Group of young LGBTQIA+ people feeling confident in their identities as the Pride flag flies behind them
LGBTQIA+

How to Find a LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapist

Casey Clark
Casey Clark

Casey Clark is a writer from NYC who covers beauty, mental health, and commerce. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, TODAY, HuffPost, Allure, and more. As someone who struggles with depression, she finds comfort in creating easily digestible content on complex mental health topics to reduce stigma and raise awareness.

10

min read

Finding a therapist can be difficult in general, but there’s an added layer of complexity when trying to find a practitioner that’s LGBTQIA+ affirming. As a queer person, it has always been important to me to find a therapist that not only understands the LGBTQIA+ community, but also supports us. 

I started going to therapy in high school when I was starting to come to terms with my identity, so having a supportive individual to talk with about my innermost thoughts and feelings was pivotal. Luckily, I had a therapist and psychiatrist who were both extremely supportive and well-versed in working with LGBTQIA+ clients. 

To this day, I still think about how they both fostered an environment where I felt safe and comfortable to explore my repressed thoughts pertinent to my sexuality and gave me the room to grow into the person I am today. 

That said, I know that isn’t always the case, which is why it’s important to find a LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist who can help you on your journey. Whether you’re dealing with identity issues or depression, having a strong therapeutic relationship is the key to successful treatment. 

Read on to learn more about how to find a LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist and why it’s important. 

Why is it important to find an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist?

Whether you’re looking for a therapist or psychiatric provider, it’s important to find a practitioner that understands you as a whole—and yes, your gender identity and sexual orientation are part of that. Aside from being knowledgeable about mental health concerns, you’ll want them to be well equipped to deal with conversations regarding sexuality, gender identity, romance, etc. This is particularly important for people looking to explore their sexuality in therapy. 

“LGBTQ+ affirming providers are more likely to have a better understanding of the community's unique struggles emotionally and within society,” says Dr. Rajkaran "Raj" Sachdej, MD, psychiatrist at UpLift. “Therefore, they should be more equipped to work with their client and able to curate treatment specific to their client's experience and familiarity.”

Additionally, having a provider who can understand the intricacies of sexual orientation and gender identity may allow struggling clients to have a soundboard to help with their therapeutic process in an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance, according to Dr. Sachdej.

Being queer doesn’t make one inherently more prone to mental health struggles, however: It’s the mistreatment from society and the negative stigma which can have a profound effect. 

According to The Center, identity matters to the queer community because being mislabeled—whether that’s with improper pronouns, using the wrong name, or slurs—can have a negative impact on mental health by taking away their sense of self and can increase feelings of loneliness.

Depending on where you live and who you’re around, you might feel isolated because of your sexual orientation and gender identity. Stigma, hatred, and even violence can make it harder for LGBTQIA+ people to find a support system from family and friends. Along with loneliness, this can lead to feelings of shame.

Affirmation in therapy can be life-changing—and life-saving—for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+: For example, studies show that using a trans person’s (and especially a young trans person’s) chosen name reduces symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior.

“It's crucial to find an LGBTQIA+ affirming practitioner because they provide a safe and supportive environment where I can express myself without worry of judgment or misunderstanding,” adds a client of Willow Gallenz, a licensed clinical social worker and practitioner at UpLift. 

How to find an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist

There are a few ways to go about finding a LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist to work with, from directories to social media platforms. 

Check for areas of expertise and demographics 

More often than not, many therapists will explicitly note their comfort in and experience working with LGBTQIA+ people, according to Dr. Sachdej. “Many websites have the ability to filter therapists by demographic, insurance, and areas of expertise,” he adds. (UpLift provider profiles show the communities that providers have experience working with, including faith, ethnicities, ages, and queer communities.)

Aside from being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, we understand that people come from different backgrounds that become part of our identity. Someone who understands that complexity and intersection of identities can be important when looking for a therapist. 

For example, a Black therapist might better understand the nuances of being a Black, queer person than someone of a different race. The same goes for other aspects of life, such as the religious beliefs you’re raised to hold or the political environment where you grew up or where you live now.

Age can also be an important factor to consider. Views towards the LGBTQIA+ community have changed over time. Young queer people may face different challenges around coming out, especially if they don’t have independence yet, than older LGBTQIA+ people who didn’t feel safe to come out until much later in life due to shame, stigma, and internalized homophobia. 

LGBTQIA+ experiences also vary from generation to generation, based on the cultural attitudes of the time as well as the policies and legislation that directly impacted their lives. Looking at whether a clinician practices trauma-informed care, works with specific communities or with certain faiths—alongside providing affirming care—can help you find a provider who specializes in what you want to address. 

Outside of UpLift, many popular psychology platforms such as Psychology Today, have ways to filter clinicians based on their experience working with the LGBTQIA+ popular or perhaps those individuals who identify as part of the community. For psychiatrists in particular, The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists is a great resource to use where you can browse through a database of LGBTQIA+ friendly physicians that can help you get started on your journey. 

Along with in-person providers, consider virtual care

Finding someone who is LGBTQIA+ affirming may mean opening your search to providers who practice in-person and virtually. Some people prefer in-person sessions because they feel they can develop more rapport with a therapist than they could in a video call. 

That said, many LGBTQIA+ people live in places where it isn’t safe to be their authentic selves outside of the home (or even in it). They may live somewhere that’s more remote or far from affirming mental health care. 

Virtual therapy makes that care accessible and flexible if someone can’t find it close to home, doesn't feel safe being seen attending therapy, or can’t risk taking too much time away from people without arousing suspicion. Remote care can create space for you to show up as you are—without fear of judgment or retaliation. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you’re still unsure about whether or not a practice or clinician is LGBTQIA-affirming, then you can always ask questions. Send over an email or make a call to ask about their experience working with queer individuals. This can help you rest assured that you don’t walk into a room where you don’t feel welcome upon your first session. 

Not sure where to start? Try questions like these: 

  • Have you received specialized training or education in working with queer individuals? 
  • How do you integrate affirming practices into your therapy approach? 
  • Can you provide examples of how you have supported LGBTQIA+ clients in the past?

Another tip: Check for pronouns in a provider’s profile. Even if someone is cisgender, some people share their pronouns to signal that they’re part of the queer community (or that they’re allies who understand the significance of gender and sexual identity). 

If you don’t feel confident asking, ask your friends instead. Ask who they see and whether or not their practitioners have availability or if they know of other clinicians that offer mental health services. They’ll be able to tell you first-hand whether or not they feel comfortable talking to them and if you might connect well with the therapist. (A quick note: If a therapist already sees your close friend as a client, they may be unable to also see you. It could be a conflict of interest, and it means that they wouldn’t be able to provide you and your friend with the support that you both deserve.) 

Check social media 

Many therapists who are active on social media make it a point to advertise that they are LGBTQIA+ affirming providers. Whether that’s by rainbows in their bio or specifically stating they have experience working with the queer community, browsing through social media is a quick way to get a read on different practitioners. With that, make sure you check the credentials of each practitioner because not everything you see online is accurate. 

At the end of the day, LGBTQIA+ individuals may face many challenges that can significantly impact their mental health. While it can be helpful if a practitioner has direct experience working with the queer community, it’s not a requirement. 

“Rather, a provider's ability to remain curious and culturally humble about their client's experience or struggles with their identity is paramount,” says Dr. Sachdej. “While cultural competence is important, having a mindset of being open to other life perspectives and experiences, and thereby offering a patient an inclusive and non-judgmental space, is more important.”

Balancing your privacy (and safety) with getting support

If you’re a minor or you’re on someone else’s insurance plan, you might have coverage that can help pay for therapy but you’re worried that word may get back to your caregivers. 

Although this shouldn’t happen, sometimes insurance can include notes about treatment in paperwork which could reveal information you’d want to be kept private pertinent to your mental health. There’s also a risk that the person who holds the insurance plan can see the type of care you’re getting or might get sent bills by accident.   

Your therapist should let you know upfront when they have to break confidentiality during your first session.

If there’s anything you’re worried about caregivers learning about your identity, have that conversation with your therapist. This gives them information about the level of detail to include in your clinical notes. 

For example, they could write “we discussed relationships” or they could write “peer” or “friend” instead of romantic interest. 

If this is a concern for you—and it’s a valid one—you may be interested in looking into support groups, doing therapy without insurance, or engaging in online communities. These are also options that might make sense for you if you don’t have insurance at the moment. 

Finding support outside of therapy

Here are some suggestions for places to seek support:

At UpLift, we’re here to help connect you with a therapist who will accept you with open arms as are and help you become the best version of yourself— no matter what that looks like. 

About the author
Casey Clark

Casey Clark is a writer from NYC who covers beauty, mental health, and commerce. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, TODAY, HuffPost, Allure, and more. As someone who struggles with depression, she finds comfort in creating easily digestible content on complex mental health topics to reduce stigma and raise awareness.

Edited by

Eliana Reyes

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Every UpLift article is created by our team or other qualified contributors, and reviewed for accuracy by clinicians.

Danielle Besuden, LCSW

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