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LGBT Therapy: Should Your Therapist Identify as LGBT? 

Nick Fager, Founder of Expansive Therapy

If you identify as part of the LGBT community and are thinking about starting therapy, one of the questions that you should consider is whether or not to seek out a therapist who identifies as LGBT themselves. The alternative would be to seek out LGBT affirmative therapy without regard for the identity of the therapist, or specifically from someone outside the community, knowing that they have received specialized training with the LGBT community. Here are some of the reasons why you might choose either. 

Why to Choose an LGBT Identified Therapist

  1. A Deep Sense of Shared Understanding - Seeing a therapist who shares your identity or is part of the LGBT community often creates an immediate sense of comfort due to shared experience. Knowing your therapist has gone through the process of coming out, being different, experiencing discrimination, etc., all can lead to a deep felt sense of shared understanding, which can form the foundation for a solid therapeutic relationship. 



  1. Less Explaining - One of the best parts of seeing an LGBT identified therapist is that they often understand the realities and nuances of your present day life, like LGBT dating apps, queer sex practices, the impact of religion on our childhood, family estrangement, etc. Of course, it’s also possible you and your therapist might have little in common in terms of your life experience, but in comparison to a non-LGBT therapist, you’ll likely have to explain yourself less. Explaining things like basic LGBT terminology can be disruptive to therapy for some people, and to other people it’s no big deal, so think about where you fall on that spectrum. 


  1. Effective for internalized shame/stigma - The stigma of being LGBT in our society, and the shame that we carry as a result of that stigma, is a very difficult thing to understand conceptually if you haven’t actually gone through it yourself. An LGBT identified therapist has undoubtedly had to work through internalized shame and self hatred in some form, and simply knowing that you are not alone in feeling that can be transformative. This is not to say that people who are not LGBT haven’t experienced stigma and dealt with shame, to some degree we all have. But the stigma and shame of being LGBT is very nuanced and often extends to our family of origin, which can make it difficult to work with for someone who didn’t go through something similar. 


If you identify as part of the LGBT community and are thinking about starting therapy, one of the questions that you should consider is whether or not to seek out a therapist who identifies as LGBT themselves. The alternative would be to seek out LGBT affirmative therapy without regard for the identity of the therapist, or specifically from someone outside the community, knowing that they have received specialized training with the LGBT community. Here are some of the reasons why you might choose either. 

Why to Choose an LGBT Identified Therapist

  1. A Deep Sense of Shared Understanding - Seeing a therapist who shares your identity or is part of the LGBT community often creates an immediate sense of comfort due to shared experience. Knowing your therapist has gone through the process of coming out, being different, experiencing discrimination, etc., all can lead to a deep felt sense of shared understanding, which can form the foundation for a solid therapeutic relationship. 



  1. Less Explaining - One of the best parts of seeing an LGBT identified therapist is that they often understand the realities and nuances of your present day life, like LGBT dating apps, queer sex practices, the impact of religion on our childhood, family estrangement, etc. Of course, it’s also possible you and your therapist might have little in common in terms of your life experience, but in comparison to a non-LGBT therapist, you’ll likely have to explain yourself less. Explaining things like basic LGBT terminology can be disruptive to therapy for some people, and to other people it’s no big deal, so think about where you fall on that spectrum. 


  1. Effective for internalized shame/stigma - The stigma of being LGBT in our society, and the shame that we carry as a result of that stigma, is a very difficult thing to understand conceptually if you haven’t actually gone through it yourself. An LGBT identified therapist has undoubtedly had to work through internalized shame and self hatred in some form, and simply knowing that you are not alone in feeling that can be transformative. This is not to say that people who are not LGBT haven’t experienced stigma and dealt with shame, to some degree we all have. But the stigma and shame of being LGBT is very nuanced and often extends to our family of origin, which can make it difficult to work with for someone who didn’t go through something similar. 


If you identify as part of the LGBT community and are thinking about starting therapy, one of the questions that you should consider is whether or not to seek out a therapist who identifies as LGBT themselves. The alternative would be to seek out LGBT affirmative therapy without regard for the identity of the therapist, or specifically from someone outside the community, knowing that they have received specialized training with the LGBT community. Here are some of the reasons why you might choose either. 

Why to Choose an LGBT Identified Therapist

  1. A Deep Sense of Shared Understanding - Seeing a therapist who shares your identity or is part of the LGBT community often creates an immediate sense of comfort due to shared experience. Knowing your therapist has gone through the process of coming out, being different, experiencing discrimination, etc., all can lead to a deep felt sense of shared understanding, which can form the foundation for a solid therapeutic relationship. 



  1. Less Explaining - One of the best parts of seeing an LGBT identified therapist is that they often understand the realities and nuances of your present day life, like LGBT dating apps, queer sex practices, the impact of religion on our childhood, family estrangement, etc. Of course, it’s also possible you and your therapist might have little in common in terms of your life experience, but in comparison to a non-LGBT therapist, you’ll likely have to explain yourself less. Explaining things like basic LGBT terminology can be disruptive to therapy for some people, and to other people it’s no big deal, so think about where you fall on that spectrum. 


  1. Effective for internalized shame/stigma - The stigma of being LGBT in our society, and the shame that we carry as a result of that stigma, is a very difficult thing to understand conceptually if you haven’t actually gone through it yourself. An LGBT identified therapist has undoubtedly had to work through internalized shame and self hatred in some form, and simply knowing that you are not alone in feeling that can be transformative. This is not to say that people who are not LGBT haven’t experienced stigma and dealt with shame, to some degree we all have. But the stigma and shame of being LGBT is very nuanced and often extends to our family of origin, which can make it difficult to work with for someone who didn’t go through something similar. 


Why to Seek Out LGBT Affirmative Therapy Without Concern for Therapist Identity


  1. Less Similarity - Having a lot of similarities with your therapist can be a nice thing for certain people, and for others it can actually create stress. As a gay therapist who has seen many gay clients in my career, I’ve witnessed certain clients really struggle with how similar our lives are. Sometimes these similarities can create a sense of guardedness or even competitiveness, often unconscious, that can interfere with the therapy process. If that sounds like something you might experience, choosing a therapist who doesn’t share your exact identity, or who doesn’t disclose their identity, might help lower some of those defenses. 


  1. Diversity Within the LGBT Community - There are so many different identities and life experiences within the LGBT community, and unfortunately what can sometimes happen with LGBT identified therapists is that they think they understand all LGBT experiences because they are LGBT themselves. A gay therapist, for example, might think they understand the transgender experience because they are gay, when in reality the transgender experience is extremely different. Similarly, a trans therapist might think they understand the asexual experience and therefore not devote enough energy to training in the nuances of that identity. If you have a consult with an LGBT identified therapist and feel that this might be happening, prioritizing LGBT affirmative therapy over therapist identity might be the wisest choice.


  1. Less Chance of Interaction Outside of Therapy - The LGBT community is relatively small, and it’s likely that if you’re seeing an LGBT identified therapist in the same town or city that you live, that there will be some form of crossover between your lives. Maybe you’ll be part of the same LGBT sports league, or go to the same bar once in a while, use the same dating app or follow the same instagram account. LGBT identified therapists are trained in how to deal with these situations in order to make it as comfortable for you as possible, but it is still a consideration. Some people don’t mind seeing their therapist outside of therapy, or knowing that they have a social life of their own, but other people do care and it interferes with the therapy process, so you should take some time to think about your own preferences in this area.  


At the end of the day, the most important thing is the level of comfort you feel when you’re with your therapist. Even though therapy can be difficult at times, your relationship with your therapist should feel like it flows. There are plenty of reasons to choose an LGBT identified therapist, and also plenty of reasons to pick a therapist who is LGBT affirming without focusing on their identity, the important thing is that you are getting affirming care and that you feel safe and comfortable in therapy. 


It’s always a good idea to request a free 15 minute consultation with a therapist before you get started. Remember to trust your gut and prioritize how you feel when you’re talking to the therapist. Time and again, research shows that the most important factor for success in therapy is the quality of the relationship between therapist and client. The relationship is the foundation upon which all the benefits of therapy - healing, growth, empowerment - emerge, so make sure you are giving the process of therapist selection the care and attention it deserves.

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