This hasn’t been a typical Pride month. Instead of parades, we’ve had protests for racial justice and against police brutality and virtual pageants and events among an ongoing global pandemic. Add a growing mental health crisis due in part to these events and it’s no wonder that now more than ever, people are seeking mental health treatment.
Taking the first steps to find the right therapist can be daunting for anyone, but queer and trans folks face some unique struggles in their attempt to access mental health support and finding the right therapist can get even harder for queer and trans people of color (QTPOC). LGBTQ folks are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions and research suggests that societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of civil and human rights are linked to disparities in both access to care and quality of care.
Queer and trans folks deserve to receive the mental health support they need. One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you’re receiving the best care for you is to find a therapist that will have the tools and expertise to support and affirm your identity. Here are some tips to consider when trying to find an LGBTQ-affirming therapist.
Many therapists—and all of the therapists in the MyWellbeing community—offer free phone consultations before the first in-person appointment. This is a time for both you and the therapist to decide if you would be a good fit for one another.
“It is common for therapists to offer a 15-to-30 minute complimentary consultation call,” says Julia King, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “Feel free to schedule calls with multiple therapists to get a feel for who you connect to most strongly. It is important that you have a consultation before you schedule an initial therapy session to ensure the relationship is likely to be a good fit, and to ensure you feel safe with the therapist.”
I hate talking on the phone as much as the next millennial, but it’s best to just take the plunge and have a conversation rather than speak over email, if you’re able to do so.
Using the language and terminology you would use in a conversation with your therapist on the call can be a great gauge of the therapist’s familiarity with your unique situation. I’ll sometimes change my terminology on behalf of my listener, such as using the word bisexual (or not mentioning orientation at all!) if I think the other person hasn’t ever heard the word pansexual or wouldn’t understand the word queer. Don’t do this when you’re speaking to your therapist! They should be at best fluent in the concepts and words you’re using and at the very least, open to learning.
"As therapists we have a responsibility to ensure that our LGBTQ+ clients feel safe and heard. This means using non-gendered language when speaking to a potential client and not making assumptions about their gender identity or sexual orientation. Use the word ‘partner’ instead of girlfriend for example, and don't assume the client's gender identity by their name, voice, or physical presentation,” says Sonia Singh, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member.
To help you feel more prepared and secure for your first call, our CEO and founder, Alyssa, compiled this comprehensive guide that covers everything you need to know about your consultation call.
Anyone seeking therapy should feel empowered to ask their potential therapist questions to make sure the relationship is a good fit. Thinking about your goals and budget ahead of time can relieve some of the stress around the phone consultation, but LGBTQ-specific questions will clarify if your potential therapist is LGBTQ-affirming.
“To explore whether the therapist is LGBTQ-affirming, it would be beneficial to ask questions to that specific issue directly,” says Julia. Here are some of the questions she suggests:
If these sound quite forward to you, that’s totally understandable. It can be uncomfortable at first to bring these things up to a stranger, especially if they’re not things you talk about often. Rest assured that your therapist will be used to answering questions about their experience, training, views, and methods. It can help to have your list of questions written down and you can even practice asking them out loud beforehand so you’re more comfortable during the conversation.
The short answer is: it’s important if it’s important to you!
At the end of the day, you are the one who decides if a therapist is a good fit for you. While a therapist who is LGBTQ might have specialized insight into that specific topic, both you and your potential therapist are complicated, wonderful, multifaceted people. Your gender and sexuality do not make up your entire identity as a person, so it’s important to find a therapist that aligns with you on the things you care about most.
If it is important to you that your therapist identifies as LGBTQ, you can add that query to your list of questions. “You may find that you wish to work with a therapist who identifies at LGBTQ+ themselves,” says Julia. “Feel free to ask that question directly as well.”
Does your therapist’s gender identity, race, or sexual orientation matter to you? Would you prefer to take the lead or have the therapist do more to guide you? Is it important to you that your therapist has experience working with others who have had similar struggles or experiences to you? It’s totally possible to find a match with a therapist with a different identity or background than you, but again, you’re calling the shots here and you get to decide what’s important.
Finding an LGBTQ-affirming therapist can be an additional hurdle for queer and trans folks who are seeking mental health support. By asking good questions, thinking about your goals in advance, and having an open and honest conversation in the complimentary consultation call, you’ll be able to find the right fit.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.