How to Choose a Queer Affirmative Therapist.

We’re thrilled to bring today’s guest post by Ruth
, MSSW-MFT. Ruth Neustifter, MSSW-MFT is a sexuality
educator, researcher and writer for
Explorers Blog
. As a doctoral candidate of Family and Child
Development, she has presented internationally and has been
recognized for her work within the queer community. Ruth is not a
therapist or medical doctor. You may contact her at her blog
or at ExploringIntimacy (at) gmail (dot) com.

If you’re lucky then you already have the perfect
psychotherapist.  Your wonderful therapist listens well, asks
useful question most of the time, and doesn’t have to be taught
what it means to live as a queer person.  Certainly, you never
have to worry that your therapist is judging you for your
sexuality, whether you’re there to discuss that topic or not.  For
the rest of us, I offer these tips on finding your perfect, queer
affirming therapist.

Why queer affirming?

If you’re going in for therapy related to your sex or gender
identity, then the answer is fairly obvious.  You don’t want a
professional who merely tolerates such things, you want an ally
sitting in the big chair!  But what if you’re calling with other
problems?  Does it matter then?  It certainly does.  Minority
status, be it regarding sex, gender, ethnicity, spirituality, etc.,
(or a combination) impacts every aspect of our lives.  If  this
basic cornerstone is a problem for your therapist, your therapy may
waste your time or even do more harm than good!  There are still
therapists out there who believe that homosexuality is a mental
illness requiring torturous treatment.  On the less extreme end,
therapists are just regular people with special training and it is
not safe to assume that they are gay friendly or trans aware.  In
fact, many licensing requirements are surprisingly weak on training
for sexual topics, including sexual and gender diversity.

Where do I start?

Begin with recommendations from trusted sources.  Ask your friends
and family, if you can, and check out publications from relevant
businesses such as local queer affirming places of worship,
newsletters, websites, social services and groups, and queer phone
directories.  Need more sources?  Many state and national
professional organizations offer lists online of certified and/or
licensed therapists including their areas of specialization (Family
Equality Council has a member maintained listing in the Family
Equality Wikis
).  Three are at the end of this post. Gather a
few promising names and get your phone.

Interviewing potential therapists

Some therapists won’t favor this suggestion, but it is perfectly
ethical and appropriate to interview therapists before settling on
one.  Begin on the phone by calling and asking the usual questions
about credentials, price, billing, appointment times, policies
etc.  It is not necessary to give your name or contact information
at this time, unless you are leaving a message.  If asked, state
“I have a few questions before we get to that, if you don’t
mind.”  Consider including questions specific to both your queer
identity and your concern/s.  If something sounds not-quite-right
then ask for clarification or politely thank them and end the
conversation.  Here are a few sample questions to get you started,
just insert yourself into the parenthesis.

  1. What is your approach to working with (same-sex attracted)
  2. What training do you have in working with the (trans)
  3. What local queer businesses, organizations or professionals are
    you involved with? (especially important if you want them to
    coordinate with an area doctor, etc.)
  4. How much experience do you have working with the (lesbian
    leather) community?
  5. Can you give me some general examples of cases in which you
    have worked with other (gay parents)?

You may also arrange to meet therapists in person to see how you
click before committing to therapy.  This is a fine time to ask if
they know of any other therapists you might consider, if they just
doesn’t seem right.  A good therapist is ready to make referrals
and recommendations.  Do treat your prospective therapists
respectfully by letting them know that you’re meeting several
therapists.  It is best to do this over a short period of time,
such as one or two weeks.  Expect to pay their full price and fill
out the legally required and standard intake paperwork for each
one.  While you’re at it, check out that paperwork to see how
queer-friendly it is. Once you have made your decision you should
call the rest back and tell them that you are terminating
treatment.  This allows them to close your file and make space for
a new client.  Although you can offer feedback if you want to, you
don’t owe them any other information.

Keeping the professional relationship strong

You’ve gotten suggestions from your friends, doctor and neighbor. 
You called around, visited a few, and have the beginning of a solid
professional relationship.  Now is the time to make sure that you
stand out as the kind of client your queer affirming therapist
wants to keep seeing.

  1. Pay on time, in full.
  2. Cancel in advance of their policy whenever possible.  This is
    money lost for them, don’t make it time wasted, too.
  3. Be honest and open, including feedback about the therapeutic
    process itself.

Psychotherapy can be a wonderful option for anything from common
relationship stress to major life-changing events.  With a little
preplanning you can find the kind of queer affirming therapist
worth bragging to your friends about!  Before I go, let me offer
one final insider’s tip: a common guideline among therapists is
that one should never work harder than the client.  Put in a solid
effort, and they are more likely to provide superior services. 
Best of luck!

Great Links: 

  • The American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors
    and Therapists which requires special training in sexuality and
    gender diversity. Click here for more info.
  • Listings for the National Association of Social Workers. Click
    for more info.
  • The Association for Marriage & Family Therapy. Click
    here for more