How to find an affirming therapist
In my experience, there are many minority communities who worry about finding an affirming therapist:
- LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, etc.)
- Polyamorous or consensually non-monogamous
- Those that engage in kink or BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism)
- People who are a religion or race other than the dominant religion or race in the area
- Agnostics and atheists
- Those working in a “controversial” field, just to name a few!The idea of finding a mental health professional that you know right away that you can trust can be intimidating.
The last thing you want to do is call around asking people “are you _______ friendly?” but how can you be sure that you won’t open up to someone who does not understand you? Worse yet, what if you bare your soul to someone who thinks that you are weird, deviant, or is outright biased against you and your community?
These fears often make people stop their search before they even find a professional to talk to.
The Difference Between Accepting and Affirming
You might be asking, what is the difference between accepting and affirming? In a nutshell, someone who accepts us is willing to admit we exist. With the LGBTQ+ population they may be fine with knowing gay people are out there and might think they deserve rights but might say something like “I don’t think they deserve special rights.” Someone accepting of kink or poly lifestyles might acknowledge that there are those that engage in these acts but that doesn’t mean they do not find it to be “wrong” or “abnormal.”
Affirming professionals celebrate that all people are different and deserve the same amount of respect that anyone else does. Affirming professionals don’t ask “how do you know you’re gay/trans?” or say “I have no problem with gay people but I don’t ‘agree with their lifestyle’.” Affirming people are allies with communities even if we are not a part of those communities. We know that polyamory is not cheating. We do not believe that it is wrong to engage in kink or BDSM (as long as everyone is a consenting adult!) We respect the beliefs of people who are different religions or agnostic/atheists without bringing our own religious beliefs into sessions.
Not All Professionals Are Knowledgeable About or Willing To Work With Those They Deem “Different”
Every mental health professional, whether they’re a counselor, psychotherapist, social worker, or similar, have a code of ethics that we must abide by. All codes of ethics state that we should not discriminate – we should be able to work with anyone and everyone! Unfortunately, therapists are people with our own biases and prejudices. If we are not aware of those biases and prejudices and are not working to educate ourselves, that can lead to clients being hurt.
Here in Mississippi, many professionals are deeply evangelical and still believe that being gay is a sin. I have worked with more than a few LGBTQ+ people who have been told by a therapist or counselor that they should not “act on their attractions” or impose the professional’s own religious beliefs on a client that does not believe the same thing. This is not only harmful to clients but is unprofessional and unethical. Yet it is sadly not uncommon.
- Don’t be afraid to ask outright: “Do you have experience working with ______?” If they say “no” ask if they have had any training on working with whatever population you are a part of.
- Remember, most professionals will not outright refuse to work with a group they are unfamiliar with but you may be able to sense that they are hesitant to work with you. You also have the right to say you would prefer working with someone who has familiarity with your community. It is not your job to educate your therapist on what it’s like to be a part of your community!
- Not every counselor is a good fit. Just like any other people we might meet, sometimes we just don’t have a good feeling about a counselor and that’s ok. Sometimes you may have to try a couple before you find the right fit! Professionals know and understand that.
- If you are discriminated against, you have the right and you should report that professional to their licensing board, so that they will not be able to hurt other people.
Where to look for affirming counselors and therapists
Most of my clients contact me through Psychology Today. Psychology today gives you multiple ways to make sure that a therapist is either LGBTQ+ affirming or even finding a therapist that identifies as LGBTQ+!
When you go to the Psychology Today therapist search or search from the box on their home page, you start off by putting in your city and state or your zip code.
Once you have a list of professionals in your area, you can narrow your search by using the options on the left-hand side.
The “sexuality” and “gender” links allow you to select a therapist who identifies as a particular sexual orientation or gender, or non-binary.
If you aren’t necessarily looking for someone who is LGBTQ+ themselves, just someone who is affirming or if there is no one in your area that identifies as LGBTQ, the next way you can verify that they are affirming is to click on their profile. Find someone who resonates with you. Click on their profile to learn more about them. On the right hand side about halfway down, the professional can choose to show any sexualities that they are allied with. They can choose one or more, so if this shows up on their profile, they have chosen to say they are allied with that community:
Further down the profile, also on the right-hand side, the professional can also choose communities they are allied with. Here is my Psychology Today profile as an example:
Poly, Kink, BDSM, and other communities
As you can see above, the “communities” section near the bottom of the profile on the right hand side is where professionals can choose to show that they are allied with non-monogamous and poly clients, kink, sex positive (i.e. someone who is educated on sexuality and is less likely to assume that something is “wrong with you” if you are part of one of these communities. They should also be less prone to “slut shaming”) and sex worker allied in addition to many other things.
Because these are option fields that the therapist or counselor can choose to check or leave unchecked, if they are taking the step to check that they are affirming they likely are. It’s one way to let potential clients know from that first viewing of the Psychology Today profile that they are accepting, affirming, and willing to work with that community.
“My experiences with therapy are both positive and negative. I’ve had therapists that truly understand me as a person and therapists that I can’t seem to trust. It’s kind of like dating. As a queer person, therapy is a necessary part of my life. There’s a lot going on in the world around me as it pertains to my identity, but I find that the internal struggles are harder to overcome. Therapy has helped me start to face those struggles.” -Gabrielle Ricci
Other Therapist Directories
Psychology today is not the only directory where you can search for a mental health professional. Therapy Den is another online directory for counselors and therapists. While not as popular in my area, in larger metropolitan areas it is a great resource.
Therapy Den lets you choose from a variety of specialized experience when you search. I couldn’t get them all into the screen cap but they include: sex positive/kink friendly, trans competent, queer competent, open relationship/non-monogamy, in addition to some really awesome things like body positive, racial justice framework, and vegan!
Under “specialties” they also give lots of options for choosing things like sex positive, LGBTQ affirming, etc. You can select from all of their filters to find that one perfect intersection of whatever you’re looking for in a professional. “More filters” lets you search for a therapist that IDs as LGBTQ, as well as choosing gender and/or ethnicity.
Here is an example of what the “specialties” look like in a therapist’s profile. This is near the bottom on the right hand side:
Affordable Therapy Without Insurance
If you are looking for an affordable therapist that offers discounts for those that are uninsured, try OpenPath. Professionals that register with OpenPath agree to charge $30-$60 per session to those who are uninsured. OpenPath is a non-profit and does require a one time payment of $59 for clients looking for discounted therapy. The membership fee is a one time lifetime fee that goes toward the OpenPath operating costs.
OpenPath allows you to search for therapists of a certain race/ethnicity but does not allow you to search for those that are LGBTQ+. However professionals can select LGBTQ under “skills and expertise.” It also allows counselors to list their pronouns, which I like!
Remember, just because a professional does not specifically mention that they are LGBTQ+ friendly, or kink affirming, or experienced with non-monogamy, it does not mean that they are not willing or able to work with you. If you live in an area that does not have many counselors and/or you are looking for a specific type of therapy like EMDR or psychoanalysis, you may have to ask the professional if they are willing and able to work with people in your community.
Don’t be afraid to ask! You will be able to tell from their response whether they’re actually open or if they’re just giving the “politically correct” response. Trust your instincts, if someone does not feel right find a professional who does.
Stacey Aldridge, LCSW
Stacey is an LGBTQ+, polyamory, and BDSM/kink affirming therapist and the owner of Inspired Happiness Therapy and Wellness in Ridgeland, MS. If you are interested in seeing Stacey for therapy, please visit the Appointments page.