Sexual orientation – in India, at least – is still a matter that is considered very private; and any orientation other than heterosexual is most likely considered a matter of shame. Therefore, most members of gay and lesbian community keep the matter extremely private or a secret – especially from their family. Due to the social and family pressure to get married, those who are lesbian or gay agree to an arranged marriage, and then there is much embarrassment and shame when the matter is made public by the unsuspecting spouse. In the urban city community, things are changing slowly, however, this is not at all representative of the dominant cultural ethos.
At a governmental level, some change is being initiated to make policies more accepting of different sexual orientations. But we are still a long way off before any acceptance of a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality can be discussed at a family or extended family level.
A family that suspects that their child is gay or lesbian would do its best to hide the fact or ignore the fact, and just live in shame. According to Pachankis and Goldfried (2013) such clients – and in this context, their family – may also experience anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, suicide and the devaluation of LBG activities. Given this situation, one can imagine how much pressure and shame (internalized homophobia) a person who is of a different orientation feels (Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013). Therefore, a contemporary counselor in India, working with a gay or lesbian person, would need to work with the individual and the family to educate all members of the immediate family. A family goes to a counselor with the expectation to ‘cure’ the individual of ‘the problem’, but the counselor’s challenge is to change the family’s perception of the issue.
A contemporary therapist must, therefore, must make efforts to use an LGB-affirmative approach, while recognizing that individual clients will also present unique issues in the therapeutic context that may not be linked to their sexual orientation. Some core tenets of LGB-affirmative therapy include: establish a support system with other LGB individuals; help clients become aware of how oppression has affected them; de-sensitize shame and guilt surrounding homosexual thoughts, behaviors and feelings; and, allow client’s expression of anger in response to being oppressed. In addition to supporting the LGB client to challenge societal issues that the client feels compelled to challenge, the therapist must teach coping skills for those that cannot be challenged at the particular point in time. Key issues that a therapist needs to understand in his/her work with a LGB client include: identity development, intimate relationships, family issues, and legal and workplace issues ( Johson, 2012; Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013).
All this is easier said than done. I suspect that many counselors and therapists are likely to harbor homophobic beliefs, or at least prejudices. Furthermore, they would be inadequately trained to work with this community and would likely cause distress (or harm) to LGB clients because of this (Pachankis & Goldfried, 2013). The situation is further complicated because a lot of counselors come from Christian denomiations, or have been trained in Chrisitan counseling programs. Therefore, their religious beliefs towards the LGB community would add another layer of distress to the client; as a counselor, this is something I can identify with.
However, my own journey as a counselor, and the work for my PsyD program on the LGB community has opened my prespectives of this issue. I am now actively committed to work with any member of the LGB community. Even though I am a heterosexual, I am sensitive to some of the issues that this community struggles with, and am committed to supporting the individual LGB client and their family.
Feel free to connect in confidence on firstname.lastname@example.org. More details on counseling, my background, and fees are available on this site.
Johnson, S. D. (2012). Gay affirmative psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals: Implications for contemporary psychotherapy research. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(4), 516-522. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01180.x
Pachankis, J. E., & Goldfried, M. R. (2013). Clinical issues in working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(S), 45-58. doi:10.1037/2329-0382.1.S.45