In the U.S., one in five people has a diagnosed mental illness. This number skyrockets among individuals in the LGBTQ community.
In fact, one study found that 37.4% of LGB adults — almost two in five — had a diagnosed mental illness in 2015.
Within the LGBTQ community, transgender individuals struggle with mental illness even more. In a 2020 study, more than 57% of transgender individuals reported a diagnosed mental illness.
These numbers highlight the importance of finding a qualified and compassionate LGBTQ therapist. And if these numbers include you, you know the importance of finding a therapist who knows you’re not “just a number” or a letter on the LGBTQ spectrum.
You need a therapist who will get to know you as a person, respect your sexual and/or gender identity, and is experienced with mental illness. Read on to learn how to find an LGBTQ therapist who is an ally and advocate for you.
How to Find an LGBTQ Therapist
Traditional referral sources for therapists and other healthcare providers can include trusted family and friends. However, individuals in the LGBTQ community may be more hesitant than their heterosexual peers to discuss their mental health with these sources.
More importantly, they may not feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity, and doing so is essential to finding LGBTQ affirmative therapists.
LGBTQ individuals, therefore, need to look beyond traditional sources.
Many comprehensive therapist directories, like Psychology Today and HelpPRO, allow you to identify therapists near you and filter them by their sexual identity and by the sexual identity of those they serve.
Other online directories specifically serve the LGBTQ community. Among these are Lighthouse and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s Provider Directory. Both of these serve the broader LGBTQ community.
If you are an LGBTQ person of color (QTBIPOC), the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network can help you find a therapist who understands your needs.
Finally, some directories specialize in online therapy. PrideCounseling provides a searchable list of LGBTQ therapists who provide telehealth services.
Other Resources for the LGBTQ Community
LGBTQ community centers offer helpful resources on their websites, and these include directories of mental health services. Often, LGBTQ community centers themselves offer these services, including individual counseling, peer-led therapy, and group therapy.
You can find your local LGBTQ community center on CenterLink’s comprehensive list.
If you are in college, your campus health or student center and LGBTQ alliance can help you find a qualified LGBTQ therapist.
If you feel comfortable speaking to your primary care physician, they can be a valuable resource as well.
How to Choose an LGBTQ Therapist
Once you’ve identified a few LGBTQ therapists, you’ll need to choose one that fits your needs. Knowing what makes a qualified therapist and what you want in a therapist can help narrow down your options.
Therapists fall into three categories depending on their level of education and expertise:
- Licensed professional counselors (LPCs)
- Social workers
While LPCs and social workers have earned master’s degrees, psychologists have earned a Doctorate of Philosophy or Psychology. All three types of therapists are required to complete supervised internships or clinical experiences.
Differences often arise in their approaches and specializations.
With a Ph.D. or Psy.D., psychologists tend to specialize to a greater extent. While some focus on helping individuals with substance abuse issues, for example, others focus on family or child and adolescent psychology. An LGBTQ psychologist, of course, specializes in the mental health needs of the queer and trans community.
In addition to their specializations, psychologists may also have more direct research experience.
Social workers tend to take an advocacy-based approach and can be especially helpful in referring you to other resources in the community.
LPCs often specialize in certain types of therapy. These include:
- Behavioral therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Rational-emotive behavioral therapy (REBT)
- Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)
- Art therapy
- Humanistic therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
Investigating these types of therapy and choosing one that fits your needs can help you choose the right therapist.
Your mental health needs are the most important factor when choosing an LGBTQ therapist. Communicating these needs is essential to finding a good fit.
When making your initial contact with a therapist, it’s important to identify for them — as clearly as you can — why you are seeking help.
Questions to ask yourself and information to share with your therapist include:
- What have I been struggling with?
- How have my struggles been impacting my life?
- What aspects of my identity — including but not limited to my sexual orientation and gender identity — should my therapist know?
Questions to Ask Your Therapist
It’s essential for you to share as much information as possible with your therapist. However, it’s equally important to ask them questions.
You might start by asking why they identify as an LGBTQ therapist. What motivated them to serve the LGBTQ community? What experiences and training do they have within that community? How do they identify?
The Human Rights Campaign and Mental Health America have compiled an even more extensive list of questions for QTBIPOC individuals to ask a potential therapist. However, many of these questions can help individuals in the broader LGBTQ community find an LGBTQ affirmative therapist.
A therapist’s answers to these questions can help you determine if their understanding of what it means to be LGBTQ fits with yours. It can also help you decide if the therapist’s experiences, specializations, and approach qualify them to address your needs.
Other questions to ask include:
- What therapy techniques do you use?
- How do you envision your role and mine in the therapist-client relationship?
- How will we evaluate my progress?
- How many sessions can I expect to have, and how often should I schedule them?
- What is your availability and cancellation policy?
Your first meeting with a therapist is an opportunity for each of you to get to know the other. In addition to your needs and the therapist’s professional qualifications and specializations, your personalities also play a significant role in determining the “fit” of your relationship.
Be prepared to meet with several therapists before finding one that meets your needs This is common, normal, and often, necessary.
The Path to Finding Your LGBTQ Therapist
Mental health issues affect LGBTQ individuals more than their heterosexual counterparts. However, this is not a sign of weakness or a point of shame. In fact, it can be a point of pride.
Reaching out for help from an LGBTQ therapist is a sign of strength, and you have taken that step. Take pride in that step, and continue reaching out. While I’m not a therapist, you can also send me a message.
What other questions do you have about how to find an LGBTQ therapist? Ask them below.
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