Disclosure and Gender/Sexual norms.

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.

6 thoughts on “Disclosure and Gender/Sexual norms.

  1. Hi,
    My name is Quinn Heathcliff and I have been reading your content recently and have found it really interesting and helpful.
    As a person who identifies as LGBT as well as someone who has dealt with, and continues to deal with, mental health issues I find your blog very helpful. Oftentimes there is an overwhelming feeling of aloneness in my life but reading your blog I was able to see that there are many other people who experience the same problems that I do and even though there may not be a supportive community where I live there are other people who have the same experiences as I do. Knowledge that someone cares enough to write a blog about these experiences shows that there is a way to improve my life.
    To be honest I didn’t find your content while simply browsing around on the internet, I am currently working on a project in one of my courses that required me to collect data and I decided to do mine on internet content creators. To this end I was really hoping that you would be willing to fill out a short, number question survey that I have linked bellow. Even if you do not have the time or desire to fill out the survey I would love to hear back from you as I genuinely enjoyed your content.

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1PqIyDz8qOsFE_h-fyCc4lVksRTx5jbs0gDu93hPKZUY/viewform?usp=send_form

    Thanks, for your time and your wonderful content,
    Quinn

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, it provokes mixed emotions in me. Whilst I am glad you have found something that speaks to your experience, I am also saddened that you feel isoltated. I know however that this is the experience of so many, and it is part of my motivation for becoming a counsellor. Good luck with the course, and in all your future endeavours.

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  2. The view of disclosure that I’ve taken from my training (in humanistic and integrative counselling) is that being open about your sexuality and gender is disclosure regardless of what they are, even if, like me, you are cis and heteronormative. I disclose a great deal about myself just from my appearance, and there no difference as far as disclosure goes between me sitting in a counselling room in my usual clothes acting in my usual manner and me talking about my gender and sexuality.

    If a client assumes that I am a white, middle aged, able bodied straight man then they will have guessed right; so if any of those factors become relevant in the session I probably wouldn’t need to correct misconceptions about me. The more closely you fit your clients’ expectations the less likely you are to need to use explicit disclosure to express yourself. The upshot of which is rather than explicitly disclosing your sexuality or gender being an act of increased disclosure, it may be necessary just to reach the same level of disclosure a cis, heteronormative counsellor manages to get across without saying a word.

    The point I really want to make is that although the irrational and harmful view of disclosure you describe might be widespread in counselling training, it is definitely not universal.

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