How Can We Counsel LGBTQ+ Folks Suffering From Mental Health Issues?

Posted by Divya Dureja in Mental Health, Society
October 9, 2017

Mental health is one of the world’s deadliest life-takers as stated in a recent WHO report. In a country which has about 25 lakh queer people (and counting), most mental health professionals do not have the required skill set to deal with mental health issues faced by this section of the population. Thus, the incidence of cases is highest amongst ‘marginalised identities’ in mainstream society.

Stories of coerced shame, suffering and discrimination surround us to this day. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of the stories are those that recount how the caregivers and practitioners who’ve vowed to counsel those in need, are the ones who further stigmatise the clients who identify differently. Sadly, the very institutions built to address the mental wellbeing of all, are bereft of abled practitioners who could provide quality ally training, sensitisation and psychotherapy for LGBTQIA clients.

It is a fact that the larger population, including a high number of mental health professionals, are unaware of queer culture and its nuances. This undermines their ability to make a positive impact. This seems to have happened because of social conditioning, precedents and larger social prejudices, misguided notions perpetuated in popular culture, movies, etc. Some health care professionals and quacks even go as far as to indulge in sexual conversion therapy to ‘correct and convert’ the homosexual orientation of their clients.

An article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry states: “ There have been anecdotal revelations by patients of being given treatment and therapies for getting ‘rid’ of their homosexuality or any alternate sexuality for that matter.” LGBTQIA participants in an international study found the level of knowledge of health care professionals “to be inadequate, a number of homophobic reactions to their lives to be unethical, and the willingness of the healthcare system to adapt to their needs to be minimal.”

It is this gulf between the knowledge of non-heteronormative experiences and providing effective counselling, that needs to be addressed.

Divya Dureja with South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association in New York. Photo By Keshav Mahendru

To do this, the team at Karma Centre for Counselling & Wellbeing has put together a workshop on Queer Sexuality & Wellbeing. It is the culmination of painstaking research and endeavor to create and to translate a larger understanding of queer culture and its application in therapy through resources, developed by us, from, and for, the Indian context to sensitize future mental health practitioners, friends, parents, teachers, and/or caregivers of the needs of LGBTQIA individuals.

We are determined to create a safe space for LGBTQIA identified individuals where mental health and wellness can take the center stage. So, in addition, we’re launching our monthly LGBTQIA Mental Health Empowerment Space on October 10, to mark World Mental Health Awareness Day. Those seeking a preliminary assessment for depression and anxiety can avail the services free of charge on this day. We will also be providing a free session on de-stressing through mindfulness, pet therapy, and a fun poetry/storytelling sharing session!

I envision a future where quality ally training, gender and sexuality sensitisation, and learning skills to conduct effective psychotherapy for LGBTQIA clients becomes the norm in the mental healthcare field.

The workshop will be held on October 15 and 22. For more details, click here