Are they affirming or simply accepting?
It is hard to open up to someone and admit that you are struggling. So imagine what it is like when you do finally reach out, and you feel vulnerable, and you are met with more judgment, gaslighting, bullying and shaming. And imagine if all of this is thrown at you by your own therapist, doctor, pastor, or teacher.
This happens on a daily basis. I have met countless professionals who work with the LGBTQ+ community when they should not. They should be marked with a red line around them and a warning sign that they are toxic and likely to further traumatize you. They smile and nod, claiming that they never turn away ‘such clients’, and then they let slip that their religious views do not allow them to recognize gender diversity, and they view marriage and adoption as available only for a man and woman, and their personal views do not allow for LGBTQ+ education in their schools or churches. And so it goes on (the potential for discrimination is endless).
As a community, we need to make sure that we are only seeking help from professionals who are affirming. It is not enough that they accept us, or turn a blind eye, or overlook certain aspects. Dr Jamie Marich recently wrote an open letter about this important distinction, and it is an essential read. Dr Marich explains that some of these professionals are working with members of the LGBTQ+ community when the professionals still hold onto harmful beliefs such as 'hate the sin, love the sinner', or using terminology such as ''choice', 'preference', 'lifestyle' and 'sin'.
If you encounter a professional who falls short of affirming you then ask them for a referral to someone who can. A non-affirming professional does not have the expertise to understand the cumulative impact of microaggressions, and no matter how hard they claim that they are 'putting aside their personal beliefs', these will leak out and the relationship will fail. Due to the power imbalance, it is likely that the professional will leave you with the feeling that you are to blame for this failure. If you are already feeling vulnerable and in need of help, this could be catastrophic. As Dr Marich points out, non-affirming professionals who insist on working with us are 'literally killing members of the LGBTQ+ community’.
Take care when you trust a professional. If they are not willing or able to affirm you, they are not in a position to truly help you.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Psychotherapist in Ridgewood, New Jersey
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