Although a person’s sexual or romantic orientation or gender identity may not be a source of distress, people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or any other orientation or gender identity may find that the social stigma of living as a minority is a source of stress or anxiety.
When seeking therapy whether for issues associated with one’s sexual, romantic, or gender identity or for concerns related to mental health, finding a qualified mental health professional who has experience and familiarity with the challenges members of the LGBTQIA community often face can be critical to successful therapy outcomes.
What Issues Might LGBTQ People Face?
Despite rapidly growing cultural acceptance of diverse sexual and romantic orientations and gender identifications, oppression, discrimination, and marginalization of LGBTQ people persists. Coping with discrimination and oppression, coming out to one’s family, and sorting out an “authentic” sense of self in the face of social expectations and pressures can lead to higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns for LGBTQ people.
Research shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ are at an increased risk of suicidal ideation and self-harm, particularly when they also experience discrimination based on their sexual or gender identity. According to a 2007 survey, students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender were almost ten times as likely to have experienced bullying and victimization at school and more than twice as likely to have considered suicide as their heterosexual, non-transgender classmates within the previous year.
Discrimination may take several forms, including social rejection, verbal and physical bullying, and sexual assault, and repeated episodes will likely lead to chronic stress and diminished mental health. Perceived discrimination—the expectation of discrimination—may also lead to diminished mental health. LGBTQ adults, too, may be subject to similar forms of harassment, as well as discrimination with regards to housing, employment, education, and basic human rights.
Many of the concerns and life challenges LGBTQ people bring to therapy are those common among all people. All couples argue over many of the same things—money, sex, the in-laws, quality time—and all people are subject to the same kinds of daily stressors, such as mood swings, workplace concerns, or low self-esteem.
Though many therapists may be qualified to help, sometimes LGBTQ clients feel more comfortable with an LGBTQ therapist, or at least with a therapist who specializes in or has a great deal of experience with LGBTQ issues. Such therapists are not available in every community, but more and more therapists and counselors are providing distance services by phone or over the Internet, and this may help broaden a person’s search for the right therapist. People considering gender confirmation surgery are often required to seek therapy before undergoing surgery. A specialist in this area, if available, is recommended.
Early editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) identified homosexuality as a mental disorder until clinical research demonstrated sexual or romantic attraction to someone of the same gender is a normal, healthy, positive form of human sexuality. Despite the mental health community’s decades-long affirmation of all sexual orientations, sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are still provided by some therapists and pursued by some people who feel conflicted about their sexual orientation. Several organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, oppose sexual orientation change therapy, also known as conversion or reparative therapy, and many states either have banned the practice or are considering bills to ban the practice, particularly for minors. Furthermore, the ethics of the professions of social work, psychology, psychiatry, and marriage and family counseling mandate that therapists provide services to all people without discrimination.
Gender Identity in the DSM
Gender identity disorder is listed as a psychological condition in the DSM-5to account for the significant distress a person might experience when their gender identity or expression does not correspond with the gender assigned at birth. In the previous edition, the condition was listed as gender dysphoria disorder, but after receiving criticism about the stigmatizing effect of the word “dysphoria,” the condition was renamed gender identity disorder.
Diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder
A notable conflict between their gender identity or expression and the gender they were assigned at birth that persists for at least six months.
Measurable impairment or distress in routine functions, such as social or professional, as a result of the condition.