LGBT Relationships: Research, Issues & Therapy Options
“I am gay.”
So starts a social media comment from someone I know. That short post belies the years of self-doubt, struggle and conflict over one’s sexuality. This is a process heterosexual people never have to deal with. When I hear the argument over sexuality being a “choice”, I can’t help but question the logic in that. That said, I want to focus on the work I do as a psychologist, working with the gay and lesbian couples (and all LGBT relationships), in addition to what we have learned from research and the societal changes.
Therapy and counseling encompass the process of examining the mental, physical and psychological effects of issues a person confronts.
If you have to make a presentation to a group and the anxiety over this is overwhelming, counseling will provide the tools to identify where the anxiety is coming from, what triggers it, and how to manage it.
When one is dealing with aspects of sexuality, the issue becomes much more complex and sensitive, especially when exploring these issues in therapy.
It touches on one’s identity, self-concept, and self-esteem not to mention all aspects of forming and maintaining relationships.
The society now acknowledges, at least in some circles, that one can be gay, lesbian, intersex or transgender. If the acceptance of any declaration other than the binary (male/female) is nonexistent, the pressure on a person dealing with this becomes intense. So the first task in therapy might be to focus on what social mores one perceives and how to deal with them.
There may be both legal and societal consequences to "coming out."
There may be legal consequences to “coming out.” If so, therapy has to consider those in a realistic manner. What about family reactions? This is probably the hardest for anyone, as we all want the approval of our family and friends. At the same time, there are those who feel their sexuality is a private matter and choose not to reveal where they are. Counseling has to be objective and aimed at working with the goals the counselee sets. Let’s move on to how therapy works for a person who has accepted their orientation and now wants to work on forming and/or maintaining relationships.
How does therapy help in this? In the LGBTQ world, there is an additional obstacle of determining who may be receptive to one’s approach. It is one thing if you go to gay bars; it is another when you are attracted to someone at work who may or may not share your sexual orientation. The doubts, ambiguity, and anxiety in approaching any prospective partner thus become doubly hard. The role of therapy is in navigating these waters in a way one can be at ease with.
How cognitive therapy can help and what to expect in this type of course of therapy
Aaron T. Beck formulated cognitive therapy, which I practice, in the 1960s. It is based on the model that our thoughts determine our feelings and subsequently, guide our behavior.
When one has faulty beliefs, and inaccurate thinking, emotions are likewise affected and end up with problems in behavior. Therapy aims to first identify those faulty beliefs in the mind. Take for example the expectation that one should aim for perfection in every way. Perfectly dressed and coiffed, speaking perfectly, making absolutely no mistakes in behaving, courteous at all times, achieving all goals with minimum effort and surpassing others in grades, performance, or other aspects of life ad infinitum.
Not difficult to imagine the extreme pressures this kind of thinking would produce, and the anxiety, depression or other psychological symptoms that would ensue. In cognitive therapy, I work collaboratively to change the faulty beliefs that would be identified, understand the distortions and then test out new behaviors. The therapist forms a road map, based on the counselee’s inner reality, and then helps him/her to examine the lanes in that roadmap and continue with the journey taking a different path, leading to a better sense of life balance. In working with LGBTQ clients, it has been a privilege for me to lead that journey, to see the huge roadblocks one can confront in coming out, in seeking relationships and then keeping them.
In most aspects, relationship issues are the same whether one is straight or otherwise. Most concerns center around finances, insecurity or sex. However, there is no doubt that in the minority world, there are additional issues to deal with.
When there are internal struggles to resolve as to how to present oneself and in what contexts, the emotional load can become insurmountable. Despite marriage equality that the United States Supreme Court had a say in, there are parts in this country and in other places in the world where it is not only unacceptable, but also a crime, so even the notion of world travel brings issues to deal with. But it is good to remember the Japanese proverb: If you fall down 7 times, you get up 8. Therapy is one way to give you a hand in being resilient.
Janan Broadbent is a Psychologist/consultant on relationship issues between couples, families, and colleagues. With conflict resolution and personal growth as goals, communication skills help in developing trust and positive thinking. Janan offers a cross-cultural background of 30+ years in clinical work, 25+ years in teaching and business consultations to help her clients achieve well-being. Get in contact with Janan through her RingMD profile (click here).
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