How Can Counseling Help Gays and Lesbians?

Addressing the needs of the gay and lesbian communities starts with a healthy perspective

In certain sectors of our society, being gay or lesbian is seen as unnatural, a disorder, or an aberration—to be diagnosed, accepted as wrong, and cured. Unfortunately, even a small minority of mental health professionals become involved from this perspective.

My practice is not one of those places.

Here at Orange County couples and marriage counseling, I view the gay and lesbian communities as highly positive, natural, and healthy sectors of our society, contributing to family, social, and professional life in countless ways and indispensible to all of us. I also see human sexuality as a continuum, with many, many nuances and variations in expression in both straight and same-sex orientations.

However, because of social attitudes, work practices, and even unsympathetic laws, life can be significantly more difficult for single gays and lesbians and for same-sex partners. My perspective is this: There has been no better time than now for gays and lesbians to integrate more fully into mainstream American life. Sure, prejudices still exist, often deeply embedded in social and religious attitudes. Just recently, in North Carolina, legislation passed in a statewide referendum that banned gay marriage, specifically stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

But consider that during the campaigns before the referendum, a huge number of North Carolina voters in the straight community voiced their solidarity with gays and lesbians via yard signs (Vote AGAINST Amendment One), fundraisers, a flurry of gay-friendly social media communications over many months, and open talk in many communities in support of gay marriage.

And consider two public disclosures in recent weeks. Anderson Cooper publicly announced that he was gay, saying, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn\’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.” In Massachusetts, Congressman Barney Frank married his partner Jim Ready in a public ceremony, with state governor Deval Patrick presiding.

These events signal meaningful public shifts in perspective, and, in my opinion, demonstrate a growing acceptance among a large portion of the American population, if not a majority.

How does counseling fit into this picture? Orange County Gay & Lesbian Counseling recognizes that despite the gains, gays and lesbians face still face many difficulties integrating into everyday life and experience many pressures from antagonistic segments of our society. I am dedicated to addressing the needs of gays and lesbians who suffer from emotional difficulties in adjusting to these pressures. Scenarios I address include the following.

  • Social stress. In a recent report, the American Psychological Association concluded that the stigma of non-heterosexuality is a significant source of stress. Essentially, the APA recognized that a sympathetic therapeutic perspective could be a valuable component in many types of counseling and therapy involving non-heterosexuals. Recognition of the both the positive value of gay and lesbian life and the stresses that occur is the basis for my approach to counseling.
  • Parenting difficulties. So many gays and lesbians are forming families today. They are bringing children from heterosexual marriages into gay unions and getting support from partners in a committed relationship. They are also adopting in increasing numbers, showing a trend toward creating rich family environments where children can thrive and parents can fulfill a need to pass on a positive legacy to a new generation. That said, gays and lesbians with families are more visible within family social communities and could suffer even more prejudice than those without children. In addition, parent-child issues may arise that need to be addressed. As with any type of social stress, anxiety, depression, and stresses to the relationship can result.
  • Lack of family support. For gays and lesbians, family can be a great support, a difficult burden to bear, or something in between. Family shunning can lead to deep depression or worse, and split loyalties among family members can prompt feelings of guilt and anxiety. So often, a big part of the early work I do with gays and lesbians is intensely focused on family relationships, both in the present and in childhood years.
  • AIDS. While the risk of AIDS is lower today among some populations and treatment is more effective, the risk is still great among gay men. AIDS patients and HIV-positives can often feel a stigma beyond the feeling of being gay in an unsympathetic society. And when the illness is highly symptomatic, the suffering and stress can be extremely difficult to bear. In these cases. Orange County depression counseling can help.

Much has been made in the press about sexual orientation change effort (SOSE)—the effort to “cure” gays and lesbians of their “problem.” The APA task force reviewed the literature and stated that efforts to change sexual orientation have a poor chance of success and may risk harm to the person, which puts the claims of that approach\’s practitioners in doubt. I agree with the APA.

My approach to counseling and therapy for gays and lesbians includes acceptance of their orientations and identities, support for their emotional well-being and chosen lifestyle, and an appreciation for and empathy with the process of coping in a society that is not sympathetic and supportive. If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual and are having trouble coping, I welcome you. Orange County couples and marriage counseling can make a difference in your life.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.

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