At the start of my therapist search, I knew right away I wanted a queer therapist. But finding one proved much more difficult than I expected. In this blog, I outline why I wanted a queer therapist and how I found one.
My Mental Health History
I’ve never had a queer therapist before. Never even had a therapist at all. At 18, the peak of my “Oh no, I think I might be gay” plotline, I trudged through the isolation on my own, no idea how to access therapy without first coming out to my parents. Though things did get better after coming out, life still proved difficult at times. I managed anxiety symptoms with strict planners, self-micromanagement, and napping at the slightest overwhelm. I found it easy to pour myself into my girlfriend’s mental health management instead, or help my close friends with their own mental health challenges. Some simple, undiagnosed anxiety felt microscopic in comparison to diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Bipolar, ADHD, etc.
Enter the year 2020, a four-month forced isolation period with my parents and younger brother, acknowledging my 25th birthday without my friends, my girlfriend, my sister. I was new to freelancing and picked up an at-home job that paid one flat fee for the project, and my client took every advantage to overwork me and expect communication at any given time. I needed the money, so I worked for her from spring to autumn, knowing the result would end in more deterioration of my flimsy mental health. The isolation of 2020 combined with working 40 hour weeks and half the money to show for it in addition to a gender identity crisis left my mental health in sad, crumpled scraps. I knew I needed help months before I did anything about it.
I thought about looking for therapy for months. From serious consideration in February 2021, I just had my third therapy session this week (mid-May). Searching for a therapist is a chore, and an exhausting one at that.
Why I Wanted a Queer Therapist
Going into this whole therapy thing, I learned early on to be particular about what boxes I wanted my therapist to tick. I work for two therapists on the west coast, writing blog content and creating social media posts. From them, I learned that it’s vital to know what qualities in a therapist would make you comfortable in talking to them. Right away, I knew I couldn’t see a man therapist. I wouldn’t be able to open up to a man and it would undoubtedly hinder any growth and help therapy might have to offer. Next, I had to ask myself, “Could I open up to a straight person?”
I know I’m a lesbian. I’ve known for years now. At 26, I’m not having many issues with sexual/romantic identity. And even though coming to terms with my nonbinary gender identity is knew, it’s not the reason I need therapy. My queerness isn’t why I need therapy at all. But still, could I open up to a straight person?
The reality is that, even though queerness isn’t why I sought therapy, it’s still a huge part of my identity. My queerness causes everyday challenges that most cisgender heterosexual people never deal with or consider. Could I talk about any of those things with a cishet therapist? Probably not.
If I’m sad about the fact that my dad always asks my sister and friends when they are marrying their boyfriends without ever asking me when I’m marrying my girlfriend, I need to know my therapist will understand why I’m frustrated. For people who haven’t been in this situation, they don’t see how hurtful or reductive or disrespectful that can feel. If I’m upset that my friends and roommates struggle to use my new pronouns, I need the guaranteed space to feel validated in my response to it.
If my therapist were cis and straight, they simply wouldn’t empathize with all the micro-stressors of daily life that queer people face. The primary reason I need therapy has nothing to do with being queer, but my daily challenges are inextricable from my identity. I have no energy to waste worrying about whether or not I thought my cisgender and straight therapist thinks I’m overreacting to situations that occur because of my identity when it’s a situation they cannot completely grasp themselves. If my therapist were queer, even without matching my exact sexual/romantic and gender identity and the same pronouns, I know the empathy and understanding of my situations could provide a baseline of security in my therapeutic relationship with them.
After nearly two decades of censoring out the pieces of my life that included my identities to the non-queer ear, I know myself enough to acknowledge the fact that talking to any non queer therapist would block this part of me from accessing therapy. In order to make sure therapy might be a worthwhile avenue to improve my mental health, I knew I had to choose a queer therapist.
The Search for a Queer Therapist
I started my search on therapist search engine, Psychology Today, where the site lets you check a box for LGBTQ identities in a therapist. After not finding any queer therapists in my budget, I moved onto PrideCounseling. The fully online therapy guarantees an LGBTQ therapist and matches you based on a questionnaire. Although I qualified for low-income discounts, the care required a monthly payment commitment with weekly sessions, which my budget still couldn’t commit to. I also wasn’t a fan of not hand-picking my therapist and scheduling a call before going forward with my first paid session of therapy.
In my search, I found a database called the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. On the website, you can view a directory of therapists in the network. This is how I found my therapist. The directory let me view therapists in my state and provided me with links to their websites. I set up a free consultation with the therapist who fit my budget, and the 15-minute chat gave me enough to think I could work with her.
In the call, she talked a little bit about herself and the start of her practice by describing how, while completing her undergrad degree, many of her friends came out and searched for queer therapists themselves, mostly coming up empty. She and her friends experienced this gap, and she sought to fill it. Almost all of her clients are queer, most of them trans and non-binary. After our call, I thought, I can talk to her about the little queer things, and in my first session, I did. And I didn’t even worry about having to explain the why. She just got it. Benefits of having a queer therapist already paid off.
It’s Okay to Want a Queer Therapist
Therapy requires so much energy and patience, and knowing what will work best for you is essential to making it work. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or ridiculous about knowing what you need, and if what you need is a queer therapist, there’s nothing wrong with that! The fact is that queer and trans people face unique challenges that the general population never even consider. (The lack of queer therapists is likely one of them). Maybe you want to eliminate the chance for judgement or invalidation based on identity. Seeking a queer therapist is a completely rational and understandable response to that. So, I wish you the best of luck on your mental health journey!