Associate columnist and ‘reporter at large’ Barry Heap celebrates the positive contribution an LGBT affirming practitioner makes in the world of counselling and psychotherapy
Barry writes a regular ‘agony aunt’ column for the online magazine thegayuk.com
As part of the promotion for Warrington pride recently I was asked to tweet, what made me proud?
My response was that as a Counsellor I am proud to be part of the BACP as it considers Gay “REPARITIVE” therapy unethical. I’m proud to stand with a body that recognises that LGBT affirmative practice is not just about helping and supporting clients who may be struggling with their sexuality but also to reinforce that homophobia within the professions will not be tolerated.
It’s a logically argument, I’m sure no counsellor would try and “repair” a black or wheel chair bound client.
LGBT affirmative practice is important, clients who would come to us are vulnerable and by signposting this specific need it establishes before therapy even begins that they are with someone who understands whole heartedly and the discussion is off limits. But LGBT affirmative practice should not just be mistaken for only clients who are going through the process. It can also be for those left behind, the family’s, friends and partners.
Coming out and accepting your own sexuality can be a wonderful life affirming experience, you feel complete and unashamed to be who you are. It’s often before a person comes out they will have hidden the truth from those around them while they come to terms with their own identity. When they come out, it is the end of that journey for them and the beginning of a new one.
The people that they have come out to will also embark on a separate journey. Maybe they had their suspicions before, maybe this is brand new information. Either way they are in uncharted territory and perhaps afraid to fully realise or discuss their feelings.
For parents, it is the realisation that if a child comes out that perhaps it sets up a different future from the one they imagined. It may be that they have always wanted to become a grandparent and this may not happen now. Perhaps they are insular and don’t have any access to anyone else in similar situations.
For children, It may be a redefining of their perception of their parent and perhaps realising them as a sexual being themselves.
For partners, it may equal the end of the relationship. This may carry feelings of hurt or betrayal. There may be a sense that they have been lied to or even in some cases used. Even if the partner is supportive it may be the case that they feel isolated. I have heard partners of Trans people talk about the lonely they can experiences
It can be the case that they don’t want to burden the person who has just come out with these feelings for fear of not being seen as supportive or rejecting them. They may carry guilt at the fact they cannot accept the truth immediately and fear that they will be perceived as homophobic.
However their feelings are just as important. There is help in the form of FFLAG ( friends and families of lesbians and gays) which has resources to support and groups nationwide. But accessing an LGBT affirmative practitioner would also be an invaluable experience.
A lot of the emotions of guilt, shame and fear that are so prevalent in the coming out experience may also be mirrored. Ultimately what is needed is time to adjust to the new reality, the person is still the same as they were beforehand. Friends and family need to be supported in their own process and dealing with what they are feeling.
Just because somebody may struggle initially with a family member coming out, does not necessarily mean they are homophobic. It could be same as when somebody receives a cancer diagnosis. There is fear, regret and anxiety about the past and the future. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be supportive.
LGBT affirmative practice should deal with the full spectrum of sexuality, for every client that we see and support in coming out there is a family involved. Nobody lives in isolation. By supporting family members we are also embracing the wider community and equipping future allies.
We promote the message that sexuality is part of the everyday human experience
What are your experiences of LGBT affirmative practice ? Please share your experiences.