Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teens are at increased risk for suicide due to peer victimization and minority discrimination. These actions can have serious psychological consequences for teens, including plummeting self-esteem, anxiety, hopelessness and depression. “No experience, however, is more pernicious than parental rejection,” said Gary M. Diamond of the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and co-author of a study examining treatments to reduce suicide among LGB youth. “Societal homophobic messages, cultural values and religious beliefs lead some parents, at least initially, to perceive their child’s same-sex orientation as perverse, immoral, disgusting, and/or dangerous,” said Diamond. This type of disapproval from parents can lead to intense negative feelings, including shame, anger and guilt, which often manifest through maladaptive behaviors. Teens that experience this type of rejection often behave violently or engage in humiliating or abusive acts. Many times the tension is so severe that the children are forced out of the home or leave voluntarily.
LGB teens who receive strong family support report fewer psychological problems and contemplate suicide less than their unsupported peers. Diamond theorized that the at-risk teens might benefit from family therapy designed to treat depression and suicide. Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) is a brief form of therapy that helps families work through issues that have damaged the attachment bond, eroded trust and negatively affected psychological health. Additionally, ABFT strives to help adolescents develop a secure identity and social maturity. For his study, Diamond enrolled 10 LGB teens, all with suicidal ideation, in 12 weeks of ABFT designed for sexual minority youth, delivered in two phases.
At the end of the second phase, all of the participants had reduced their symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly. Additionally, the teens who completed the treatment thought much less about suicide. Diamond said, “Indeed, evidence suggests that modified mental health interventions for LGB individuals may increase treatment acceptability, retention, and efficacy.” He added, “The findings from this study suggest that ABFT for LGB youth may be an efficacious model for this population and therefore fill an important practice gap.”
Diamond, G. M., Diamond, G. S., Levy, S., Closs, C., Ladipo, T., & Siqueland, L. (2011, December 19). Attachment-Based Family Therapy for Suicidal Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adolescents: A Treatment Development Study and Open Trial With Preliminary Findings. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026247
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