Therapy can aide in an individual’s authentic journey
July 16, 2012 | 11:00 am
(Updated: July 16, 2012 | 2:58 pm)
By Jeremy Savage, MA, NCC
We hear it all the time: No two snowflakes are identical, everyone has unique fingerprints and no two people are exactly the same.
In the LGBT community, most of us become aware sometime in our adolescence – or earlier – that we are different in other ways besides the notable and simple differences like our preferences in music or TV. Indeed, we discover another strand in the fabric of our lives that sets us apart from roughly 90 percent of the population. For those of us who discover that our sexual preferences don’t match the majority of the population, we are presented with a special challenge – sometimes leaving us wondering where, and how, to fit in.
As we begin to identify attraction to the same gender or question our gender identity, most of us will react in one of the following ways: First, we may choose to deny that the attraction exists. Second, we may try to change our orientation. At this point, many different choices emerge. Some may choose to repress and hide their orientation, some choose to accept their feelings and repress acting upon them, while others choose to stop resisting their sexual orientation and live a life in which their sexuality is authentically expressed.
Most of us find ourselves somewhere on this journey, choosing to reveal ourselves to some friends and co-workers while choosing not to reveal it to others. Only the individual can choose what is right for her or him, according to the way their life individually occurs. Indeed, “coming out” is not a one-time event. It’s usually a continual process as we learn to hide what feels unsafe from certain individuals or situations. Slowly, our self-expression is eroded. Some of us may find ourselves in a life where it’s not safe to reveal our tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes in our social or professional circles. When self-expression gets stopped or hindered, depression and anxiety typically follow. We experience a traffic-jam of inauthenticity.
This pause of authenticity has impacts that are often only discovered in times of crisis or emergency. In fact, a lack of authenticity often results in negative experiences in all areas of life. This imposed phoniness can impact relationships with parents, partners, family and friends, job satisfaction, career choice and emotional well-being. It’s as if we’ve placed a cork in a bottle of champagne and given it a good shake, creating what feels like intense pressure to conform to society’s demands. Indeed, the ultimate result of inauthenticity is a loss of freedom and self-expression that subsequently leads to depression and anxiety.
When members of the LGBT community feel a need to talk to a professional about depression, anxiety, or relationship problems, they are faced with another difficult choice: Whom can I trust to help me sort this out? How will I know a counselor is gay-friendly and won’t judge me for revealing my true self? What if I have spiritual beliefs that I feel are in conflict with my orientation? What if my counselor practices from a religious perspective that won’t allow him to understand what I am dealing with?
These are important questions that LGBT clients must ask to find a good counselor. In fact, a client’s perception that a counselor is able to suspend judgment and hold the client with unconditional positive regard is one of the most important predictors of success in counseling – above educational background, training, or the theory being used.
Getting connected with a professional counselor can provide members of the LGBT community with relief from depression, stress and anxiety. As clients learn how create a world in which they are self-expressed, authentic and genuine, peace of mind often results. Indeed, finding a counselor in which one feels permission to express him or herself is just the beginning to a life where one can be authentic and free in the rest of our lives – which provides an empowering, almost tangible, freedom – and we can all use a little bit more of that.
Jeremy Savage, MA is a National Certified Counselor working in private practice in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in working with the LGBT community with issues such as depression, anxiety, loss and grief and can be reached at (720) 458-3150 or email to Jeremy@getcomplete.org.