Finding the right therapist when you’re queer can be rough. Here are some ways to make it easier.
In the past, whenever I’ve been in search for a therapist, I’ve contemplated creating a document in which I list everything I’ve been through in my life, and every therapy experience I’ve had previously, so that Potential Therapist can know what I need them to know and I can figure out if this person can give me what I need. Finding a therapist is easy (there are a lot of therapists), but finding the right therapist can be really hard, and it can get even more complicated if you identify as LGBTQIA.
In addition to calculus that comes with finding someone who makes you feel safe and heard, there’s the matter of eliminating the people who have yet to examine their own homo/queer/bi phobia, and of course, the fact that financial accessibility and mental health care don’t seldom go hand in hand. You can find the right therapist for you, though, and here are some tips on how to go about it.
Use your networks
“Many times the best referrals are word of mouth,” says Georgia Hill, a mental health professional in California who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues. “Who do you trust more than your friends and fellow queers?”
If you’re isolated from a queer community, social networks like Facebook are great for connecting with other LGBTQIA people. Check out Queer Exchange, a Facebook resource where folks can get recommendations and support one another. If you’re under 24, check out The Trevor Project to connect with resources in your area, as well as The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) There’s also immediate help available, should you need it, via TransLifeline. Don’t discount non-traditional methods, like therapy via phone or video.
Do Your Homework
There’s a lot you can do to avoid spending hours in the offices of therapists who aren’t going to work out. Clinical psychologist and sexologist Dr. Kristie Overstreet suggests checking out websites and social media to see if a candidate has experience with queer folks. Look to see if they use terms like “gender-affirming,” “LGBTQ friendly,” “queer therapy,” and “sex-positive,” and if they’re involved in the queer community.
Consider how much time you want to spend educating a therapist about LGBTQIA issues. (If the answer is “I do not want to spend any time,” that is more than okay.)
“A client may have to do some educating, but not all the time—not the basics,” says Jenn Kennedy, a lesbian therapist in California, who works with clients all along the LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming spectrum. “The client should feel supported–never that they are trying to convince the therapist of their experience. The therapist should be up to speed on language, studies and news affecting the LGBT community as a baseline.”
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask about a candidate’s qualifications, or send an email. You can learn a lot about someone through a brief conversation.
Be Direct about What You Need
“When you do have a consultation, ask the therapist directly about their experience/stance/approach on working with your particular issue,” advises Georgia Hill.
“What are their policies about the number of visits or length of time in treatment before they feel comfortable writing a letter? Make sure you also request any requirements from your surgeon and bring them to your session.”
If you’re nervous about asking someone about their practice or experience, write down your concerns and don’t hesitate to read from that script. You deserve to get what you want and need.
Don’t Assume Every LGBTQIA Therapist Can Help You
You might think that just because you found a therapist who’s queer, you’re done searching, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“Just like a straight therapist, LGBTQ therapists need to do their own inner work to be healthy and they need to have processed their thoughts and feelings about internal and societal homophobia,” says Julie Barthels, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Illinois. “If a therapist is not out, this may not be a good fit if you want to work on being more out with family and friends. Respect a therapist’s boundaries if they do not want to disclose something, but do not be afraid to ask.”
Trust Your Instincts
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been looking for the right match, or if your best friend swears by her therapist – if it’s not working for you, it’s not working, and that’s okay. Seek out support in the meantime, and no matter what, take care of yourself.