Written by: Valerie Perez, Doctoral Intern
Given the melting pot that makes up the United States, one of the qualities that psychologists are striving to obtain is the ability to be culturally competent. It is crucial now more than ever to be able to work with individuals that come from different backgrounds and still be able to provide an effective service.
Discrimination in the past has caused divides amongst many groups based on gender, race and religion. In the most recent past, individuals that identify as part of the LGBT community have also been at risk to endure the backlash, homophobia and othering that is felt with minority groups. It is my hope that these individuals are afforded the same safe space in the mental healthcare world as any other individual seeking help. Some things that these individuals may find helpful in therapy is having their therapist be proactive in LGBT education as well as implementing the correct use of pronouns in a session. For example, for transmen, the use of “he, him or sir,” (or whichever pronoun they identify with) can go a long way to build a strong therapeutic alliance.
Other suggestions are to refrain from asking questions out of curiosity and rid the assumption that the cause of their stress or trouble is somehow related to their sexuality or gender identity. Magnifying their sexuality as the main topic of conversation has the potential to negatively impact the alliance and pathologize a nuance that may or may not be an issue for them. Therapists are a beacon of hope, safety and change and we are doing a disservice to our LGBT clients when we act counterproductively. It is truly amazing how the little things we do in our conversations can make the world of difference in the therapeutic experience. So, what are therapists to do that do not share the same views as their clients? How are they to navigate these situations where their moral values clash with their ethical obligations to their clients? This has been a controversial question that has seemed to make its way up into the legal realm and has changed the language of policies across the states.
In my personal opinion, the answer is simple: treat that client no differently than any other human sitting in the chair in front of you, for it is an inevitable truth that we dive into lives that will always be different than our own. It is in these idiosyncrasies that they find their strengths and embrace the comfort of being unapologetically themselves. Ultimately, we must take care of the unique privilege we are granted as psychologists to be allowed into a person’s deepest vulnerabilities