Couples Therapy for Gay and Lesbian Clients
Couples therapy for Gay and Lesbian clients is different than their straight counterparts. There are social issues that must be taken into consideration in therapy for these couples. Many have and are dealing with issues with coming out, concerns of family acceptance, and isolation from those closest to them.
Gay and lesbian clients who are seeking couples therapy should look for a therapist who is gay affirming. This means that this therapist understands the complex issues that occur in gay and lesbian relationships. The affirming therapist’s goal is to help the client feel comfortable during the therapeutic process. They will accept their knowledge base, and ask questions when they need to.
Understanding of Heteronormative Biases
It’s impossible to not have some level of heteronormative bias. Gay and Lesbian affirming therapists will know their own biases. Because of this awareness, the therapist will be able to prevent causing harm in the relationship. Rather than making assumptions about sex and relationships, affirming therapists will ask.
There can also be imbalances in the relationship based on self-acceptance. One person in the relationship may be more accepting of their own sexual orientation, while the other might struggle with shame. Affirming therapy will help the couple discuss these issues with empathy. Rather than such problems wedging into closeness, they can enhance closeness, by encouraging the couple to show support for each other.
Affirming therapists will also avoid heteronormative assumptions about the couple’s sexual relationship. There are many ways that gay and lesbian couples sexually connect. Therapists who practice affirmation will not put the couple into sex-roles. Instead, they will allow the couple to discuss these openly, and help them decide for themselves what healthy sexuality will look like in their relationship. This includes avoiding assigning sexual positions based on gender-stereotypes, which can be shaming for a gay couple.
Shame and vulnerability can be issues for a couple. One member may feel more comfortable with expressions of intimacy, while the other might struggle with this. Therapy can help the couple gain a better understanding of this. Through open discussions, the couple learns to share their personal stories and listen to each other without judgment.
What Therapy Styles Can Work?
Many of the “standards” for couples therapy research their approaches when working with gay and lesbian couples. Gottman therapy, for example, has conducted research on the long-term success of gay and lesbian couples, as opposed to those who have struggled. Similar to the type of research that been observed in straight couples, they have found particular patterns that exist in gay and lesbian couples who have greater success. This has allowed them to apply their approaches to these relationships more effectively.
Imago therapy describes itself as “Gender Neutral” and “Effective for All Couples”. They find that the techniques and strategies that they use can be applied to all couples. The same can be said for Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT). Those who are proponents of EFT claim that their techniques can be used in gay and lesbian relationships with great success.
Regardless of the approach, clients also need to be their own advocates. It’s important for the client to ask the therapist questions about their experience, understanding, and acceptance. Therapists who are comfortable in their knowledge and understanding won’t have any problems with these questions being directed at them. If the therapist doesn’t have an answer, or becomes defensive about such questioning, then the client should consider other options.
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