All therapies share a common value of unconditional positive regard. This means that the therapist who is empathic, can reflect the clients experience in a way that they feel heard, understood, and accepted. This is the cornerstone of humanistic therapy.
Cultural sensitivity in therapeutic practice is the intentional and respectful understanding of differences in ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, etc., so that barriers to health and wellness are removed. Services are delivered in way that diversity is acknowledged and welcomed, rather than ignored or pathologized.
When we have moved through our lives without having to deal with a particular social issue such as, being the victim of racial discrmination, we have privilege. This impacts our understanding and comprehension of discrimination, and can impair our ability to fully appreciate the lived experience of a client who occupies a different social location than we do. A common pitfall that is made in addressing privilege is denial of privilege. "I don't see color" is a common phrase used by well meaning people who want to practice inclusion. However, denial of differences is not a helpful approach. Instead, we need to get comfortable with the fact that differences are real and we each have our own viewpoint which is valid and real for us.
What about gender/sexual minorities?
Awareness of the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities is a growing area of focus in clinical practice. We cannot separate the revolutions and tensions around gender, race, religion, and economics, from the theoretical assumptions that underly our theories of psychological development, relationships and familes, as well as identities. All of these are steeped in perspectives that are also part of the systemic oppression of sexual and gender minorities; namely homophobia, mysogyny, sexism, heterosexism, bi-phobia, and trans-phobia.
Due to complex historical, cultural, religious, and political forms of oppression and discrimination, LGBTQ people benefit from therapy that is intentional in addressing the impact of discrimination and marginalization upon emotional wellbeing, identity development, and relationship formation including familes, partners, and community. This includes addressing the complex overlay of multiple minoritiy identities; ie a person of color who is transgender *, and Muslim.
What is Affirmative Therapy?
Affirmative Therapy is an approach to working with LGBT clients which affirms and supports Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Identity and Same Sex Relationships and incorporates education and support for LGBT clients in developing positive identity and self esteem while addressing the impact of minority stress, discrimination, heterosexism and homo, lesbian, bi and trans phobias. Affirmative Therapy empowers LGBTQ clients and family systems to address conflicts of incorporating LGBTQ affirmation within the family system such as generational, cultural, or value based differences in order to support family adjustment and health while developing active coping skills which improve the quality of relationships and self esteem.
Training in LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy includes:
The recognition and appreciation of the complex biological, sociological, and psychological aspects of gender identity, gender expression, which is distinct from sex.
An expansive and fluid conception of gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality that challenges the assumptions embedded within the Gender Binary.
Affirmation of the diversity in human sexuality and gender that does not privilege or value one form over another.
Addressing the reality of historical discrimination and oppression of non-heterosexual forms of identity and relationships.
Psycho-educaion regarding the historical roots of oppression, marginalization and discrimination and its impact on well being.
Attention to multi-cultural identities and multiple minority risk factors in adjustment and well being (ie. people of color, elders, racial minorities, economic disparity) and a respectful
integration of the client's values while addressing areas of contradiciton or conflict.
Affirmative inclusion of family members who are seeking support in adjusting to their loved one's coming out, and exploring relationship and identity adjustment as a result.
Recognition of family relationships that are defined by emotional attachment and mutual respect and not limited to heterosexual or binary systems.
Affirmative principles inform my work with cisgender and heterosexual clients as well.
It is my belief and observation that each of us has experienced the impact of the gender binary and its role in mysogyny, homophobia, rape culture, and gender based violence. By re-examining and de-constructing the strictures of binary roles and strictures surrounding them; we are all a little more free.