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Affirmative Therapy: A way forward towards mental wellbeing

Post by on Sunday, July 18, 2021

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Like any normal human being who has faced extreme levels of stress due to the pandemic, the queer community too has faced a large amount of anxiety and acute stress related to their health or their loved ones’. Since the LGBTQ+ youth are already at increased risk for anxiety disorders (Russell & Rish, 2016), it becomes all the more necessary to provide them with appropriate preventive measures for their mental well-being. They also feel uncertainty about the future in terms of their independence. More importantly, social isolation may raise troubles for LGBTQ+ youth because they might be habituating with family members who don’t accept them, which would eventually lead to a lot of fights at home. The stigma that is still associated with the community also blocked their access to online support groups during the coronavirus outbreak, this further leads to loss of relationships. Thus, affirmative therapy becomes the need of the hour. 
Affirmative Therapy is an orientation to therapy that encapsulates a positive view of the LGBTQ plus identities and relationships. The therapy also deals with the negative impacts that homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism have on the lives of the queer community.
SheThePeople.Tv (Asia’s largest women’s channel) got through two mental health practitioners, Srishti Banerjee of Identity Therapy and Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan of The Talking Compass, who are specialists of queer affirmative therapy as well. 
According to Scherezade Siobhan, the primary cause of queer affirmative therapy rests in affirmative psychotherapy. She further explains the term ‘affirmative psychotherapy’ as, “a practice that takes under consideration the needs and desires of the individuals and carries an intersectional approach”. Psychiatry on the other hand dwells on practices that have been devised by straight, white men, which just recognize an ailment and prescribe a cure. Additionally, Siobhan says that the term affirmative is used because such a practice supports and affirms the experiences of people. People who are queer are disparaged socially and medically.
Affirmative therapy is a safe space for these people to discuss their challenges, their problems, to work through these problems and accept one’s real identity. A place that ensures that they won’t be judged. In the article published by SheThePeople.Tv, Srishti Banerjee highlights how affirmative queer therapy is very important, especially in India owing to all the stigma that is attached to LGBTQ+. In India, the queer community has not been able to come out of their shell and be who they really are. Counsellors provide them with a secure place to ensure their mental well-being. Affirmation is integral to queer affirmative therapy, the primary role of the therapist is to support or uphold the experiences of their clients without judging them or without advising them any treatment methods for it, the therapist can’t either direct them towards any direction. The affirmation process takes into account the psychosocial reality of a client as well. It is also important that the therapists provide culturally appropriate LGBTQ+ affirmative psychotherapy. 
The LGBTQ+ community suffers from adverse mental health problems such as depression, substance use, and suicidal tendencies, all of these at higher rates as compared to the general population. This usually stems from a lack of supportive family members or friends. Furthermore, they feel burdened by feelings of invalidation, they feel they are in the wrong for being who they are. Previous studies have depicted that suicidal behaviour in LGB youth is as high as 31% and 41% among transgender and gender diverse youth compared to 4.1% among people who identify as cisgender and heterosexual. (James et al., 2017; Russell & Fish, 2016). The primary reason for such high rates of suicidal behaviour among the community has been attributed to caregiver rejection on the basis of one’s sexual orientation. Similar results have also been found for individuals who encountered family rejection when they revealed their real identity. This reinforces the need for affirmative therapy that would help the community to open up and talk about their feelings freely. 
There are studies that have been conducted to assess the relationship between bullying and negative mental health outcomes. The LGB youth have reported higher rates of bullying, teasing, and school avoidance than those who identify as non-LGB youth. (Kann et al., 2016). In a sample of approximately 10,000 LGBTQ+ students, 85.2% of them documented experiences of verbal harassment from their peers and 15.5% experienced physical violence at school owing to their sexual orientation (Kosciw et al., 2016). These researches speak volumes over the fact of the need for affirmative therapy.
Affirmative psychotherapy is important because it addresses these psychological traumas and the social, medical marginalisation that the LGBTQ+ community faces and helps in the healing of these traumas. There are therapists who are trained to conduct these sessions. An affirmative therapist should be:
1.      Self-reflective- the therapist should mirror his/her own background, attitudes, and beliefs and must acknowledge and recognise the bias stemming from living in a heteronormative and gender-binaristic society.
2.      More involved- therapists should be more involved in issues that are pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community, live an affirmative life and strive for social justice and change. 
3.      Create an affirmative setting- therapists should create a setting that would bestow reading material that is LGBTQ+ friendly, literature and resources; they should also include affirming language on all paperwork; use client’s preferred pronouns instead of resorting to heteronormative assumptions. 
4.      The therapist should be confident and open about their commitment to providing affirmative therapy with all clients, regardless of their own sexual orientation or gender identity. 
5.      The therapist should act as an advocate by challenging heterosexism and the gender binary, with heterosexual and/or cisgender clients. 
Above all these qualities, foremostly an affirmative therapist should be empathetic, a good and active listener, non-judgmental, and should convey unconditional positive regard towards their client. Affirmative therapy cannot be performed by anyone or everyone simply because of the gender stereotypical bias that people generally have in their minds which could in all probabilities hamper the therapeutic process. LGBTQ+ clients come for sessions with severe self-doubt about their gender or sexual orientation. For LGBTQIA+ individuals the pressure and embarrassment is doubled in a normal world. Therapists who have an open mind and are liberal with an LGBT person is different from therapists who are capable enough to handle a specific kind of trauma that the individual(s) has faced. 
In India, although homosexuality has been decriminalised, the queer community still struggle to claim rights and occupy spaces that have been remained inaccessible to them such as medical care both mental and physical health. Affirmative therapy is an approach that is pivotal in the mental wellbeing of queer people. Even though there are issues around accessibility to mental health practitioners that still persist, queer affirmative therapy is a step in the right direction. A great amount of hope lies in the awareness of this therapy. 

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