For many people who live in rural or smaller cities, finding LGBTQ affirming or knowledgeable counselors can be tricky. It's already challenging enough taking that first step to call a therapist, but to figure out whether or not they can work with your needs is a whole other can of worms! Here are some tips and tricks of the trade to help you navigate that process if there are no LGBTQ or gender therapists near you.
1. Find a counselor that fits what you would like to cover mental health wise. In almost every town you can find a directory of therapists on websites such as PsychologyToday that advertise their areas of expertise and specialties. Find a therapist who you feel would be a great fit for the issues you need to cover (e.g. depression, anxiety, trauma, etc).
2. Make the call to that person. In calling, you may reach that counselor directly or be directed to a receptionist. From there you can specify that you are interested in working with (insert name of therapist) and you have some specific questions to ask before you get started. Some counselors will set up an in person consultation with you to get these questions answered and some will gladly screen over the phone. Let whomever you're speaking with know your level of comfort in screening (e.g. screening over the phone or in person).
3. During your screening call or in person session ask the therapist if they are familiar with working with the LGBTQ community? If so how familiar are they with LGBTQ terminology? Are they aware of specific issues faced by those in the LGBTQ community versus cis gendered heterosexual individuals? You might also want to determine how many LGBTQ individuals they have worked with in the past and what are examples of the issues they covered in working with those individuals.
4. Ask your therapist if they foresee any potential roadblocks in working with you due to your identification in the LGBTQ community. Most therapists will speak openly on whether they feel comfortable working with you or if they don't have the knowledge base to thoroughly assist. Know that those who aren't knowledgable aren't inherently negative or discriminating. Like all new things to us, some may not have encountered specific issues related to the LGBTQ community.
5. Ask about your therapist's' therapeutic modality.' This is a fancy term for how your counselor will approach assisting you through your issues. All counselors have their own therapeutic modality and this can give you insight into how your issues will be addressed. For instance, one of the therapeutic modalities I use is Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT). This means that a lot of my clients will receive information about how to reframe negative or challenging thoughts, how to correct behaviors they are not satisfied with, and learn new coping techniques to manage different stressors.
Gender Specific Questions:
1. Has your counselor worked with transgender or gender nonconforming people? If not would they be comfortable in doing so?
2. Be specific about what you might be looking for. If you are looking for a letter of recommendation for hormone replacement therapy or surgery, let your therapist know that is your intent. If you are seeking counseling for other mental health related issues and simply want them to know your gender is important in how you identify, let them know that too.
3. If they can provide you with a letter of recommendation ask whether they will find you a physician or surgeon themselves, or if that will be up to you to find the medical provider.
4. This might be best to ask after the intake session, but ask whether or not your therapist has an idea of how long counseling might take before a referral for HRT or surgery. Be clear you are not seeking to rush the process, but want to know a time frame for yourself to start preparing financially, family wise, work wise, socially, etc.
5. If you are concerned about wearing particular clothing to the office based on your personal preference or gender expression, double check with the therapist or their office on what their waiting room status is like, and how comfortable you would theoretically feel. That will also indicate to the therapist or their office on how to appropriately schedule you and address you when you come in.
Although there are likely many more important questions that can be asked, these will likely cover your bases to get you started with a therapist who does not specialize or predominately work with the LGBTQ community. Please note that if you visit a counselor and do not feel comfortable, or your questions are not answered at all or to your satisfaction, you have every right to leave and continue your search. Don't settle for someone you are not comfortable speaking with, otherwise the counseling process is moot!
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392