LGBTQ Community Healing: Why Therapy Is A Need

Updated September 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The LGBTQIA+ Community & Mental Health

LGBTQIA+ therapy (offered by mental health professionals as both online therapy and face-to-face counseling) can be a game-changer for those who struggle with their gender identity or identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). This is because it provides queer people who are struggling or need someone to talk to with a sense of understanding and safety that they may not experience in other mental health care settings. Despite this, not every queer-identified person can access the care they need, whether due to a lack of resources or not knowing how to find help. So, why is the need for LGBTQIA+ counselors and therapists so strong, and what can you do if you need to support someone who identifies as LGBTQ+? In honor of Minority Mental Health Month, this article provides mental health resources for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Therapy Should Always Be A Safe Space. We're Here To Support You

First, it can be advantageous to understand the acronym LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, and the plus sign at the end is to include all other identities. There are similar acronyms you may see used, such as LGBTQIA2S+, which stands for adds in intersex, asexual, and two-spirit.

What Is LGBTQ+ Therapy?

Like allyship, a therapist or provider specializing in working with the LGBTQ+ clients isn’t just about surface-level acceptance or tolerance, or something that just happens during Pride Month. There’s a major difference between the inclusion of a community or demographic group and resources built specifically for that group, such as resources for transgender individuals, gay men, or adolescents with questions about their own gender identity. LGBTQIA+ counseling is built for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their experiences healing intergenerational trauma, healing from conversion therapy, and more. Counselors should provide a protected, conscious, and empathetic environment where someone can get care from a provider who understands how being LGBTQ+ can inform an individual’s experiences.

Why Is There A Need For It?

Marginalized communities are significantly more likely to experience mental health conditions. Especially if you experience marginalization in more ways than one, accessing care can be challenging. Statistics indicate that:

  • LGBTQIA+ adolescents are six times more likely to experience a mental health condition when compared to teens who aren’t LGBTQ+.
  • A 2019 survey showed that 3% of LGBTQIA+ youth have been harassed or assaulted at school. 59.1% felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 42.5% felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • One in three LGBTQIA+ adults is said to face a mental health condition, whereas one in every five adults that are not LGBTQ+ do so.
  • 15% of LGBTQIA+ individuals are said to face a Substance Use Disorder, whereas 8% of individuals who are not LGBTQIA+ do so.

Discrimination, harassment, and bullying are all known physical and mental health detriments. Research shows that the more marginalization an individual faces, the more severe their mental health outcomes are. When the question is, “Why are LGBTQ+ people more likely to experience a mental illness or disorder?” It’s very important to note that the answer relates to the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals rather than simply being a part of the demographic.

It’s also worth noting that, sometimes it is advantageous to be in a space that’s made with you in mind. If you spend most of your time around straight, cisgender people, especially those who aren’t informed on queer topics, it can be lonely, and you may feel misunderstood.

LGBTQ Stigma In Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare should always be a safe place to turn. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ demographic. Stigma from healthcare professionals, providers, or mental health professionals can show up in various ways. These may include but aren’t limited to the denial of fertility treatment, withholding of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), being turned down for healthcare services (whether those services are related to sexuality and gender or not), not finding a therapist that specializes in LGBTQ+ mental health, and failure to recognize differing sexual experiences as well as experiences surrounding your gender and how they may inform your health or healthcare needs.

The levels in which stigma shows up in healthcare may vary in a sense. Some providers can be outright intolerant with their clients, even refusing to use inclusive language on intake forms, whereas others do not know about LGBTQ+ specific healthcare needs. Sometimes a provider or therapist won’t know that they’re causing harm. Even so, this can be triggering and can serve as a barrier to having your healthcare needs addressed. This is part of why queer-affirming medical and mental health care practices are so vital. It may be harder to find supportive and affirming care in remote areas or areas that are typically less accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals.

This is why BetterHelp created the platform Pride Counseling so that those in relationships anywhere in the U.S. (from urban areas like San Francisco to rural areas like Eastern Montana and everywhere in between) can remotely access counselors specialized in serving the queer community facing complex feelings. Read below for some reviews of Pride Counseling staff therapists and their practices, from others facing a range of challenges.

“Petrovna knows what she's talking about. I often read and hear about trauma-informed therapy, but Petrovna is truly trauma-TRAINED therapy and that's made a world of difference in our relationship. She understands my struggles as a person of color and experiences as a trans nonbinary person. With her, I feel imbued with the hope that I will be able to heal from my trauma.”

Learn More About Petrovnia McIntosh

“Denise is very thoughtful and I know she is human. She lets me know that it’s ok not to be ok. She also lets me know how proud she is of me and that she is here always. She gets what it means to be a therapist!!”

Learn More About Denise Price

Preventing, Navigating, And Moving Past Discrimination In Healthcare Settings

Not every healthcare provider is going to be a good fit for your needs. For example, your therapist’s identity may not match yours, which may be important for some people. However, everyone deserves to get the mental and physical healthcare they need. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself in healthcare settings and practices, find providers and the right therapist for you, and get the help you need fairly quickly:

  • Seek a therapist who is LGBTQ+ affirming. Even better if your therapist's gender identity is LGBTQ+.
  • If you’re seeking surgery or hormone replacement therapy, try to find someone who offers informed consent in your area if possible.
  • Know your rights. Understanding the laws in your area can be helpful in some scenarios where you may face harassment, or even misunderstanding.
  • Do not accept poor treatment as the finish line. See another provider if you do not get adequate treatment from the first professional you see. If you can travel and that’s your only option for getting the best care, it may be worth it.
  • Ask questions over the phone before you see a therapist face-to-face. This can help you get a feel for their level of knowledge and your level of comfort.
  • Talk to other LGBTQ+ individuals in your area and share experiences. That way, you can find a provider based on real experiences from others with similar identities.

It may also be helpful to take someone with you. Many people report that they feel as though they are taken more seriously when someone else is present, and it can also be helpful to know that you will have someone there as a witness if your experience is negative. It can also be a matter of moral support.

What Can LGBTQ Individuals Do to Positively Impact Their Mental Health?

Some individuals are not ready to start counseling, or they cannot start counseling due to barriers such as cost. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Find a place that feels like safe to be yourself. There are several ways to do this. You can look for support groups with the right therapist for you, leading the group. Those therapy group sessions may be virtual or face-to-face
  • Find the nearest LGBTQ+ resource center.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about what you’re going through. Consider using a hotline if you aren’t comfortable speaking with someone you are personally close to (such as a friend or family member) and need assistance.
  • Use self-care and self-compassion in your daily life. Validate your feelings and give yourself compassion. Inner child work is helpful for many clients in healing past wounding or working through trauma. Additionally, if you are an activist and feel burnt out, remember that it’s okay to take time for yourself.
  • Use other resources, such as hotlines, books, and podcasts made for LGBTQ+ individuals. It can be incredibly joyful to consume media created by other queer people, which may be something to seek out.

If you can access counselors or are wondering what’s available to you, explore your options. Many find group counseling, meeting with individual counselors, or both to be beneficial. Finding group counseling built specifically for the queer community or a specific demographic (for example, group therapy designed specifically for transgender mental health, group therapy designed specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals of a specific age group, and so on) can be invaluable.

Therapy Should Always Be A Safe Space. We're Here To Support You

How To Be An Ally

Here are some ways to be an ally for those with LGBTQ+ identities:

  • First and foremost, listen to and believe in the LGBTQ+ community. If someone speaks about their identity, experiences or needs, listen. Remember that LGBTQ+ individuals are the experts on their own experiences. If someone comes out, believe them, and if someone speaks on an experience of marginalization or harassment, believe them. Remember that even if you have not seen certain types of homophobia or transphobia before, it does not mean that these experiences don’t exist.
  • Be willing to acknowledge and work through other aspects of your own potential biases. Although it may be uncomfortable, we can all have biases, and addressing them is the only way to work through them.
  • Stand up for your LGBTQ+ friends and family in social settings. Take some of the weight off the backs of LGBTQ+ individuals by speaking up when you hear homophobic or transphobic remarks about their identity. You may also ask specific people in your inner circle about how you can help them, especially when they first come out or bring up a specific battle they’re facing. For example, you may ask a transgender friend who comes out to you if they’d like for you to correct other people who do not use the correct pronouns for them.
  • Get involved where it counts. Contact lawmakers and vote against anti-LGBTQ+ laws such as those restricting transgender children from healthcare.
  • Contact local LGBTQ+ organizations or even national organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign to learn how you can help. The Human Rights Campaign offers everything from initiatives you can get involved in to information on how to embrace your own sexuality.
  • Search national listings for resources and information on national directories, like GLAAD. Other national directories also exist to promote specific LGBTQ+ businesses and causes. For example, you can find resources for gay and lesbian realtors on the NAGL-REP
  • When you don’t know something… ask. If you don’t know who to ask, do proper research from reliable sources like the American Psychiatric Association.

Stand up not just for those you see as palatable or comfortable for you to stand up for, but for everyone of every identity, including the most marginalized identities.

If you are an LGBTQ+ adolescent or adult who is struggling, there is hope. Counseling is a process, and it is not a replacement for emergency or crisis care. If you need immediate help and are looking for someone to speak with, contact one of the hotlines below:

LGBT National ​Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

RAINN: 1-800-656-4673

What does this type of therapist do?

LGBTQ therapists can help LGBT clients explore gender identity and expression that may differ from the gender assigned at birth, exploration around sexual orientation, and thoughts around coming out and identifying and managing mental health issues (such as low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation), gender dysphoria, sexual identity issues, sexual assault trauma, sexual orientation change efforts, and dealing with bullying from social stigma. Finding the right queer therapist for you, as a client, is important to ensure that you are receiving the mental healthcare you need. Seeking therapy can play a pivotal role in self-acceptance and overcoming feelings of anxiety or depression.

What is an affirming therapist?

LGBTQ affirming counselors are mental health professionals who work specifically on LGBTQ issues, ensuring that the mental wellbeing of these clients is improving. For example, if a queer-identified adolescent or adult is subjected to the threat of reparative therapy or conversion therapy, this individual could meet with an LGBTQ affirming therapist to work through these issues specifically targeting LGBTQ clients. If this threat comes from a family member, the individual may seek out family counseling as well to work through the next steps as a familial unit or on how to move away from family in a healthy way.  It is important to note that LGBTQ affirming counselors may be queer therapists but also may be allies looking to uplift clients who identify as LGBTQ and provide mental health care in a therapeutic setting.

Commonly Asked Questions About This Topic

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