Deconstructing Heterosexism for LGB Affirmative Therapists (Part 2)


For Clinicians

In the spirit of Pride month, I want to talk about how a clinician can put the work of deconstructing heterosexism (from Part 1) into practice. Dr.’s McGeorge and Carlson give specific recommendations for clinicians wanting to more effectively serve the LGBTQ community after self-of-the-heterosexual work begins (I’m not sure it ever ends).

Personally, I like when clinicians talk about their role in the community as also taking place outside of the therapy room. McGeorge and Carlson seem to understand this very well. I hope the following recommendations are as helpful to you as they have been for me. McGeorge and Carlson have a lot to offer on this topic and I highly recommend getting a hold of this article.

For a brief re-cap: The individual work discussed in this article identified the following:

  1. Exploring heteronormative assumptions

  2. Exploring heterosexual privilege

  3. Exploring the development of a heterosexual identity

As I have reflected on my own ongoing deconstruction of heterosexism, I have found that my fears of “what others will think” have lessened. I can look back and remember concern for what families, friends, and religious organizations I was affiliated with would think. Would I lose friends? Be ostracized from certain communities? Or be seen as less than by family members? I am sure there is more to this process. But from what I can tell, as I became more aware of heterosexuality in myself and in society, I started to see the very tangible ways that this dominant story of heterosexuality hurt people. The desire to help then became greater than what I feared would happen. McGeorge and Carlson identify specific steps clinicians can take as they make their way down the road of heterosexist deconstruction.

  1. “Claiming an identity as an LGB affirmative therapist.”

a. Ongoing identification of heterosexist assumptions

b. Acceptance of the dual identities of heterosexist and anti-heterosexist

c. “Coming out” as LGB affirmative therapist can be political and personal

i. Sharing with family and friends

ii. Avoiding heteronormative language

iii. Continue education of marginalized identities

iv. Calling out homophobic jokes

v. Political participation by joining civil rights groups, attend rallies and write to legislators LGBTQ affirming action

  1. “Communicating an LGB affirmative stance.”

a. Consider informing all clients of your commitment to LGB affirmative therapy

b. Using “partner” instead of “wife” or “husband”

c. Asking clients the gender of their partner

d. Being intentional about the waiting area and what magazines, brochures, community event flyers, etc. are communicating about your space being a LGBTQ friendly and affirming space

e. If you provide online services, consider how you make this affirmative stance visible and obvious to visitors of your website

f. Consider how your paperwork reflects an affirmative stance

  1. “Deconstructing the influence of Heterosexism on LGB clients.”

a. Help LGB clients to identify and articulate how heterosexism has shaped their lives.

b. Consider the following questions...

i. "What added stressors do you face from living in a homophobic, heterosexist society?"

ii. "What influences do these added stressors have on your life or relationship?"

iii. "How might homophobic and heterosexist beliefs be influencing your understanding of the problem? Of yourself? Of your relationship?"

Refer to the article for a larger list of suggested questions to have these important conversations with LGB clients. The work required of heterosexual therapists to deconstruct biases, assumptions and internalized heterosexist narratives is ongoing. For me, I continue to find that there is work to be done. If we are to be ethical and competent in providing services to LGB folks, it is crucial that this work continues on ourselves first. Happy pride month everyone!

Reference: McGeorge, C., & Carlson, T. S. (2011). Deconstructing heterosexism: Becoming an LGB affirmative heterosexual couple and family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 37, 14-26. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2009.00149.x.

Jimmy Bridges, LMFT

Jimmy is a couple and family therapist, and provides therapy related to anxiety, mood disorders, LGBTQ+ affirming services, gender issues, faith transitions, and couple’s counseling. He offers online services for teens, adults, couples and families

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