While counselling can be sought for a number of reasons that may or may not be related to one’s sexual identity, it is important that counsellors are competent in how issues in one’s life can be impacted by the various impacting aspects of one’s identity.
Strengths and challenges related to the experiences unique to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, two-spirit, intersex and queer individuals are understood in the context of that person’s world and how these issues impact other mental health or relational challenges can be very nuanced. What follows is a brief outline of how some aspects of queer experience can be relevant to what is brought into counselling and how you can expect these to be approached in the context of the counselling relationship.
Coming out is an experience that can bring both joy and liberation as well as immense fear of rejection and alienation by others. The process of coming out is unique to everyone, but one very common experience is the anticipation of how others will react. The criticism, judgement, and disapproval people often face when they come out to significant others, family, friends, and colleagues often can cause lasting harm. This can show up in feelings of shame, isolation and inadequacy which may contribute to a range of mental health concerns. Processing these feelings in the context of a safe relationship with someone non-judgemental can help begin the healing process. It is also recognized that coming out can also bring many positive emotions, such as inclusion within your community and finally feeling seen for who you are.
The pressure to “pass” as the gender you identify with can bring about significant distress, particularly when not passing can come with added threats of discrimination. Moving through the world with this much uncertainty can be exhausting and can bring about significant anxiety. Having a space where you feel safe to be who you are, as you are can be an important part of relating to yourself positively and dismantling some of the societal values that lead to the felt pressure to fit in.
We unfortunately live in a world where many are still judged and discriminated against based on their sexual identity. As if it is not enough to face this from our external world, oftentimes these messages get internalized and can contribute to feelings of self-hatred. Counselling can be a space to challenge these societal messages and cultivate greater self-compassion and empowerment. It can also provide an opportunity to find ways to cope with the discrimination and exclusion often faced by sexual minorities.
It is well known that having a healthy support network of others on whom you can rely is crucial to mental health. Sadly, many who identify as LGBTIQ face rejection and alienation from their families when they come out or may fear doing so in the first place because of the anticipated reaction from those they care about. Coping with the feelings of loss and betrayal, as well as developing and maintaining other forms of social support can be integral to having a sense of belonging and security.
Cisgender privilege is still a prevailing value in the dominant societal discourse and for those who do not identify their gender with the sex they were born with this can result in feeling outcasted and rejected. Internalized messages about what it means to be trans can deeply impact one’s sense of worth and belonging and fear of mistreatment by others can make the world feel like a dangerous place. Having places where you feel safe and accepted for who you are can help you work through some of the painful and distressing feelings that can come with the process of transitioning, as well as a space to celebrate who you are and recognize the strengths and resilience that you possess.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2004). Asking the right questions 2: talking with clients about sexual orientation and gender identity in mental health, counselling, and addiction settings. Retrieved from CAMH.
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