Mental health issues are nothing unheard of when it comes to human beings. Especially in regards with the LGBTQIA+. A paper from the National Centre For Biotechnology archives says that one study in India has found almost seventy one percent of the Indian LGBT employees feel held up in their careers. This paper even said that students who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer, face bullying in educational institutions. Not only this, but many individuals choose to never come out of their closets due to fear of conservative parents and society. Dealing with denial of recognition, is one of the main reasons for mental health issues in LGBT individuals.
This week, we at Fifty Shades Of Gay, had a chat with Amit a cis man, who is an ally of the LGBTQ. Furthermore, he is a certified mental health specialist. He deals with people from the queer community as well. He takes up cases related to psychopathology. Such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders.
Read on to know what he says about the mental issues LGBTQ deal with and how they should reach out for help.
How do you reach out to your clients? And how many do you see per day?
I get clients through reference from existing clients or through other mental health professionals. I do a lot of home calls i.e., visit the client’s residence if it’s within city limits. Large apartment complex, RWA etc invite me to give talks on mental well-being during weekends. After which clients approach me with their issues. I also visit private colleges, universities to create awareness on mental health and cater to the needs of students and teachers. In a given day, I usually have 1 – 5 client meetings.
What are the problems/issues you can help people with getting over? Do you deal with any taboo subjects?
In clinical cases the problems are specific to the diagnosis. But building family trust to create a self-sustaining support system for clients is a lengthy ordeal. I can help people who are going through stress, bereavement, depression, anxiety.
Yes I deal with taboo subjects in sexuality such as paraphilia, BDSM and incest. It’s still very controversial and very few counselors have the understanding and skills for counselling in this matter.
How much do you think our country has progressed since the abolition of Section 377?
British had brought this section to India in the year 1861. However, they left our nation in 1947. But the law was amended on 6th of September, 2018. So our country people have been living with Section 377 for 157 long years. People, society and our culture has forgotten about ancient concept of sexual plurality which was destroyed by the British Victorian idea of binary.
It will take time for society to regain the lost memory. Meanwhile we have to make every effort to get social, cultural and religious acceptance for queer population. Gender stereotypes which have evolved in modern society makes it more challenging. Cultural and attitudinal changes is a very slow process. Persistence remains the key.
What according to you is the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?
Gender identity is how connected or disconnected are you with your assigned gender at birth, your own comfort/discomfort with your body and genitals. How well you map yourself or not with socially defined gender stereotypes.
Sexual orientation depends on the person who stimulates or arouses you sexually, with whom would you like to have physical, emotional intimacy.
Is your wide clientele only full of LGBTQ people?
It’s a very stressful experience for closeted individuals, people who are silently suffer. Some part of my clientele are from queer community. I try to participate in many queer events held in the city by various organizations. I connect with NGOs which support queer community. Recently I have recently started my own organization for counselling and conducting workshops. I also have a linkedin, instagram and facebook page on which I regularly educate and update about mental health, sexuality and gender Through all these mediums I try and reach out and do my little bit.
What are the most common problems/issues that LGBTQ people come to you with?
The most common issue is non-acceptance, which may lead to depression or anxiety. There are also some common problems associated with body image, substance abuse, self acceptance etc.
Out of all the LGBTQ clients you’ve worked with so far, how many had come out of their closets?
The answer is none. I primarily work with closeted individuals who lead double lives. The clientele i have cannot be themselves neither at work nor at home.
The ones who are still closeted, why do they choose to stay that way?
They consciously choose to remain that way for multiple reasons. Many of them are married and have children. They want to confirm with societal norm of binary. Some of them are in denial mode. They are afraid of being judged, fear of losing family and friends, jobs and financial stability. A dire need to be accepted by people around them. There is also a fear of being denied of property and inheritance, some of them feel it would be punitive to their parents and extended family. Few lack the courage and phobia exists with repercussions.
While working with the LGBTQ community people, what according to you is the biggest/most common mistake therapists tend to make?
The most common error is attributing every situation or behaviors to sexual orientation. According to me gender and sexuality is a part of the personality. I believe it has an impact on many decisions we take but that doesn’t stop there. An individual is much more than that, there are so many facets of personality.
As you mentioned, there are/have been many therapists who believe ‘becoming gay’ is a result of childhood sexual trauma. What is your opinion on this?
Any trauma has a significant impact on an individual’s personality and usually its non reversible. It may lead to PTSD, Depression, anxiety, various phobias etc. Now coming to child Sexual abuse it’s no different. It has a huge impact on personality but not to the extent that it changes sexual orientation. Therapists have to understand that sexuality is a most natural occurring part of personality and is not lead by an event like sex abuse. In many situations the individual discovers their orientation through various life experiences.
Let’s take a situation where sex abuse happened and that individual now identifies as queer. My view is that even in the absence of such a trauma, the individual would have eventually discovered their sexuality. The abuse becomes one of the dreadful life experiences which leads to the discovery. I have had situations where some of my clients experienced traumatic sexual abuse as a child. It’s a permanent scar on the personality which needs a lot of time and effort to heal, but they identify themselves as straight.
How important is it do you think that therapists be educated in the LGBTQ terminology and the issues they face, while dealing with a LGBTQ client?
Many therapists are not equipped to deal LGBTQIA+ clients. The impact is felt by the clients. Sessions don’t help them, sometimes even make them feel worse after a session. A regular connect program with therapists who understand the issues of LGBTQ+ clients should be in place. As the terminology itself is evolving rapidly, the effort should be from the therapists side to constantly update. Unfortunately like medical doctors, psychologists don’t have mandatory CME to keep their licences.
How important are professional qualifications and certifications, while choosing a counselor?
While choosing a counselor, it’s a client’s basic right to inquire about the counselor’s qualification and certifications. I think a masters in psychology is mandatory. Added to masters a counselor must have worked with a senior counselor in a professional set up. The therapist must “work shadow” with a senior professional and learn techniques of counselling and reporting. And also should have good number of hours of supervised counselling sessions.
What is the relevance/importance of maintaining files, writing reports and history of clients?
Its very important to take a detailed history while onboarding a client. Maintain records of every session, set emotional roadmaps. Understand and share the progress. Come up with a plan of action, decode behavioral patterns.
Continuity in Counselling is very crucial for success. Without proper documentation/ filing, continuity becomes a challenge for client as well as the Counselor.
What is your opinion on the fact that LGBTQ people should specifically work with LGBTQ therapists, instead of a non-LGBTQ therapist?
Therapy is an independent function. It’s not dependent on sexuality of the therapist or the client. As long as the therapist understands the terminologies of LGBTQ+, has empathy, needed tools & techniques and is professionally qualified, it could be very fruitful experience for a client. There are many LGBTQ+ people who claim to be peer counselors, which is a wonderful support system. But like any other system, it has limitations. As a therapist if I say, I will limit my clients to a subset of population. I might develop a certain competency but it will be limiting as a therapist. Therapists also need a certain diversity in their clientele to build on professional experience.
Please explain the terms ‘psychometry’ and ‘psychometric assessment’. How does psychometric assessment help in Counselling process?
When you go to a medical doctor, through symptoms and behavior they have a good analysis of what could be the issue. But then they ask patients to take a test at a diagnostic center just so that there is scientific evidence to substantiate doctor’s analysis. Similarly goes for psychometric assessments. It helps the counselor to ascertain a diagnosis. Knowledge of various assessments is crucial and helps in understanding the problem better. A good counselor should invest in buying copyrights of various standard assessments. Also learn how to administer them, and add the values derived into the client reports.
What is your opinion on LGBTQ+ platforms such as Fifty Shades Of Gay?
It’s a very knowledgeable digital platform for sharing and updating oneself about mental health, sexuality, reproductive, queer etc. It gives authentic and verified information. FSOG initiatives of connecting queer community is wonderful. All of their digital platforms, Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram has the latest updates. I regularly go through the various posts to unlearn and learn.
Your advice for the community people who are looking out for help and anyone who wants to pursue therapy as a career?
Community people looking out for help should start asking questions to the therapist about professional background. If satisfied, then continue otherwise or you can choose to exit. Once you select a counselor, try to maintain continuity of sessions. Therapy takes time and effort and will yield results over time. Please don’t go therapist shopping or hopping.
For those who want to pursue a career in counselling, an individual’s experiences help to do peer counselling but its a huge limiting factor. Enhance your professional expertise by getting a masters in psychology, NIMHANS and NCWB regularly conduct short term training programs & workshops, attend and update yourselves. Regularly read posts of FSOG to learn new things about LGBTQ+ community.
Fifty Shades Of Gay has a wide spectrum of readership. Since all of us are working from home now, it’s a stressful situation for many. What is the one piece of advice that you can give us and our readers, on how to keep our sanity in check during these crisis situations?
It’s a tough time for everybody. The only way to keep sanity is connecting with people through technology, use facetime, WhatsApp video call and call your near and dear ones. Social distancing should not create emotional distancing. This will end and bring with it some changes, embrace the change.
As per the counselor’s wishes, we have kept his identity anonymous.