LGBT Therapy: Choosing the Right Therapist
Although the full range of LGBTQ+ identities is not commonly included in large-scale mental health studies, there is strong evidence that LGBT individuals experience a higher risk of mental illness. Many studies find higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders among this community.
In the United States, LGBTQ+ people experience mental illness three times as often as the general population—and these mental health issues are further exacerbated if an individual experiences other marginalized identities.
The LGBTQ community also faces a unique set of obstacles, ranging from discrimination and prejudice to the denial of civil and human rights and social stigma, leading to new or worsened psychological symptoms. Moreover, being queer can often feel like a barrier toward finding and accessing healthcare—both physical and mental—as it’s often difficult to find providers who understand the nuances of the LGBTQ+ community.
While belonging to the LGBT community can be a source of strength, it also comes with a unique set of stressors. For LGBTQ individuals, recognizing how the experience of sexual orientation and gender identity relates to mental health is imperative. Whether you’re interested in seeking treatment for a mental illness or navigating mental health problems, here’s how to find the right therapist.
Why do some people choose LGBTQ therapists?
For many LGBT individuals, finding a therapist with a shared aspect of your identity can help alleviate the anxiety surrounding therapy. For example, many bisexual clients prefer to work with bisexual therapists, while many transgender individuals may choose to work with a psychologist who is also transgender.
If you’ve attended therapy in the past, it might take a while before you feel comfortable opening up about your sexual orientation, attraction, and gender identity in therapy, even if your psychologist is also a member of the LGBTQ community. However, having a safe environment in which to navigate complex feelings can make a significant difference in your mental well-being.
Especially if you’re struggling with social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination from family members, friends, and colleagues, working with another queer-identified person in a supportive, therapeutic setting is a great way to establish a sense of safety.
Even if your mental health problems aren’t related to your gender or sexual identity, working with someone who shares your sexual orientation or gender identity can provide a sense of understanding. You won’t have to worry about explaining LGBTQ issues or educating your psychologist about your identity. While it’s not necessarily essential for LGBTQ clients to search for a queer therapist, it’s important to find a LGBT-affirming provider.
How can you find an LGBTQ or LGBTQ+-affirming therapist?
Finding the right therapist can feel overwhelming. For many people, living with mental health issues can make seeking professional help even harder. Fortunately, in recent years, the LGBTQ community has seen an increase in mental health resources to help LGBT people overcome stigma and find the social support they’re looking for.
This list is not exhaustive, but some helpful mental health resources for the LGBTQ community include:
- National therapist directories. National directories of LGBTQ+ and -affirming mental health professionals can help you jumpstart your search. Psychology Today and American Psychological Association (APA) feature national directories of mental health professionals with filters to narrow your search by the therapist’s identity, treatment modality, and other requirements. The National Queer and Tran Therapists of Color Network, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists also provide national listings of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
- LGBTQ+ mental health organizations. Some local LGBT organizations exist, and these organizations may provide more thorough listings of healthcare providers in major cities. For example, New York City has the Manhattan Alternative and Lighthouse, and San Francisco has Gaylesta. Consider searching online to see if your area has a local LGBT organization. Additionally, The Trevor Project provides access to trained counselors and psychologists for gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth and adolescents.
- Local LGBTQ centers. Many local centers have staff therapists, counselors, and psychologists trained to work with the LGBT community who can refer you to a local provider. Denver’s The Center on Colfax, Chicago’s Center on Halstead, Los Angeles’ LGBT Center, and others can help LGBTQ people connect with local LGBT-affirming mental health professionals.
- Support groups. Although support groups are not a substitute for therapy, they can provide a valuable source of social support and help LGBTQ individuals overcome stigma. National and local organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) National Help Center and Advocates for Youth offer advocacy and support group resources for gay men and women, bisexual people, transgender individuals. They have dedicated groups for LGBT youth and adolescents.
Additionally, if you have any LGBTQ friends or family members attending therapy, or if you’re working with other clinicians, consider asking them for a referral to a psychologist in your area.
In some cases, it can be harder to find queer-affirming mental health professionals outside urban areas. While national directories and state LGBTQ centers can help, it might feel impossible to find an LGBT therapist, especially if you’re living in a more rural area. Fortunately, online therapy platforms like the Therapy Group of NYC offer virtual counseling services with counselors and psychologists specializing in LGBTQ+ mental health issues.
What other factors should you consider?
Sexual orientation and gender identity are major factors in our lives. However, we all relate to each other in complex ways, and some people may prioritize other aspects of their identity when choosing a psychologist. For example, you might feel like it’s more important to see a therapist of the same ethnicity or a psychologist who shares your religious beliefs and spirituality.
If you’re experiencing a specific mental health issue, such as substance use, you might prioritize psychologists who specialize in treating that issue over LGBTQ-friendly providers—and that’s completely normal. Before starting your search, consider taking some time to reflect on what’s most important to you, what you’d like to accomplish during therapy, and what you’re looking for in a therapist.
What questions should you ask your psychologist?
Mental health professionals expect and welcome questions from clients. Asking questions before committing to a psychologist can help you learn what to expect during your treatment. In your first visit with your psychologist, be straightforward that you’re searching for an LGBT-competent mental health provider.
As an LGBTQ individual, you should never feel like you need to educate your provider about the basic concepts of LGBTQ identities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. To find an understanding provider, try asking the following questions:
- My identity is (transgender, bisexual, intersex, etc.). What experience do you have working with clients with that identity?
- What experience do you have working with the LGBTQ community?
- Do you have any certifications or training related to working with the LGBTQ community?
It’s also essential to avoid choosing a provider who uses the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy (also called reparative therapy), which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Before meeting a therapist, consider researching their inclusion using the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)’s Healthcare Equality Index search tool.
While some types of sexual orientation change efforts use physical methods, the most common technique in the United States includes psychotherapy that licensed or unlicensed providers use in an attempt to ‘treat’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Practitioners who use conversion therapy may falsely claim that an individual’s homosexuality is a result of childhood trauma or abuse or the individual’s upbringing.
Conversion therapy can lead to harmful mental health problems, including low self-esteem, shame, loss of faith, and suicidal ideation. Although conversion therapy is banned under 14 state laws, mental health providers across the United States, especially faith-based providers, continue to use this practice, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Again, it is critically important to avoid this form of therapy.
Finding the Right Fit
Beyond finding an LGBT-friendly therapist, it’s essential to find someone you feel comfortable with. According to the APA, the success of your mental health treatment depends on your therapeutic relationship. When you feel more comfortable opening up about your mental health problems, relationships, and other personal concerns, you’ll enjoy greater long-term mental health benefits.
When it comes to LGBT therapy, many clients know fairly quickly whether their therapist will be a good fit or if they should continue their search. During your first psychotherapy session, it can be helpful to look out for specific indications, such as inclusive language on intake forms.
Regardless of how you choose your psychologist, it’s essential to be as honest with them as you can. If you don’t feel comfortable or supported, there’s always another provider out there. Finding the right therapist isn’t always easy, but it can make all the difference.
To find someone you feel comfortable with, reach out to a therapist through the Therapy Group of NYC. We know that searching for a competent therapist can feel exhausting, and we use data-driven approaches to provide a personalized fit for every client.
Whether you’re searching for someone who shares your gender identity, ethnicity, or spirituality, we’ll connect you to a licensed professional based on your personal preferences and requirements. One of the compassionate mental health professionals will help you find strength, overcome stigma, and navigate life’s obstacles to living a happier, healthier life.