It's an experience that all novice counsellors eventually have. They might have been counselling for a while and doing really well with heterosexual and cisgender individuals or couples. Then one fine day, they get an enquiry phone call which is a little bit different from the ones they've received in the past. It might be a gay man seeking counselling, a lesbian couple wanting relationship counselling or someone finding some aspect of their gender or their sexuality troubling. The novice counsellor says to him or herself “I can do this! I voted Yes! How different could it be?”. The novice counsellor is in for a learning experience…
If you're a member of the LGBTIQ community, you may have been let down yourself by a counsellor, or have heard horror stories about someone who has. LGBTIQ counselling is a specialised area and requires a deeper understanding and openness to new ideas to do justice to people from this community. Counsellors require training to be of service to those who are struggling with problems which are sometimes unique to people from this community.
People are people, right? Yes, but…
In some senses, working with people from this community is the same as working with anyone else. People are people; they pay their rent, do their taxes, butter their toast in the morning and dream of a better life. At one level, our hearts pump the same blood; people are all the same.
At another level, counselling LGBTIQ people is like counselling anyone else. You might come to counselling with issues of depression, anxiety, fears for the future and hopes for improving your relationship. Inexperienced counsellors can forget that they're working with an LGBTIQ person and slip back into hetro-normative ways of thinking only to be surprised when their clients use an unexpected gendered term to describe their partner or themselves.
The differences are important
However, at an even deeper level, counsellors need to understand that there can be profound differences. As counsellors, we can forget that you face everyday experiences of being marginalised, discriminated against and misunderstood. Counsellors can lose sight of the idea that relationships can be structured differently from what they've experienced themselves, and that couples can seek goals that are different than hetrosexual couples seek.
Counselling LGBTQI people
We counsellors need to offer you an experience which is at all times accepting, affirming and open. You've likely experienced discrimination and stigmatisation; we counsellors must not only not add to that but actively counteract it. Counsellors need to understand that you might struggle with things that heterosexual and cisgendered people find totally untroubling, or that you're totally okay with something which a hetro-normative person much find impossible
– Tim Hill