“I ended up having to explain what being queer means to my therapist, and she still looked very confused.”
“He said, ‘Why can’t you just date guys? Two girls together… it’s too emotional.’ And then he would constantly make me feel judged.”
If you’ve had encountered similar situations during your therapy sessions, you will be able to commiserate about how difficult these sessions can be. Just when clients think that the therapist is the only one who can fathom their state of mind and reality, the endeavour might end up falling flat and even result in clients feeling condemned about their choices.
Deviations from heteronormativity are still looked upon negatively and there are many occurrences of oppression, discrimination at school, home or in the wider community, despite us proclaiming to be neoteric.
“Any group that is a minority tends to be misunderstood and marginalised. This may lead to a sense of isolation and discrimination. Naturally, such feelings lead to mental stress,” commented Yvonne Yeow, a certified counsellor and coach.
Nicole Tang is also a therapist that is aware of the stresses that the community may face.
“In my opinion, conformity has been a big stress factor for the LGBTQ community. Besides, the LGBTQ community often have to deal with gaining acceptance of their identity internally and externally (parents, family, friends, culture, etc.). This can often take years of conflicts before one can come to terms with their choice of sexual preference and/or identity. As such, the queer community can be prone to stress from a very young age.”
Because of the higher risk that members of the LGBTQ+ community face, many of them seek to remedy their distress with counselling. On top of typical life stresses, some may be struggling with their own sexual orientation or gender identity. Coming out to one’s family or friends and sorting out an ‘authentic’ sense of self against social expectations and pressures can lead to high levels of depression, anxiety and puts them at higher risks of substance abuse. Research has also shown that individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ are at increased risk of suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Transgender people mostly suffer from gender dysphoria and find it incredibly difficult to navigate through the process alone. A good therapist may possibly help someone like that work through their feelings and stressors. Moreover, before hormone therapy is implemented, it is mandatory that one consults a verified ‘transgender’ therapist before going ahead with the surgery.
For therapists like Yvonne, she has seen clients who struggle with understanding and accepting their sexuality, as well as those having difficulty coming out.
“A truly LGBTQ-friendly therapist does not view their clients’ sexuality as a ‘problem’ to be addressed. Instead, the therapist is genuinely encouraging and affirming of her clients’ sexuality, choices and lifestyle. A therapist needs to have great empathy and compassion, to fully collaborate for the client’s benefit. That way, she can be an effective partner and advocate. The change that they seek together must be for the client’s fulfilment and self-actualisation.”
Chriselda Rose Pereira, another LGBTQ-friendly therapist underscores that. “It is important for therapist to understand that everyone struggles are different and each person’s journey is different and takes their own pace.”
Although there are many therapists that may be qualified to help, LGBTQ+ clients generally feel more comfortable with an LGBTQ+ therapist or at least with one who specialises in or has a great deal of experience with issues that they face. Yvonne surmises that many of her clients have problems finding a counsellor who is accepting and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, so they were not able to provide effective and affirmative counsel. She also highlights that it can be perilous when a counsellor over-emphasises the client’s sexuality, rather than address the pressing issues at hand, be it anxiety or depression or change-management.
John Carroll, a marriage and family therapist at the Institute for Human Identity in Manhattan, New York, concurs that it is important that a client shares common ground with the therapist as that can allay some of the fear and anxiety that therapy can bring. Less time is also spent educating your therapist about your identity. Carroll commented that while it’s not necessarily important for queer people to find a therapist who is LGBTQ+ themselves, it’s definitely crucial to find one who is LGBTQ+-affirming.
Rosemary Donahue is someone who feels that having an LGBTQ+ therapist was a defining choice that she made. In her story online, she shared that it was only after she had found an affirming therapist who told her that her identity was valid and asked her to be kind to herself was she able come out of the closet and get a divorce. Describing it as a crucial decision to seek an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist, she said the therapist “helped (her) excavate some of the trauma that kept (her) closeted for 30 years and work toward living a life that’s more authentic to who (she is).”
Chriselda believes that everyone has the right to lead fulfilling lifestyles and encourages members of the LGBTQ+ community to reach out for a friendly counsellor. “Counselling is great avenue to build healthier coping strategies and quality of life. One need not suffer on their own if they have a supportive therapist.”
Nicole sums up the necessity of counselling. “When in doubt, find someone to speak to before the problem snowballs into something bigger. Think of it as a massage for your mental emotional health. If you’ll go for a massage to ease your bodily aches, how about seeking counselling for your mental emotional pain? There is no shame in building a healthy you holistically. All you need is an open mind.”
Yvonne Yeow, Chriselda Rose Pereira and Nicole Tang are members of A Space Between. To find out more about how to access their services, contact us at [email protected]
Yvonne Yeow is a certified counsellor and coach. A member of the Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors (Singapore) and of the Asia Pacific Alliance of Coaches, she is also a volunteer as a pro bono coach to NGOs and non-profit organisations. She graduated from The University of Western Australia, where she studied Anthropology, Psychology and Philosophy. Some of her other qualifications are Certified Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Practitioner, Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher and Certified Children’s Character, Confidence and Courtesy Coach®.
Chriselda Rose Pereira had the desire to be a counsellor when she was a teenager, after seeing people suffer from emotional and mental issues. She went on to pursue a psychology degree and then a Master’s in Counselling from Monash University. Registered with Singapore Association for Counselling, she is also trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Nicole Tang is a holistic therapist that was trained as a Bach Flower and Bodytalk Practitioner, and holds a professional Psychotherapy Diploma. Some of the areas she specialises in are anxiety and panic disorders, personal growth and self-esteem, life transitions and general relationship challenges amongst family, friends, co-workers, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Known as Nate, I am someone who cannot quit wielding the pen or punching the QWERTY, no matter where life brings me. Writing has always been the most effective conduit for channeling my wanted or unwanted opinions since I was an undergraduate at NUS. Naturally, I used this skill as a means of sustenance after working as a writer and editor for many years until I decided to start a business in music. That did not put a halt to my marriage with the vernacular.
In October 2016, I graduated with my Masters in Visual and Media Anthropology, which is the study of cultures through films and photography, at Freie Universität Berlin. This transitory period of residing in two cities has pushed the boundaries of my creativity and my battles with word count have not ceased.
Now a new mode of writing, the academic one, has been added to my existing smorgasbord of corporate and lifestyle collaterals, articles, advertisements, annual reports and books. At the moment, my learning curve is an uphill journey as I attempt to grasp the camera for stills and motion clips, while I juggle that with developing my love affair with my other mode of expression – electronic music.