Jul 29, 2019
Are there some special techniques therapists need
to use when working with LGBTQ patients?
Does the therapeutic approach have to be different?
In today’s podcast, Rhonda and David interview Kyle Jones, a brilliant 5th year PhD student at Palo Alto University. Kyle has been a member of David’s training group at Stanford for the past four years, and now sees patients at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. Today’s program is based on Kyle’s doctoral research on the treatment of LGBTQ patients.
To get the interview started, Kyle defines LGBTQ:
L = lesbian
G = gay
B = bisexual
T = transsexual
Q = questioning, or queer.
Then Rhonda asks the obvious question: How does the treatment of LGBTQ individuals differ from the treatment of individuals who are heterosexual? What are the key differences? What special techniques or procedures should therapists use? And what does Kyle’s research reveal about the important factors in the treatment of gay individuals?
Kyle emphasizes that most important factor is the therapist’s attitude toward the patient, as opposed to any special techniques or procedures that are unique to the treatment of the gay population. Sensitivity to and awareness of the unique challenges this population faces in terms of hatred and prejudice are tremendously important. Kyle points out that some therapists place an excessive focus on the patient’s gayness, while some tend to sweep this “uncomfortable” issue under the rug.
Kyle emphasizes that the therapeutic approach is largely the same for gay and straight patients. In TEAM, we first provide strong empathy, so the patient feels understood and accepted. This, of course, is crucial for all patients. Then we set the agenda, asking the patient if she or he wants help, and if so, what is the problem that he or she wants help with?
In other words, there is no special “agenda” that the therapist should impose on the treatment simply because the patient is gay. Kyle mentions that this is not a trivial point, because many therapists will try to set the agenda for the patient, thinking there is some “correct” way one should treat gay people, or some “correct” set of issues that must be addressed. David points out that thinking there is a special approach to gay patients could actually be viewed as a type of bias, thinking that the treatment of members of the LGBTQ community must be somehow “different” or special.
In TEAM, we do NOT treat disorders, diagnoses, or “types” of patients. We treat humans in a highly individualize way, using the fractal approach described in a previous podcast. In other words, we ask the client to describe one specific moment when he or she was upset and wants help. Then the treatment flows from the exploration of that specific moment, because all the patient’s problems will be encapsulated in how she or he was thinking, feeling, and behaving at that moment. The treatment might then focus on depression, anxiety, a relationship problem, or a habit or addiction.
Rhonda, Kyle and David discuss the problem of therapists who have a strong anti-gay bias. David talks about his father's work, trying to convert gay students at the University of Arizona after he retired from his work as a Lutheran Minister in Phoenix, and how much shame and anger David felt about this. David described his positive bias toward LGBTQ individuals, because of the suffering most have had to endure due to hatred and prejudice.
David asks whether gays therapists are obligated to announce their sexual orientation to their patients, and Rhonda and Kyle come up with some pretty cool answers! Rhonda points out that when and how to do self-disclosure is a question all therapists face, and that the goal of self-disclosure in therapy should be on how best to help the patient, not the therapist. Again, this question of the hows, whens and ifs of self-disclosure is a general therapy issue, and not something specific to gay therapists.
Kyle and David reflect on some of the personal work Kyle did during his training program, and how important that work has been to Kyle as he has evolved into a dynamic, compassionate therapist and teacher. They reminisce about the first personal work Kyle did with David on one of the Sunday hikes. Kyle was feeling depressed because he’d just been rejected, unexpectedly, by his boyfriend, and was able to turn the situation around dramatically and quickly using TEAM-CBT. Kyle also describes his own discovery during college that he was gay, and what happened when he shared his sexual orientation with his parents and brother.
The message of this podcast turned out to be pretty simple and basic. The key to the effective treatment of all of our patients is acceptance. The therapist needs to accept the patient, and the patient needs to learn to accept himself or herself. In fact, acceptance seems to be the path to recovery and enlightenment for all of us, whether gay or straight!
David D. Burns, MD, Rhonda Barovsky, PsyD and Kyle Jones (PhD candidate)