In the 40 years since New York’s Stonewall riots helped launch the queer civil rights movement, there has been slow but steady progress in achieving legal protections in housing, employment, education and public accommodations, among others.
Despite this progress, discrimination against queer people is still a reality of everyday life. Several states are seeking to limit mental health support for transgender children and adolescents. Others have moved to prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Access to LGBTQ-affirming health care is also at risk.
Mental Health Impacts of Discrimination
Research has documented the impact of discrimination on queer people, including increased risk of depression, anxiety, trauma and heart disease. Queer youth are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide.
This is the mental health space in which Dawn Parker works. Parker is a licensed counselor at the Viva Center who focuses on meeting the mental health needs of queer people. Parker says her clients can expect a “true advocate on the path to finding themselves,” as they sort through the layers of experience in their process of acceptance.
Parker, who is queer herself, says that acceptance is a core aspect of her work with clients. “You have to start processing through a framework of acceptance to set healthy emotional boundaries in your relationships, and to retain a strong sense of self in the face of both overt and implicit discrimination.”
Parker says that part of acceptance often involves a “reclamation” of identity that may have been submerged during childhood, when being different was perceived as dangerous or unacceptable.
The Importance of Safety
Establishing safety is a key aspect of effective counseling, and especially important when working with queer clients. “Affirmative therapists do not attempt to change someone’s gender identities, expression, or sexual identities, but rather they nurture and support authenticity and self-acceptance,” explains Alex Iantaffi, PhD, MS, SEP, CST, LMFT, chair-elect for the Trans and Queer Advocacy Network for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Iantaffi explains that most education programs for therapists don’t include queer-specific training. As a result, they may not practice from a queer-inclusive perspective.
Emphasizing Strength and Wisdom
Parker underscores that she sees “an amazing amount of resilience” among clients.
Even those who have faced a lot of adversity and trauma show an incredible amount of strength. “Every client I work with has a unique set of coping strategies that have helped them get to this point in their lives,” she says.
“Part of processing past pain includes identifying and honoring all the mechanisms clients use to navigate environments that at times are invalidating, or at worst hostile, to their core identities,” Parker adds. “Helping clients identify and embrace their strengths is a vital aspect of the healing process.”
To learn more about further working with Dawn, please contact our Client Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule your Intentional Matching Interview today. In addition, you can find a myriad of free resources for support via the Resilient Brain Project.
Regina Tosca, LICSW is a therapist at the Viva Center in Washington, DC. She works with people experiencing grief and loss, including from their work in animal welfare. Other blogs by Regina include “No Holiday Hugs: How can you cope with lack of touch?” and “Cognitive Tips for Chronic Pain Management“