The client-therapist relationship is personal. Just like any relationship, it is possible to have personality and style differences which make communication difficult, less enjoyable, or ineffective.
Be sure to trust your “gut” when you meet with a new therapist. It is your right to ask questions. In addition to basic information about availability, fees and location, you may want to consider asking:
• How long have you been practicing?
• Are there any issues you are with which you are uncomfortable working?
• How would you describe your counseling style?
• How familiar are you with [insert your issue here]?
And any other questions that interest you are okay to ask too. Therapy is a service. You are a consumer. Be sure you feel comfortable with the service you are receiving.
It is common, however, once you begin counseling, to feel uncomfortable. If you are working on your “issues” then you are likely to feel a good bit of discomfort related to actually addressing important life concerns. Do not confuse this discomfort with your discomfort with the therapist. There is a difference.
If you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual
AVOID THERAPISTS WHO….
Assume You Are Heterosexual
This is generally the first warning sign of an unaware therapist. If upon meeting him or her they automatically assume you are heterosexual their level of sensitivity or awareness of diversity is lacking on some level.
Focus On Causes Of Homosexuality
Researchers have not revealed any conclusive evidence about the development of sexual orientation, whether gay or not. So, to pursue “causes” of homosexuality is an uneducated pursuit, because there have been no links made between experiences and homosexuality. There is a strong suggestion from the scientific field that homosexuality is genetically influenced, however, no genes for homosexuality have been identified. Therefore, to investigate “causes” of being gay infers that there is something wrong with being gay and “we need to find out how this happened!” This is not a supportive focus in counseling for gays and lesbians.
Do not explore your beliefs about and overall comfort with, being gay, lesbian, or bisexual
Some gay, lesbian and bisexual people are conditioned to believe that homosexuality is sinful, abnormal, or simply bad and wrong. It is essential that your therapist clarify the messages you have internalized about sexual orientation to identify how you feel about yourself. It is dangerous to assume that you are comfortable with being gay.
View gay relationships as morally wrong
Although therapists can have values or beliefs that differ from their clients, it is important that you are working with someone who is able to support your movement toward a healthy gay, lesbian, or bisexual orientation. It is difficult to support others in moving toward something that we have internalized as “sinful” or “morally wrong.” It is your right to know if your therapist is able to support you in the development of a healthy gay identity. Feel free to ask him or her.
Works to help you become heterosexual
To encourage the work of “changing” your sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual is considered unethical by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and by the National Association of Social Workers. To find a therapist willing to work with you toward these goals means that your therapist is either unethical or not licensed through one of the above mentioned professional associations.
Does not include same gender partner in therapy when appropriate to do so
Although it is not necessary to include your partner in counseling. It is common to do so when there are issues that involve relationships or improved communication and support. To not include your partner because of your same-sex relationship is a sign that you may want to consider another therapist.
Is unaware of the voids in legal protection for gays and lesbians
It is helpful if your therapist is informed enough to safeguard you from making poor choices regarding your work, living arrangements, financial investments within relationships, etc. There are many areas of the law under which gays and lesbians are not protected (employment, marriage, housing, partner benefits/insurance/health care/taxes, etc.). It is important to be aware of these and make informed choices about your life.
Is uncomfortable disclosing his or her sexual orientation
Your therapist certainly does not have to be gay to be effective, knowledgeable and supportive. However, if your therapist is gay or lesbian and is not comfortable disclosing this to you, this may indicate unresolved issues, or shame of their own. If you are attempting to resolve conflicts around your sexual orientation it is essential that you are able to do that with the support of someone who is able to encourage your progress.