “repair” someone’s gender or sexual identity. More than 700,000 LGTBQ people have been exposed to incredibly damaging and medically unjust conversion therapy. I want my clients, whether they are recently coming out or have been out for years, to know nothing is wrong with them.

therapist with patient

How will affirmative therapy help?

I know firsthand what it’s like to experience non-LGBTQ affirmative care and the impact it can have on one’s life and self-worth. Mental health professionals who provide affirmative therapy sessions encourage clients to discover their authenticity and embrace their gender and sexuality without guilt. They create a positive space for self-acceptance and understanding of gender, sexuality, and identity expression.

Affirmative therapy can also support one’s understanding of the ways in which their religious and sexual or gender identities coexist. Religion plays an important part in many people’s lives, but true self-acceptance can remain difficult in the face of religious dogma. Therapy can help integrate the two and provides the necessary support for clients to affirm their genuine identity in all realms.

The lack of support and understanding from family members and friends can be very painful. The absence of this support may contribute to a deep sense of loneliness that may eventually lead to a mental health issue.  Some people turn to harmful strategies to cope with the stigma and discrimination, such as isolation, self-harm, and substance abuse. Debilitating fears of violence, depression, anxiety, and PTSD may also arise. Therapy helps you identify and acknowledge the source of harmful behavior and replace it with a healthy coping strategy so you can find, accept, and love yourself.

How will affirmative therapy work?

Affirmative therapists know that it is vital to create a safe space for LGBTQ individuals to reveal their true selves without the fear of judgment or prejudice. LGBTQ people, just like everyone else, come to therapy to solve relationship issues and work through mental health disorders. While conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma are common, these mental health conditions are not LGBTQ issues but human issues. Members of this community just happen to experience an additional layer of shame and fear related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. After all, only a few decades ago homosexuality was deemed a mental illness, and, unfortunately, in some parts of the world, it still is.

Therapy should focus on helping the client understand that what they think, feel, or desire is natural and an important part of who they are. The affirmative therapist should be trained and ready to gently work with the client’s needs and expectations. It is important to remember that affirmative therapy focuses on the client’s relationship with their feelings and identity. Sexual orientation or gender identity is never the problem. Only through understanding, acceptance, and integration, can the client find peace and healing.

pride parade