What is Affirmative Therapy?
People who identify as LGBTQIA are likely to seek therapy for the same reasons as everyone else, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or the ending of a relationship.
However, along with these concerns, they often have an additional layer of stress owing to society’s perception of and reaction to their sexual orientation and gender identity. These concerns include coming to terms with either a non-traditional or fluid identity related to gender or sexuality, discomfort with their own body, and coping with other people’s reactions.
Individuals are also subjected to bullying, discrimination, hostility and verbal or physical abuse based on their sexual orientation and gender identity; this contributes to a fear of coming out. Loved ones may not be very accepting either, and lack of family support is a large contributor to attempting suicide. Some caregivers try to “cure” these different realities, further implying that something is wrong with them. These can contribute to fears of violence, feelings of abandonment by loved ones, substance use, and experiences of depression, anxiety, PTSD or self-harm.
The LGBTQIA communities are also largely invisible and vulnerable to bias by institutions such as religion and healthcare. Often, a lack of awareness and openness in talking about mental health, and lack of cultural competence in healthcare prevents people from seeking help and support.
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.
Mental health professionals trained in affirmative therapy are aware of the challenges that their clients have to face, such as discrimination, stigma, external and internalised bias, as well as the unique culture and lifestyle of LGBTQIA communities. Affirmative therapists are aware of and try to combat societal norms, their own biases and internalised homophobia in their clients.
Affirmative therapy does not pathologise sexual minorities, but rather focuses on how they think and feel about it. It aims at making them more comfortable with their identity by providing a safe and nonjudgmental space devoid of hostility, prejudice and bias.
It can thus help individuals by enhancing awareness and acceptance of sexual identity and orientation, dealing with the stigma that they face, and in providing support in the coming out or transitioning processes. Affirmative therapists can also share resources with their clients, and help foster supportive relationships.
Therapy can also help in understanding the coexistence of religious and sexual or gender identities, and attempt to integrate the two rather than espousing one over the other. Similarly, it can help in devising solutions for sometimes contradictory needs of expressing identity and being safe from abuse.
If you find that you no longer enjoy the things that you used to, feel tired or sad most of the time or avoid spending time with people, it may be time to see a professional. Similarly, take note if you find yourself using substances to cope or having thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Remember that it is never too late to reach out for help.
If you think you could benefit from a safe and affirming space, reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.
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