Acceptance of lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals has grown over the past decade. However, LGBTQ people still face many challenges. For LGBTQ high school students, those challenges are even more magnified. When sexual minority students face problems with discrimination, violence, bullying, and aggression, they often turn to their school counselors for help. These clinicians are trained to address a diverse set of psychological and psychosocial problems that exist among adolescents, such as substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and stress. But attending to the specific fears and needs of LGBTQ young people requires a unique approach and one that may not be fully developed in existing school staff members.
LGBTQ youths are at increased risk for mental health problems that include suicidal ideation, sexual risk taking, victimization, low self-esteem, and identity issues, among others. They also are more likely to face alienation from peers and family members and miss more school than their heterosexual peers due to fear of harassment. All of these combined conditions result in poor academic achievement, fewer employment opportunities, and increased risk for homelessness. Mark P. Bidell of the Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs at Hunger College recently led a study comparing the LGBTQ competency of community counselors with that of school counselors to determine whether students were being helped adequately.
Bidell evaluated 75 school counselors and 89 community counselors, 10% of whom were LGBTQ, and found that based on self-reports, the school counselors had much lower levels of LGBTQ and multicultural competency than the community counselors. To date there is no specific tool to measure this type of proficiency, but Bidell believes that the reports in his study warrant further exploration in this area. He said, “Designing multicultural and LGBTQ counselor education and training specifically tailored to professional school counselors represents an important area for the counseling profession.” In order to best serve the needs of these vulnerable youths, school counselors must possess knowledge pertaining to social, personal, and cultural issues and develop the skills to effectively advocate for and counsel to these students.
Bidell, M. P. (2012). Examining school counseling students’ multicultural and sexual orientation competencies through a cross-specialization comparison. Journal of Consulting and Development, 90.2, 200-207.
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