An LGBTQ-friendly or LGBTQ-affirming therapist is a mental health professional who is specifically trained to work with individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, or any other non-heteronormative sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ-friendly therapists intentionally create a safe and inclusive space for clients to explore their experiences without fear of judgment or discrimination. In an LGBTQ+ friendly space, queer clients will know they are embraced, understood, held in high regard and accepted completely and fully.
LGBTQ Mental Health
Rates of mental health issues, suicide, and substance use disorders are higher in the queer community than in the general population. In June 2023, the leader of the Substance Use and Mental Health Administration stated, “We know that statistically, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans face increased risks for mental health and substance use issues, which is often related to stress caused by stigma, discrimination and harassment.” (all factors that contribute to higher stress that is outlined in the Minority Stress Model). LGBTQ-Friendly therapists acknowledge and deeply understand the many ways societal discrimination can negatively influence a person’s mental health. Cultural sensitivity in therapy also includes awareness of the diverse experiences within the LGBTQIA+ community, taking into account that each client’s mental health is unique to that person.
Why Does it Matter if You See an LGBTQ-Friendly Therapist?
If you identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, finding a therapist who understands the potential challenges faced while celebrating the whole person is crucial. If you work with a therapist who is not understanding or affirming, it can do more harm than good to your mental health. Some folks who are LGBTQIA+ seek out therapy for help with identity development or coming out to family. Others are looking for support for personal growth, help with relationship issues (within queer relationships), or treatment for mental health concerns. In all of those cases, working with a therapist who is affirming and knowledgeable about LGBTQIA+ experiences can make a significant difference in your journey towards wellbeing.
Characteristics of an LGBTQ-Friendly Therapist
The mental health professional should have specific knowledge and sensitivity to the nuances of LGBTQIA+ experiences. While a therapist’s personal experiences and background can contribute to their understanding, it is not a requirement for them to identify as LGBTQIA+ to provide effective and supportive care. Ultimately, the key is to find a therapist who is affirming, respectful, and knowledgeable about LGBTQIA+ issues, regardless of their own sexual orientation or gender identity. In all types of therapy, it is important for you to feel comfortable discussing concerns, exploring thoughts and feelings, and asking questions openly and honestly.
Finding an LGBTQ-Friendly Therapist
When you are ready to make your mental health a priority, finding the right therapist is a significant step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life. There are two main steps to finding a therapist who can provide the care you deserve: researching and asking questions.
First, look for potential therapists in your area who are licensed mental health professionals and meet your basic needs such as location, fees or health insurance coverage, and availability. Then you can dig deeper to find out if they specialize in LGBTQIA+ issues.
- Do an online search. Many therapists include information about their specialties on their websites, and you can learn a lot by searching terms like “lgtbq therapy near me” or “transgender mental health therapist”. Look for affirming language on therapy websites that signal cultural competence and inclusive values.
- Check online therapist directories. Mainstream directory websites often have specific filters for LGBTQ identifying or affirming therapists. You can also look into LGBTQ-affirmative professional associations like WPATH, LGBTQ+ Therapists Network, and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network for listings of local providers.
- Word of mouth. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or school counselors/teachers or coworkers to ask if they know anyone who could be a good therapist for you. Social media platforms and community support groups can also be excellent places to seek recommendations.
2. Ask questions
Once you have identified a therapist you are interested in, reach out and ask about their training and specific experience working with LGTBQIA+ folks. Many therapists offer free consultations (at Sentier we call this a Meet & Greet!) Take advantage of any opportunity to ask questions and discuss your concerns prior to starting therapy. Inquire directly about the therapist’s approach to therapy overall, their experience working with LGBTQIA+ clients, and their commitment to creating an inclusive and affirming environment.
Asking more specific questions can help you gauge the therapist’s level of understanding sexual orientation and gender identity. Below is a list of questions that can be tailored to your needs:
What are your pronouns?
Have you ever worked with clients who are coming out?
Have you ever helped clients going through gender transition?
What kind of training do you have in this area?
What is your understanding of intersectionality?
How do you provide gender-affirming care?
If a therapist is not able to answer your questions fairly easily, openly, and honestly, they are probably not a good fit. It is fine to ask further questions or end the conversation if you are not comfortable with any of their answers. If you are satisfied with their responses and feel validated about what you decide to share about your own life and identity, you might be ready to initiate therapy with this therapist. Remember: you are not required to start mental health services with someone who is not affirming of you. Do not begin therapy with a therapist because they were simply nice or seemed kind. If they were invalidating of your gender/sexuality or queer identity, they are almost always not a good fit.
Finding an LGBTQ-friendly therapist is a crucial step toward ensuring that your mental health care needs are met in a supportive, understanding and competent environment. By utilizing online resources, seeking recommendations, and asking relevant questions during the initial stages, you can find a therapist who recognizes and uplifts you in your mental health journey. To learn about LGBTQ-friendly therapy at Sentier, read more here.
Blog written by Sentier therapist Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC