Counseling as a Source of Support for LBGTQI Students
Counseling is a process in which a nonjudgmental, caring, and trained therapist helps a person arrive at effective solutions to problems or life tasks. While specific methods may vary, most counselors would support the notion that helping involves facilitating an individual’s self-exploration, self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-esteem. Helping a lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or questioning (LBGTQ) individual come to value and esteem her or his sexual orientation and gender identity certainly fits into this philosophy. In no way does counseling mean that there is something “wrong” about being who you are. It just may be difficult to figure out in a heterosexist society.
Counseling offers assistance in:
- Identifying and clarifying issues. Sometimes people who seek counseling are not sure what is wrong, but they know that they are not happy. Counselors are skilled at helping people understand themselves and their feelings. The process of recognizing and understanding gender identity or an LBG sexual orientation often involves a confusing set of thoughts and feelings. Counselors can help an individual clarify and sort through some of the confusion.
- Identifying, clarifying, and expressing feelings. Often people have difficulty understanding, labeling, and/or expressing feelings. This is particularly true when people are under stress. Feelings can be confusing and may often seem to be out of control. Most counselors are particularly good at helping people handle and understand their feelings.
- Deciding what to do. Feeling stuck and uncertain is common when people are having difficulty determining alternatives. Usually, there is more than one choice in how to behave. Counselors are adept at helping people uncover and discover options and alternatives. Many LBGTQ individuals benefit from talking to someone about if and when to “come out” to family or friends, and how to do it.
- Developing and enhancing relationship skills. Building a support system and developing close interpersonal relationships is especially important to most people. Yet there are some individuals who seem to have difficulty getting what they want from a relationship — whether it is from family, friend, or partner. Dealing with relationships may be a primary focus of counseling and counselors. It is also an essential part of developing a healthy sense of self. Because our society provides few positive opportunities for individuals to observe and learn about same-sex relationships, counseling is one way for people to learn about such relationships in a positive light.
Selecting a Sensitive Counselor
From time to time, some lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and questioning individuals may avoid seeking help because of the myth that counselors will try to change their sexual orientation (called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy). No evidence exists that counseling can change the sexual orientation of adults. Leading professional organizations for counselors view it as unethical and potentially psychologically damaging to the LGBTQ community.
Selecting a counselor who is sensitive and supportive of an LGBTQ sexual orientation is an important first step in seeking help. Directly asking a counselor about her or his feelings and knowledge about lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender people, issues, and culture during the first meeting is probably the most expeditious way to determine “fit.” However, there are other ways to determine the sensitivity and awareness of a counselor.
For example, other LGBTQ individuals who have been in counseling can suggest the name of a particular counselor. Another possibility is to ask for referrals from organized LGBTQ resource centers in the area. It’s even possible at some counseling centers and agencies to call and ask specifically for a counselor who is sensitive to and has experience working with LGBTQ people.
You may also want to take a look around the waiting area as well as the counselor’s office. Are there books or other literature on display that affirm a LGBTQ self-identity? Does the language the counselor uses seem to be sensitive to LGBTQ issues?