There is a Difference Between Being Queer Affirming and Queer Knowledgeable...
Updated: Feb 23, 2022
No client should ever have to say “I had to teach my last therapist repeatedly about my identity”. This is something I hear far too often from LGBTQIA+ clients in relation to their previous therapy experiences.
Believe it or not, this story is not novel. Therapists (even ones with the Pride Flag emblazoned on their intake paperwork) may use your incorrect name or pronouns, invalidate your experience, or seek extensive education from you, the client, on queer culture. The burden should never rest on your shoulders to provide your therapist with continuing education.
Therapists largely believe that the majority of client progress originates from the strength of what is known as the therapeutic alliance. This alliance between client and therapist is anchored in trust, understanding and empathy. Often, our job as therapists is to hold space for clients so they can be “seen”; something they may have never experienced before. Perhaps a parent invalidated your identity, which is a common experience for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. You may have never felt seen by the people who should have seen you the most (such as parents or caregivers). Therapy works to heal this deep loss.
However, how can this loss be healed when the trauma of not being seen is repeated in the therapy office? Instead of feeling seen, you are once again made to explain yourself. Even though the therapist claims to be queer affirming, they seem to lack substantial knowledge on queer culture; they simply do not “get it”. Certainly, no therapeutic alliance can grow on this parched ground.
All clients, such as LGBTQIA+ clients, have a right to competent therapeutic providers who will not only allow the person in front of them to be who they are, but who will also celebrate and affirm that human being. This does not mean your therapist will never call you out or challenge you, as a good therapist will. However, your experience should be validated and a skilled therapist will help you see your life from new perspectives in an affirming way. The ideal dynamic in therapy includes a therapist who truly understands queer culture. Follow your intuition and find a new therapist if needed. And remember, many therapists are queer affirming, but not as many are queer knowledgeable.