If You’re Gay and Struggling to Accept Who You Are, Therapy can Help
While LGBTQ rights and social acceptance have come a long, long way in recent years, that doesn’t mean that realizing you’re gay is easier or easy for everyone. Maybe this self-realization runs contrary to some of your religious beliefs. Maybe your family is very traditional and expected you to marry an opposite-sex partner and have a big family. Or maybe it’s just something you somehow never gave much thought. Whatever the reason, if you’re gay and struggling to accept who you are, therapy can be very helpful.
Special risks for LGBTQ individuals
While some celebrities can come out in a big newspaper or magazine exposé, for most of us, coming out (that is, revealing your sexuality or gender identity) is something that you’ll have to do numerous times throughout the course of your life. Naturally, it can be easier to come out to some of the people in your life than others (same-age friends vs. older, more traditional parents), so this process can be quite anxiety-inducing and stressful.
In fact, LGBTQ individuals have an increased risk for mental health issues, substance abuse, and addiction. Fortunately, recent studies show that the increased risk of suicide among LGBTQ persons is only slightly higher than for heterosexual people of the same age group, much lower than the elevated rates previously believed.
Can discrimination and prejudice cause mental health problems? Perhaps. Large public health studies have shown that LGBTQ individuals report higher rates of perceived social discrimination than heterosexual people and that this social stigma does impact mental health.
All of the above statistics demonstrate the need for specialized mental health care for LGBTQ individuals with professionals who have experience dealing with the effects of discrimination on stress levels.
How can therapy help?
Sometimes people just don’t feel happy even though they are unable to pinpoint precisely why. Recognizing your sexuality is not always a clear and easy process or path. It can involve a lot of confusing or even conflicting feelings. A therapist who has experience helping LGBTQ individuals can help you gain clarity and self-insight.
Improving relationship skills
It’s probably never easy to get what you want from a relationship, whether friend, family, or romantic partner. But when you’re unsure of yourself, it’s hard to have great relationships with others. Yet, if you’re in the process of self-realization or coming out to others, building a strong support system can be especially crucial. Therapy can help you understand yourself and build your interpersonal skills to improve your relationships at all levels. You can also improve your relationship skills by working with a therapist to help you understand and express your feelings.
Dealing with substance abuse
Substance abuse is not just about the drugs themselves. Quality targeted therapy will uncover underlying issues that surround substance abuse, improving your ability to become, and remain, sober.
Self acceptance is probably the key that will help the most with all of the above issues. It’s important to find a therapist who is affirmative and will help you dispel any guilt or unease you may have. It’s only been the last few decades that same-sex romantic and sexual attracting has been considered a normal and healthy part of human sexuality, but — unfortunately — some therapists still work with a sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) model. Some lesbian and gay individuals might feel more comfortable with a homosexual therapist or one who at least specializes in gay issues. Depending on your location, this may or may not be easy to find, but fear not! Many therapists are offering distance services via phone or internet these days.