At some point or another, you may need to gain the professional services of a therapist to help you with your counseling needs. But if you are gay, should you pick a gay therapist? We think the answer to that question is – yes.
We’re not saying this just to be supportive of LGBT health care professionals. Instead, our suggestion is based on a vast body of clinical research. Let’s be honest – as gay men, we often struggle with a number of unique issues that are different from our heterosexual counterparts.
This is not to say that straight therapists who work with gay men aren’t effective – many are. But it can sometimes be a crapshoot when trying to find the right person for your counseling needs.
What follows are 7 strong reasons for picking a gay therapist if you if you identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Some of the points made here will seem obvious while others will cause you to pause and reflect. Read them all in order to get the big picture.
- No editing required
Counseling is supposed to be a place where you can freely talk about what’s going on with you or your relationship. The last thing you need to be doing is editing what you say in therapy because you fear judgement.
When you pick a gay therapist, there’s no need to play that game. If your counselor identifies as gay, he’s likely going to likely “get it”. The end result means you can discuss what’s happening to you in a transparent way, which can lead to new insight and positive change.
- Depression and anxiety
If you are gay and depressed, you wouldn’t be alone. The current research suggests that as a subculture, LGBT individuals struggle with higher rates of depression and anxiety than other groups. The reasons are multifactorial, including family rejection, substance abuse issues and strong feelings of shame.
A gay therapist is going to know about these unique challenges and potentially be able to offer unique insight. This is especially the case if you are living with HIV while also struggling with a mood disorder.
- Gay relationship Issues
One of the biggest reasons people enter therapy is to focus on relationship challenges. This is particularly true in the LGBT community, where many relationships never fully develop because of poor role models (See our post on top 10 reasons gay relationships fail).
And because many gay couples within the wider LGBT spectrum have differing thoughts regarding monogamy vs. open relationships, having a therapist that understand the subculture is critical. Do you really want to sit with your same sex partner and negotiate boundaries of an open relationship with a straight male counselor?
- Intimacy and sex
Working with a gay therapist means that you will be able to talk about what’s happening in your sex life without having to spend forever and a day explaining things. To be blunt, a gay therapist is going to know the lingo, such as total top, total bottom, versatile, etc.
And while it is true that a straight therapist may be knowledgeable about these things, she or he is not likely to know the subtle differences between jocks, wolves, otters and bears. You may laugh when you hear these terms but it turns out it kind of matters (See our post on the lies that need to stop about gay bears).
- No stereotyping
If you are gay and you see a straight health care provider, such as a medical doctor or therapist, there can sometimes be faulty assumptions made about who you are and what you do (See this post on gay shaming and anal warts). As is often the case, assumptions about what it means to be gay can harmful.
Gay therapists typically don’t fall victim to stereotyping their clients because they know that most all of the misnomers don’t apply. In turn, they are better able to understand what may be happening to their clients without bias.
- Body image challenges
Perhaps more than many other subculture, gay men as a whole struggle with body image issues. This is particularly true in an age of fat shaming and toxic masculinity. Sadly, not all therapists understand body image challenges or their ramifications.
When you decide to work with a gay therapist (particularly a gay male therapist), you can feel fairly confident that the helping professional will have a strong level of experience about body image issues, concerns about not fitting in, etc.
FYI: The gay therapist’s understanding about these issues didn’t come from a textbook or a workshop but instead, from personal experience. Don’t you want someone who can relate?
- Knowledge of gay culture
The final reason you should pick a gay therapist if you happen to be LGBT is simply this – a gay therapist will more often than not “get” our culture. Believe it or not, that kind of matters when you are talking to someone about issues connected to gay dating and romance.
Think about it: Do you really want to explain what Grindr is to a therapist? How about Scruff, Daddy Hunt and the like?
How to Find a Gay Therapist?
If you want to find a gay therapist, there are a number of options from which to choose. If you feel comfortable, you can talk to friends and get recommendations. You can also do a quick search on Psychology Today to explore possibilities.
Perhaps one of the best ways to find a gay therapist is to do a Google search and type in “Gay Therapist” + “Your City”. LGBT counseling professionals who are out will usually not have a problem advertising this on their websites.
The decision to seek out counseling can be one of the healthiest things you ever do. The ultimate success of therapy will largely depend upon your willingness to look inward, coupled with the therapist’s unique expertise.
That’s why choosing a gay therapist is smart when you identify as LGBT.