If you are someone who identifies as LGBTQ (“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning), you will know that the life experiences you have are often largely shaped by your gender identity and sexual orientation.
Consider these statistics:
- LGB adults are more than twice as likely as non-LGB adults to experience a mental health condition.
- the LGBTQ community is at a higher risk for experiencing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
- A large-scale quantitative study in Singapore has revealed a strong association between discrimination based on LGBTQ identities and suicidal ideation.
It’s undeniable that the queer community faces a unique slew of challenges and obstacles, including discrimination, rejection, stigmatization, toxic shame and complex trauma–all of which can lead to a false belief that they are inherently “wrong”, “defective”, or “bad”. This is what makes it even more important for LGBTQ individuals to seek support in helping them pave the way to greater self-acceptance and self-love.
Finding an ally who truly embraces and understands the complexities of being in the LGBTQ community is key here; but unfortunately, not all “therapy” seeks to honour the beauty in diversity and encourages you to be more confident in your skin. In this article, we hope to shed some light on how you can find the best mental healthcare you need (and deserve.)
What Is Conversion “Therapy”?
Otherwise known as “reparative” or “sexual reorientation therapy”, conversion therapy is a dangerous and unethical practice that targets LGBTQ individuals into changing, modifying or suppressing their sexual orientation or gender identities.
Especially for LGBTQ youths who are unaware of its dangers, this practice encourages people to change or suppress who they are, convincing them that they need to be “cured” or “fixed”.
The practice has been around for a long time, and it often utilises approaches including conventional talk therapy, prayer, medications, aversion therapy, and even physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. While extreme practices are less common and accepted in today’s world, conversion therapy still occurs–often going under the guise of “talk therapy” to push the patient to reject their gender or sexual identity.
But let’s be clear here. Conversion therapy is not “therapy”, and there’s plenty of research that shows both the short and long-term harm of undergoing such treatment–a 2007 study done by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that there was very little sound research on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCEs).
In fact, “Homosexuality” has been removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1973! Much closer to home, the Ministry of Health stated that homosexuality is not a clinical disorder that needs to be cured and expects doctors and healthcare professionals to practise according to evidence-based best practice and clinical ethics, taking into consideration and respecting patients’ preferences and circumstances when providing care. In addition, the Singapore Psychological Society (SPS) also released a full statement citing current scientific evidence on conversion therapy, stating that SOCEs are ineffective and can exacerbate distress and poor mental health.
In other words: conversion therapy is widely debunked as having no basis in science and for refusing to acknowledge the full spectrum of human gender and sexuality.
Clearly, the risks of undergoing conversion therapy far outweigh the supposed pros–research suggests that conversion therapy is associated with many negative outcomes for LGBTQ clients, including increased levels of depressive symptoms, frequent suicidal ideation and attempts, social withdrawal and decreased self-esteem. Being forced to hide their gender identity only makes LGBTQ individuals feel unsafe and lose hope for a brighter future.
That being said, knowing whether or not a therapist is practising conversion therapy or is truly LGBTQ-affirming can make a whole lot of difference to both your short and long-term mental health and well-being.
What is LGBTQ-Affirming Therapy?
It is important to know that many LGBTQ individuals seek therapy for many of the same reasons others do–whether it be relationship problems, experiencing burnout at work or anxiety and depression issues. However, there are specific concerns that come with identifying as queer, including the fear of coming out, being denied opportunities or access, or experiencing rejection and harassment because of who they are.
This is what makes it so important to find an LGBTQ-affirming therapist–as highlighted by the American Psychological Association, affirmative therapy involves “therapist acceptance, support and understanding of clients, and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development,”. It is founded on the position that no gender identity, expression, or experience is any more valid, ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ than any other.
A 2020 research review found that many queer individuals have experienced poor quality mental healthcare in the past because their mental health professionals either didn’t understand their needs or held stigmatizing assumptions and beliefs about their identity. What makes LGBTQ-affirming therapy different from conversion therapy is that it understands that sexual and gender identities exist on a spectrum and cannot be pathologized or changed.
Here is what LGBTQ-affirming therapy looks like:
- Your therapist never forces a narrative on you.
- Your therapist doesn’t judge your sexual orientation and instead encourages self-acceptance.
- Your therapist sees you as someone who is more than just your sexual or gender expression, and they base treatment goals based on your current needs and issues.
- Your therapist works together with you to explore gender identity and expression, thoughts about coming out and understand common mental health issues that may come with identifying as LGBTQ.
- Your therapist can provide the tools for unpacking shame and other LGBTQ-friendly resources when needed.
- Your therapist validates your experiences and hold space for you while you find peace and healing.
- Your therapist is an ally on your journey to self-acceptance and self-love!
Embracing the rainbow and yourself
At the end of the day, the therapy process is deeply personal. For many LGBTQ people, working with a mental health professional who understands what it’s like to live as queer can make a significant difference to your growth and treatment outcomes.
A Word from A Space Between
Any therapist can be LGBTQ-friendly, but LGBTQ-affirming therapists are either LGBTQ themselves or have friends or family members who are LGBTQ. They are also accepting of gender dysphoria and understand the needs of transgender people, and actively incorporate this understanding into your treatment goals and process. If you are unsure, don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as asking the therapist about their approach and experiences working with LGBTQ clients.
If you’re currently struggling with your sexuality or gender identity, know that help is always available. At A Space Between, we are an LGBTQ-friendly space with LGBTQ-affirming therapists who will work closely with you instead of attempting to change you; providing the acceptance, support, and love you deserve. Remember–don’t settle for anything less than that!
Explore our client-matching services and get matched with an LGBTQ-affirming therapist today.
Currently learning to become a better human being to support other human beings. Writing has always been my preferred form of expression-and also-I probably spend way too much money on acai bowls.