Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Being part of any minority group is difficult but being part of a sexual minority provides unique challenges.
Members of the queer community often have a hard time finding a mental health therapist who “gets them.” People who identify as LGBTQ+ and are BIPOC tend to have an even bigger struggle.
It can be really daunting to open up to a stranger, especially if you don’t know if the stranger is an ally or if they know how to handle minority stress. It’s difficult to feel comfortable when you don’t know if you’re in a safe space.
Therapy is not and should not be “one size fits all.” Therapy needs to be tailored to the individual; their unique experiences, traumas, barriers to well-being, and strengths all need to be taken into account.
This is why it is so important for queer people to find providers who are supportive and practice affirmative therapy.
Clients need to know that their providers are safe and that they will be accepted as they are.
What is Affirmative Therapy?
Affirmative Therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to validate and advocate for the needs of sexual and gender minority clients.
Homosexuality was classified as a disorder in the DSM (diagnostic handbook used by mental health professionals) until 1973. Up until this point it was treated as a mental illness.
The aim of affirmative therapy is to celebrate the identity of the person, not try to change or cure them which used to be the goal, once-upon-a-time.
In fact, we know that conversion therapy is extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ people. Research has shown this time and again, which is why it is banned in several states and opposed by many major medical and psychological associations.
The experiences of gay clients are often shaped by their identity and affirmative therapy aims to celebrate this identity, not “cure it.” The firm stance of affirmative therapy is that there is nothing inherently wrong with being LGBTQ+ nor do these identities create pathology.
What does create pathology is the experience of growing up and living in a heteronormative, homophobic, and shame-based society.
As American psychotherapist and author Joe Kort puts it, the aim is to help clients move from shame to pride (Kort, 2018).
What does Affirmative Therapy Entail?
The goal of affirmative therapy is to support and celebrate the client as they are. The reasons that bring queer clients to therapy aren’t much different from other populations. Rather, the main difference is that their life experiences are greatly shaped by their identities.
While the reasons queer people come to therapy are similar to other populations, there are higher instances of mood and anxiety disorder among people queer.
Research shows that the stressors associated with being a sexual minority explain these higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders among queer people.
In Affirmative Therapy, the therapist and client identify how growing up in a society that normalizes heterosexuality and cisgender identities and pathologizes homosexuality and trans or nonbinary gender identities can create mental health issues for LGBTQ+ people.
Therefore, themes that are explored in affirmative therapy are homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, minority stress and how these impact the daily lives of clients.
Clients are given a safe space in which they can achieve their therapy goals, heal from trauma associated with their identity, and better understand how their identity greatly influences their experiences. Affirmative therapy is the safe place to unpack such complex issues.
Clients will learn how to embrace their identity and work through trauma relating to their identity and coming out. They will learn how to navigate and cope with stressors like bullying, discrimination, political persecution, hostility, and homophobia/transphobia.
They will learn that their community is a great source of comfort, healing, and support and how important it is to turn toward the community when they are suffering.
What Does Being An Affirmative Therapist Entail?
Practicing affirmative therapy is about more than having a basic understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. Affirmative therapists are trained to understand nuances that present themselves in the therapy room as a direct result of the client’s identity.
Affirmative therapists also have to examine how their own biases may show up, especially if they don’t identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is because of this training that both queer and non-queer therapists can be incredibly effective affirmative therapists.
How Will Affirmative Therapy Help Me, A Gay Man?
The universality of coming out is one commonality that most LGBTQ+ people share. It’s often difficult and can be downright traumatic.
Often, coming out happens during a developmental period in which support is necessary in order to integrate the identity in a healthy way. Others may come out later in life which brings other, unique challenges.
Unfortunately, not many gay men get the support they need during this time, especially from family and heterosexual peers. They carry this trauma with them and in the worst cases it ends up coming up and affecting them in one way or another later in life.
Affirmative therapy can help clients heal from the trauma of coming out. An Affirmative therapist can help clients who are questioning their sexuality or who struggle with internalized homophobia.
Affirmative therapy can also help with:
- Identity questioning
- Trauma related to LGBTQ+ experiences (traumatic coming out, the AIDS epidemic, contracting or living with HIV, political persecution)
- Sex related issues
- Relationship problems
- Discrimination at all levels, including microaggressions
- Limited social support
- Parenting and the creation of families
It can be discouraging to search for a therapist only to find that you either don’t connect with them or can’t see to find the right fit. If you identify as a gay male and have had trouble finding the right therapist, consider seeing someone who practices affirmative therapy.
While having a queer clinician helps, it’s not necessary as long as the provider you are seeing has been trained in affirmative therapy. The training that affirmative therapists receive will ensure that they are able to better help their queer clients.
Not sure where to look? If you’re located in Florida, the clinicians at our practice, The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale would be happy to work with you. To get started, you can call, email, or schedule a callback at this link.
Otherwise, clients can look up local LGBTQ+ organizations in their area, as many have directories or referrals to affirming therapists (e.g., Sunserve in Fort Lauderdale).
If you’re unsure, you can always ask the therapists you contact what their experience is in working with or treating the queer community and whether they have had training in this specific population. It may take some time and effort, but finding the right match is possible, and so important.
More Interesting Reads from José
Send a Secure Message:
"*" indicates required fields