There are a few easy things you can do today that will make your couples therapy practice more LGBTQ+ friendly. Whether you’re a member of the queer community or not, if you work with or want to work with more LGBTQ+ couples it’s important that you create a space that’s both safe and affirming.
When I was in graduate school, diversity training happened on the side. Over the course of our entire masters program there was only one class focused on diversity. This meant that we had one day for talking about how to work with LGBTQ+ clients. Thankfully many programs have since moved away from this approach. Diversity is not something that should be taught on the side, it’s something that should be woven throughout all the other coursework.
Whether you’re someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community or you’re a straight therapist who happens to have a gay couple client, it’s important to get training and support when working with queer couples.
There aren’t that many LGBTQ+ couples therapists out there. It’s not uncommon for a gay couple to end up in the office of a straight therapist. As therapists, we can’t assume or try to imply that a monogamous, heteronormative relationship is the ideal role model for all couples. As a gay man, growing up there were no role models for what a healthy gay relationship could look like. We lost an entire generation to the HIV/AIDS crisis. It’s my belief that strong relationships build strong communities and I want to do everything in my power to help therapists help more queer couples in an LGBTQ+ affirmative way.
Are things that different when working with a queer couple?
Yes! Sure, many of the same principals and techniques apply. However there are some important differences that shouldn’t be ignored.
Make your couples therapy practice more LGBTQ+ friendly
There are some simple things you can do today that will make your couples therapy practice more LGBTQ+ friendly and affirming.
Update your intake forms
We all know how important it is to get a strong start when working with a new client. Often our intake forms are the first encounter that clients have with us. There are some easy things you can do today to make your intake forms more LGBTQ+ affirming. For starters, make sure to have blank spaces where clients can use their own words for pronouns, relationship structure, and gender identity. Remove titles like Mr. or Mrs. One of the beautiful things about being queer is that we can use titles and structures that more closely align to our own unique identities. Making space for that will make many people feel more comfortable.
Update your website
Give your website a careful overview. Are you using pictures that represent diversity in gender and relationship structure? Does the copy on your landing page use inclusive terms? If you have a blog, do you use examples from relationships that are not heteronormative? All of those things will go a long way to making queer folx feel more welcome.
Lead with pronouns
First off, don’t ask someone what their “preferred” pronouns are. That term is outdated. Ask someone what their pronouns are. And lead by example. I list my pronouns everywhere I can. In my email signature, in my Zoom name, on my website. This is an easy way to make a space that’s more inclusive for people who are trans or non-binary.
Use the term relationship therapy
I know this post is using the term couples therapy, but on my website I mostly try and use the term “relationship therapy.” Again, I’m trying to do everything in my power to be as open and inviting for as many different types of relationships structures. We shouldn’t assume monogamy when working with any relationship. However this is especially true when working with LGBTQ+ partners.
List yourself as an LGBTQ+ affirming practice
If you want to let folks in the queer community know that your practice is a safe and welcoming space, say that clearly. Whether you identify as queer or not, you can always list that you are an LGBTQ+ affirming practice someplace prominent that people will notice. If you have a physical office, you can do this by having a pride flag or magazines in your waiting area that are geared toward the LGBTQ+ community.
The take away
We live in a very heteronormative world. It’s my belief that it is our job as mental health professionals to create spaces that are warm, welcoming and safe. Hopefully the above simple suggestions provide you with easy ways to make your practice more affirming today. If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, please sign up for my therapist newsletter where I will continue to provide resources like this.