Let’s Be Honest About Lesbian Counseling (See What We Did There!)
Some women will realize that they’re attracted to other women from a very young age. (This “insight” into your romantic preferences doesn’t usually render the coming out process any easier, unfortunately). Other women are born fantasizing about girls but are “normalized” by their culture, religion, or families to view the dating world through a heterosexual lens, either rejecting their sexual identity or never realizing that being gay is an “option” until later life. (I say “option” because if you were ever raised in a small town where spotting another lesbian was like sighting a unicorn… you might understand what I mean). Other women are simply fluid. You can spend your entire life only experiencing attraction to men, when you suddenly meet a girl who gives you butterflies and it redefines how you’ve always defined yourself.
Regardless of your personal coming out moment, women who love women will encounter challenges that are identical to and distinctly different from their LGBTQ+ and heterosexual counterparts. Detailed below are 8 topics that may be more commonly confronted by LGBTQ+ members, with an emphasis on how each issue affects lesbian populations in particular:
Eight Counseling & Therapy Topics that are Unique to Lesbian Populations
- Coming Out: Resolving uncertainty regarding your sexual orientation: Is my attraction to women a phase or does it mean that I’m gay?; acknowledging your sexual orientation and achieving self-acceptance; disclosing your LGBTQ+ status to family, friends, or coworkers (a personal choice); coming out as a lesbian in later life or when you’re already in a heterosexual relationship; broaching the “I’m gay” talk with your kids
- Internalized Homophobia: Countering sensations of self-hatred and valuations of self-stigmatization (when you’ve absorbed distressing messages from religious, cultural, or societal resources that depict LGBTQ+ persons as inferior, sinful, depraved, deserving of violence/contempt, or as simply lesser; overcoming feelings of shame and the burden of continued secrecy; reconciling your sexual orientation with your moral and spiritual beliefs
- Familial Rejection: Revealing your sexual orientation to your family and processing the spectrum of their reactions: from “duh, we already knew that!” to “pack your bags—we’re cutting you off financially!”; integrating your partner into those endlessly awkward family affairs (from silent Thanksgiving dinners to weddings where you both are relegated to that guest table on the fringe of the fringe); coping with parents and relatives who are in denial about your sexual preferences (like that one aunt who keeps trying to set you up with that sweet but clueless boy next door…)
- Stereotypes: Managing labels (the pressure to identify as butch, femme, lesbian, queer, as the “girl” or “boy” in the relationship, as liberal or feminist, etc.); navigating encounters with individuals who attempt to eroticize your relationship or convince you that your identification as lesbian is a choice (as opposed to your reality); handling those knotty and embarrassing conversations (such as, “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I…” am attracted to you; enjoying watching sports; want to explain to you how lesbian sex works; or wear flannel and play guitar. Or maybe I enjoy all of those things—but being a lesbian is still not why!)
- Discrimination & Violence: Handling bullying or lack of advancement in academic or occupational environments; holding your ground against adoption & housing agencies, healthcare providers, and political or law enforcement officials who reject or ignore your requests based upon your LGBTQ+ status; recovering from violence (a premeditated attack or stranger violence) or a sexual assault
- Mental Health Issues: Receiving treatment for mental health issues that affect lesbian populations in elevated proportions (such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.); overcoming suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors, and learning how to love yourself as you are; connecting you to healthcare providers (as needed) who are qualified to treat LGBTQ+ clients with sensitivity and care
- Love & Dating: Learning how to navigate the dating landscape when… you feel as though you’re the only lesbian in a 200 mile radius; your girlfriend of two months is ready for a serious commitment or declares that she’s interested in exploring polyamory; you’re in love with a straight girl; the gay community in your town is so claustrophobic and interconnected that you run into your exes EVERYWHERE; you and your partner have a bad case of “bed death” (your sex life has become virtually non-existent); or you’re experiencing the roller-coaster of “first” emotions: first female love, first same sex sexual encounter, first heartbreak, first cohabitation experience with a romantic partner, etc.
- Starting a Family & Parenting: Negotiating with your partner about the many nuances of starting a family, from identifying the ideal time to determining the how’s & who’s (from placing adoption applications to raging debates about anonymous vs. known sperm donors and selecting the optimal reproductive technology to pursue; appointing the lucky victim who will carry the child; and once they’re born: explaining the structure of your family to your children; what to do if your child is ever teased about having two mommies; and piloting all of those non-LGBTQ+ specific challenges of parenting (from surviving the terrible two’s to maintaining your sanity during those rebellious teenage years to conquering the empty nest syndrome that settles in once they leave for college)
How Can LGBTQ+-Competent Therapy & Counseling Services Help Me?
Working with a counselor who is proficient in handling LGBTQ+ issues with awareness and compassion can strengthen the bond of your therapeutic relationship—even if your reason for pursuing counseling has little relation to your identification as LGBTQ+. Counseling that does focus on lesbian-specific issues, however, may be used to accomplish any of the following:
- Empowering you to accept your sexual identity and emboldening you to come out to family and friends
- Encouraging you to confront negative attitudes regarding your sexuality (for example: shame, anxiety, depression, disgust, or self-hatred)
- Encountering and recuperating from familial or social rejection, prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and violence
- Obtaining quality care for co-occurring mental health issues (substance abuse, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, self-harm, etc.) or locating healthcare providers who are skilled in delivering quality healthcare services to LGBTQ+ clients
- Relationship Counseling: for lesbian couples who desire to enhance the quality of their connection or intimacy level; or who wish to plan their first family
- Family Counseling: to discuss issues that are unique to families that have two mommies