I had the great pleasure recently to attend Pink Therapy’s annual conference. Entitled “Beyond the Rainbow” it was an attempt to cover gender and sexual diversities usually ignored, judged or even condemned by the mainstream. Sadly this includes mainstream therapy which has ever been quick to drop unconditional positive regard when someones sexual behaviour or gender presentation has been outside of an undetermined comfort zone.
It would be impossible to cover here the many excellent seminars, hopefully some will be on the Pink Therapy You Tube channel in the near future. However, one of the themes both in personal conversations and seminars, which I carried away was that of disclosure.
Disclosure is a complex issue within counselling and therapy. Partly this is historical. The founders of psychotherapy believed they must create a blank canvas onto which the client projected the thoughts, feelings and neurosis from their past. It was believed that they could somehow be a blank space because the norm of being a white cis hetrosexual male was not seen as an identity, but as the default.
The idea any therapist can be simply a place holder upon whom a client places via transference their issues is one that still dogs therapy.The idea the default is not an identity also occurs within our colleges and universities as was brought home to me very strongly at the conference.
LGBTQUAI+ issues would, one would hope, be covered in a reasonable amount of depth when training to be a therapist. Research shows in study after study that these are communities where mental health issues, suicidal ideation, drink and alcohol problems, self harm and depression are higher than in the general population. The term LGBT is used as an umbrella however even within that needs vary hugely. One in four trans people has contemplated suicide. Bi women are more likely to suffer from depression, be victims of domestic violence, than lesbian or straight women. Yet this whole range of experience has barely been touched on by my course. At the Pink Therapy event I discovered I was not alone, no training covers non straight, non cis, non monogamous people except in the most superficial way.
There is another aspect of this, the direct impact on trainee therapists who do not fit the mould of cis, straight, monogamous. It is assumed we fit the dominant, normative narrative. Furthermore it is made clear that the default is the acceptable way for a therapist to be. This not only impacts on our ability to be congruent within the training but positions being LGBTQUAI+ as something we need to keep private. Indeed it is seemingly the current situation that a therapist being open about their gender identity or sexuality is seen as therapist disclosure, of the sort which takes up space from the client. The idea seems to be that like Freud or Jung straight cis people believe they are blank sheets, not disclosing, and everyone else falls short, simply by not belonging to the dominant group.
Even as I write I can see straight, cis therapists saying but why do clients need to know your sexuality, you are taking up space from them. This is based on the idea that firstly clients are straight and cis, and that straight /cis therapists do not project their sexuality or gender into the therapeutic relationship. I am not arguing that every therapist should make every client aware of their gender or sexuality in their contracting. I am arguing though that the current set of assumptions around who trains, and who offers therapy are exclusionary. By even positioning being open about gender and sexuality as a disclosure if your gender and sexuality are not cis and heteronormative, therapy is imposing a certain set of norms on therapists and clients. This not only goes against the ideals of being non judgemental but means many who belong to high risk groups are less likely to access the therapeutic support they need.