Who Goes to Therapy? (And, Should I?)
A Guide for LGBTQ Youth
Lots of people. I can practically guarantee that you know some!
Do you feel ashamed about having feelings you don’t know how to cope with? Do you think that only rich people go to therapy? Or crazy people? Or goofy New Age people who want to access their “inner child”? Or people who want to blame everything on their mothers?
Or maybe you think that therapy means laying on a black couch while a silent therapist nods at you?
Freud's Actual Therapy Couch (no, you don't have to lie on it to get good therapy!)
Or that you’ll only be asked about sex?
Maybe you think that therapists will think that your sexual or gender orientation is “sick” or wrong or just not get it.
Well, none of this needs to be true!
The media, and maybe even our friends and family portray therapy as something for people who are crazy or “New Agey”. Often therapists get portrayed as also crazy, or over-serious, and out of touch. I’m sure all of these people are out there, but most of the time, therapy looks nothing like this. Nevertheless, these portrayals leave a lot of us feeling worried and even ashamed about seeking therapy. If you are LGBTQ, it can be even worse – what if your therapist thinks you are sick for being LGBTQ?
Here are the two main reasons I see that people go to therapy. First, because they are uncomfortable with something in their lives and they want help changing or coping with it. The other group goes because they are feeling pretty ok about their lives but want to get help and guidance about how to make their relationship, family, or lives function in the best way possible and avoid problems in the future.
This is true for straight and LGBTQ folks. It really has nothing to do with being “crazy” and everything to do with wanting to shed shame, guilt or unmanageable feelings that get in the way of your work, relationships, education and happiness.
When do LGBTQ people need to seek out LGBTQ-aware therapists?
Always. An LGBTQ aware therapist is not only affirming and positive about your gender or sexual orientation, but is skilled in understanding the complicated way that gender or sexual orientation can be involved in all of life’s challenges and joys:
Here are some specific examples:
- A high school student realizes that she wants to come out to her father after years of keeping her sexual orientation a secret. She wants help sorting out her feelings and make plans to contact him safely.
- A college student is in a relationship with someone he really likes but he constantly feels worried about losing his partner. He wants help finding out why he is so anxious.
- A 25 year old person always identified as a lesbian, but now begins to suspect that she really prefers to identify as a man. She fears losing her lesbian friends and her family and wants guidance as she sorts it out.
- A 29 year old man has a history of depression and wants someone to check in with who can help him develop more skills to avoid future bouts.
- A high school senior feels guilty and ashamed for being gay. His church tells him and his family that it is a sin and he needs support feeling normal and healthy in his new identity, even though he doesn’t want to tell anyone yet.
- A 27 year old woman who just had her first child wants an hour of time and space to herself to get to talk about her worries, concerns and joys of being a new mom.
- A young woman just got dumped by someone she really liked. She feels scared, desperate and can’t stop thinking about her ex-girlfriend.
- A high school junior still feels freaked out a month after being called “faggot” by some guys in a truck and wants to figure out how to feel better.
- A college student is having trouble giving oral presentations and sought therapy to help her be more confident.
But only some of these things are about sexual or gender orientation!
It looks like that, doesn’t it? Think about how being LGBTQ might impact a young mother who wants to get support from other moms but fears coming out to them.
Or, a student who wants to give an oral presentation but is afraid that she’ll be looked at differently because of her gender presentation.
Or the man who has depression – is part of why he is depressed because after a lifetime of being told that being bisexual is “not normal”, he believes it and has learned to hate himself?
All of these LGBTQ people need someone who can see clearly that discrimination in our culture can cause lots of challenging feelings like anxiety, sadness, fear and worry –even in situations that don’t immediately appear to be related to sexual or gender orientation.
They also need a therapist who is able to sort out what is depression or anxiety that is caused mainly by oppression, and which might also be caused by other factors so that each issue can get the attention it needs.
Lastly, each person needs to be able to speak freely knowing that they are safe to be totally who they are, they are safe to talk about their partners, their friends, their sex lives and themselves without fear of judgment. And, they need to know that they can talk safely about things they’ve never spoken about with anyone else.
This is why an LGBTQ-aware therapist is really important for LGBTQ identified people.
Is it for me?
Therapy is for anyone who is experiencing feelings that they’re not sure what to do with, how to understand or how to cope with. It’s for everyone who is entering something new and isn’t sure how to take the next steps. It’s for anyone who feels confused, overwhelmed or just unclear about what is happening in their lives. If you’re feeling any of these things, you might consider checking out a therapist or even a support group.
Remember, you’re not crazy!
— Jayme L. Peta, MA https://queeryouthmentalhealth.wordpress.com & www.qyip.org.