LGBT Therapy: Choosing the Right Therapist

Couch with rainbow pillowsThe question often comes up among LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people: should they see a gay therapist, or would they would be comfortable with a gay-friendly therapist? This is a personal decision people need to make for themselves, but as in choosing any therapist, it is important to find a professional who has the education, the empathy, and the ability to understand your individual needs.

Although there are many gay-affirmative and gay-friendly therapists, sometimes it is important to find a therapist who is a member of the gay community. The process of therapy is a very personal one, and for many people it is vital that their therapist be someone who understands and can directly relate to their life experiences. For many LGBT people, there is an internal process that makes it important for them to work with a therapist who has direct knowledge of what it is like to live as a member of the gay community.

So what should you look for when choosing a therapist who specializes in LGBT issues? First off, if having a gay therapist is important to you as a client, then you should make sure you find a therapist who is open about his or her sexual orientation and is willing to openly discuss yours. A gay therapist who is comfortable with his or her own sexuality will be more open to discussing issues that you may be facing as an LGBT person.

But sexual orientation is not all that one should look for in a therapist. It is also important to ask questions about the therapist’s education, training, and understanding of the issues that can face LGBT clients. Your therapist should be familiar with issues of sexuality, coming out, internalized homophobia, HIV/AIDS, depression, and self-destructive behaviors, as well as more traditional issues like couples, dating, social skills, and relationships as they pertain to the LGBT population. Not all gay therapists will be experts on all of these topics, but you want to find the one who has the knowledge to address your personal needs.

Beware of therapists who promise to treat or “cure” homosexuality, as this type of therapy has been found to be unsuccessful. It can often be damaging and lead to low self-esteem, guilt, self-destructive behavior, and even suicide. A good therapist will assist you in finding your personal comfort with your sexuality and not try to “cure” or “fix” you.

Another issue that can come up for discussion in therapy is sex. For many gay people, it is important to have a forum where they can talk openly about sex and the myriad issues that surround intimacy. Ask your therapist whether he or she will be comfortable talking openly about sex and other personal issues that affect you as a client.

As much as it is important to learn about your therapist’s sexuality and commitment to working with LGBT clients, it is equally important to make sure that your therapist will maintain appropriate boundaries in regard to discussing his or her personal experiences. Under no circumstances should there be sexual contact or behavior between client and therapist.

An excellent way to find an LGBT therapist is to use the Advanced Search function here at GoodTherapy.org and enter the search term “LGBT Issues.” You can also check with your local gay and lesbian center, which will often have a resource list of local therapists who work with the LGBT community. Referrals from friends are another great resource in the search for a good therapist who can address your personal needs.

Finding the right therapist for you is vital in order to create the most beneficial outcome of your commitment to go into therapy. Take the time to interview your therapist, making sure that you find the right person who will be able to assist you in your rediscovery of yourself. Whether the therapist is gay or gay-friendly, the right match of therapist and client is the foundation for an exceptional therapeutic experience.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • nathan

    nathan

    May 11th, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    I have a few gay friends and although I’m not gay myself,I do feel for them sometimes.They face this negative prejudice from a lot of people and it would be better if they could have therapy professionals who are gay-friendly.It is not only because others may have a prejudice against gay people or because they would not have experience but also because the intended therapy [professional should have some experience in issues that are specific to the LGBT community.

  • Eric

    Eric

    May 11th, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    For me it was super important to find a gay therapist when I needed someone to talk to. I just felt like he was better able to understand many of the issues that I was going through as a gay male as he had probably had similar experiences in his own life. Heterosexual therapists are fine too and there are some really good ones out there but in my own personal situation I was able to better relate to a gay male therapist and felt like I had found a kindred spirit.

  • Melanie R. Ferguson, Ph.D., LPC

    Melanie R. Ferguson, Ph.D., LPC

    May 11th, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    Thanks for this insightful blog. It is such a help to the G/L community. To serve is to understand, whatever my client’s interests may be. It is my pleasure to drop the external differences, and to nurture the expression of the deepest core of a person’s being. This kind of professional relationship can be the closest thing to shared awareness, and healing that we can ever know. The rest is mysterious, and magical beyond our struggles with the Human Condition. lov, m

  • W.Penn

    W.Penn

    May 11th, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    I do not think such kind of a ‘specialization’ does any good. Although such therapists may have had experience with gay people’s issues,what this does is that it segregates the gay people from the community at large…its like they have their own,specialized therapists too…sounds like the apartheid era!

  • Eric

    Eric

    May 12th, 2010 at 3:07 AM

    It is not about separation, but about finding someone who has been through some of the same things that you have been through and who can relate to that better. And by the way my therapist is gay but that does not mean he only sees other gay or lesbian patients. He is well trained to help anyone with any of their issues, but I just happened to find that once I realized that he was a gay male too, I felt a connection, that I could talk with him about anything and that he would understand where I was coming from. Could I have found that with a straight therapist? Maybe, but I stopped when I found him because it just felt like the right person that I needed to have in my life in this capacity.

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