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What Is Affirmative Therapy?

Learn about affirmative therapy and how it can cater to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community.

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While there has been significant progress in the last few years, the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) community still struggles to find acceptance in mainstream society. This means that while people who identify as LGBTQIA+  may seek therapy for the same reasons as everyone else – such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or the ending of a relationship – they also have an added set of unique needs and challenges. In addition to other concerns, they have a layer of stress owing to society’s perception of and reaction to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Beyond being afraid of judgment and discrimination, they may also struggle with coming to terms with their gender or sexual identity and/or may experience discomfort with their own body along with internalised homophobia or transphobia. 

Challenges of the LGBTQIA+ community 

LGBTQIA+ individuals are often subjected to bullying, discrimination, hostility, and verbal or physical abuse based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, which contributes to a fear of coming out to their families. Parents and family members of LGBTQIA+ individuals are often not accepting of their identity and may be emotionally or physically abusive towards them. Family members of LGBTQIA+ individuals may also try to “cure”  them because of their own lack of education or due to religious beliefs. The lack of support and constant reminders that something is wrong with them can leave members of this community with a deep sense of loneliness and hopelessness that may, in extreme cases, drive them to engage in self-harm. In the long-term, they may develop fears of violence, feelings of abandonment by loved ones, substance use, and experiences of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

The LGBTQIA+ community is also largely invisible and vulnerable to bias by religious, healthcare and other institutions. Often, a lack of awareness and openness in talking about mental health, combined with the lack of cultural acceptance for this group in particular prevents individuals from seeking help and support.

What is Affirmative Therapy?

Affirmative therapy understands that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be changed and that it is not the root cause of their problems. Instead, it respects and regards all sexualities and genders positively, and provides an affirming space for its clients in several different ways. 

Affirmative therapists are trained and equipped to…

Acknowledge the challenges of LGBTQIA+ clients 

Mental health professionals trained in affirmative therapy are aware of the challenges that their clients have to face – such as discrimination, stigma, and a lack of support and representation – and address these challenges in therapy sessions. 

Combat internalised homophobia or transphobia 

Affirmative therapists also try to combat their own internalised homophobia or transphobia. This means that they are aware of how societal norms and biases might affect their own perception of this community and they actively work on overcoming these biases. This makes it easier for such therapists to offer a safe space for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who can then progress on their journey to full self-acceptance. 

Not judge or pathologise non-traditional identities 

Affirmative therapy does not pathologise sexual minorities, but rather focuses on how members from this community think and feel about their gender and sexual identities. It aims at making them more comfortable with their identity by providing a safe and nonjudgmental space devoid of hostility, prejudice and bias.

Provide support and resources to clients

Affirmative therapy helps individuals by enhancing their awareness and acceptance of their own sexual identity and orientation. Moreover, such therapy focuses on helping individuals deal with the stigma that they face in addition to providing them with support in the coming out or transitioning processes. Affirmative therapists can also share resources with their clients, and can help clients foster supportive relationships.

Help to resolve contradictory beliefs and needs 

Affirmative therapy can also help individuals in understanding the coexistence of religious and sexual or gender identities and can support clients in their attempt to integrate the two rather than espousing one over the other.  Similarly, it can help clients think of ways of expressing one’s identity while being safe from abuse.

Affirmative therapy goes beyond traditional forms of therapy in order to customise sessions to the needs of LGBTQIA+ clients and to provide them with support and acceptance. It is important to note that although the LGBTQIA+ community is united by social struggles that all the members face, each sub-group has its own specific needs and concerns – and affirmative therapy addresses these individual needs. 

While identifying with the LGBTQIA+ community can be hard and comes with its own set of challenges, these concerns can be worked through effectively with the support of an affirmative therapist.

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