In today’s world, it’s increasingly difficult to find a therapist that is a good match for you. Some are totally booked up, some don’t have experience in what you’re coming for, and some don’t take your insurance. And sometimes, when you finally find one that seems like a good fit? They only have one opening at 10 am, and you can’t miss work.
If you’re LGBTQIA+ or queer, all of these barriers still apply but you also have the extra obstacle of finding a therapist who’s accepting.
If you’re queer (like myself), you’ll most likely have at least one horror story of having a therapist who told you that you were “broken” or “unnatural” or that your “lifestyle is a sin”. This can happen when you’re young and your parents choose your therapist, when you go to therapy for an unrelated issue and happen to mention your identity, or even by a therapist who says they’re accepting but in reality are anything but.
So how are you supposed to sift through the overwhelming amount of therapists in your area to find one that checks all your boxes and is actually safe to be yourself with? Here are 5 tips that I’ve compiled over my experience of being a queer, LGBTQIA+ Affirming, Mental Health Therapist.
- Make Your Safety a Priority
Even if you’re not going to therapy for issues around being queer, it’s still important to find an affirming therapist. This is because therapy is most likely to work when you feel safe, have a good relationship with your therapist, and can be 100% honest with them. If you attempt to hide this part of your identity when you go to therapy, I guarantee the process will not be as beneficial as when you can be yourself and feel safe. You may even attend your weekly sessions in fear of your therapist finding out your “secret”. Thus, make your safety the top priority in finding a therapist, and do this by searching for an LGBTQIA+ Affirming one.
- Do Your Research
Although it takes time and energy, it is important to do your research when searching for the right therapist. Just because Aunt May said your second cousin Peter had a great therapist that solved all their problems, does not mean that this therapist is right for you. Different people mesh together differently, and you deserve someone who you feel personally drawn to. What should I look for, you may ask? Use the internet to check out all therapists recommended to you, particularly using Psychology Today or their website. See if they list LGBTQ+ as a specialty area, or at least mention working with the community in their experience section. If a therapist looks good, but they do not mention working with the LGBTQIA+ community on their bio or website in any way? Consider swiping left.
- “Friendly” does not mean Affirming
Sometimes, even therapists who do mention working with the queer community on their website are not quite the right fit. There is a difference between being “LGBTQIA+ friendly” and being “LGBTQIA+ Affirming”. Oftentimes this is a difference in training, knowledge, or experience. Therapists who are simply allies are well-meaning, but may lack actual training or knowledge of queer struggles, joys, and resources. These therapists may engage in unintentional microaggressions, and end up doing more harm than good. The best scenario is finding a therapist who is trained, experienced, and knowledgeable in working with the LGBTQIA+ community. If you find this “unicorn” therapist (and yes, we do exist!) then you may feel more safe and connected to your therapist who already understands, on some level, what you’re going through. You won’t have to explain everything, although you’re encouraged to talk about your own unique experiences.
- Not All Colors in the Rainbow are the Same
Of course, every color is different. Even Hot Pink and Baby Pink are two very different shades of pink! But what does that mean for the queer rainbow, and in choosing the right therapist for you? To start, it means that not every LGBTQIA+ therapist is the same. Some of us specialize in working with bisexuals, others with gay men, still others with same-sex couples, with trans people of color, with asexuals, with trans or non-binary youth — the list goes on and on! The point is, try to find a therapist who specializes in working with you. For example, if you’re genderfluid, wouldn’t you rather have a therapist with 2 years of experience working with the trans community than a therapist with 20 years of experience working with lesbian couples? I know I would. Hopefully you can find a therapist’s unique specialty areas on their website; if not, you can always reach out and ask!
- Connect with Community Resources
This final tip is a good strategy for anyone, regardless of whether you are LGBTQIA+, seeking therapy, or neither! Connecting with local resources in your community is a great way to expand your social network and simply get better acquainted with your community. You’d be surprised by how many helpful, local resources there are that are hidden unless you go searching for them. From free classes at your local library to financial assistance with utilities and groceries, your community is probably bursting with helpful resources. The resources in your local LGBTQIA+ community are no different! If you live in an urban area there may even be a “center” that offers multiple different services to the local queer community, but suburban and rural areas still have some available. Do some research, scour the website, maybe give them a call. There is a high chance that your local LGBTQIA+ resources can offer therapy, or at least give you referrals to recommended clinicians. Your local (or state) PFLAG is a great place to start!
What did you think of these 5 tips? Maybe you have a plan to find a good therapist now, when before the task felt daunting and impossible. With these 5 ways, you’re likely to find a competent and affirming LGBTQIA+ clinician. I know I have!
Everyone deserves high-quality mental health care, regardless of gender or sexuality. We are all unique, and finding a therapist that has experience working with people similar to you gives you the best chance of getting the most out of therapy. Much too often, therapists hide their personal and discriminating values. You don’t deserve to be blindsided with hate by someone you trust.
The horror stories of LGBTQIA+ people’s experiences with therapy stops here.