Research has shown that members of the LGBTQ+ community experience mental illness at a higher rate than those who identify as heterosexual and cisgender. This distress does not come from one’s own identity; it comes from lived experiences of discrimination and prejudice that members of this community experience as they come to better understand themselves. It can be difficult to process through one’s own identity, especially when facing common concerns around questioning your identity, coming-out to others, dating as an LGBTQ+ person, and healing from past traumatic experiences related to sex and gender. However, many scholars have also discovered that when LGBTQ+ people receive support and feel connected to their communities, they experience less instances of mental distress and maintain healthier relationships with those around them.
Because it can be nerve-wracking to find a safe person to discuss identity with, it’s important to connect with those educated and experienced with working with members of the LGBTQ+ community. A queer-affirming therapist helps to foster a safe, nonjudgmental space wher you can freely explore topics relating to gender and sexuality. Whether you are still working to understand how you identify or already have a strong sense of your identity, your therapist can help to support you by engaging with topics relating to gender and sexuality as they relate to your overall mental health. Your therapist will work with you to understand meanings in this part of who you are through explorations of how your identity impacts the way you interact with the world around you.
Therapy centering around identity can take on many different forms depending on both the client and therapist. Some common themes may include: processing around early-life messages, understanding one’s values as they relate to identities, discussing the impact of intersecting identities, connecting with resources in the local and national communities, and finding ways to engage with queer identity and culture. However, your therapist’s job is to be flexible to wherever you are in your identity development and what your needs may be at the time.