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What is Sexual Orientation Therapy?

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There can be some conflation between therapy based on supporting sexual orientation such as LGBTQ+ therapy, and conversion therapy practices. Sexual orientation therapy is science based and designed to support the mental health of those across the entire sexual identity spectrum, and those who are exploring gender identity. By contrast, conversion therapy is an archaic and dangerous practice that has no favor among scientists.

Conversion therapy refers to sexual orientation change efforts (often driven by religious beliefs) that shame a person's sexual orientation and attempt to "convert" them straight. Therapy and counseling for gender identity and sexual orientation are completely different than sexual orientation conversion therapies, so let's take a look at both. In this article, we'll explore what to know about sexual orientation therapy.

What's the Difference Between LGBTQIA+ Therapy and Conversion Therapy?

Some of the same language is used to describe these two completely different therapeutic responses, and there is a good reason for this. Many conversion therapy practices may purposely advertise with words and phrases that sound generically "supportive" in an attempt to pull in new clients. Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice that focuses on sexual orientation change efforts that can be damaging to mental health.

Conversion therapy is sometimes known as reparative therapy or sexual reorientation therapy, and while it is banned in some places, it is still practiced in many others. Conversion therapy is not only ineffective (you can't truly change a person's sexual orientation), but it can also be actively harmful. According to the American Psychiatric Association, undergoing conversion therapy can lead to negative outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.

On the other hand, sexual orientation therapy in terms of LGBTQ+ affirming therapy - when practiced by a licensed medical professional - can help explore questions of gender expression, sexual orientation, and mental health. This form of therapy based on sexual orientation is meant to offer support and mental health services to sexual minorities that exist in a society with mental healthcare disparities.

Who is Sexual Orientation Therapy For?

When it comes to sexual orientation therapy in the form of conversion therapy practices, it is for no one. Again, conversion therapy is a scientifically disapproved form of therapy that has been rejected by the majority of qualified mental health professionals as ineffective and damaging. The American Psychiatric Association, The American Medical Association, the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association, and any other association of mental health professionals have unequivocally stated that trying to change the sexual orientation of any individual is not only impossible but harmful.

For those who are looking to further explore their sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual identity, or any mental health challenges that they may be experiencing around the societal stigmatization of their same-sex attraction or gender identity, then appropriate therapeutic responses can be provided by a mental health therapist who has experience in LGBTQ diversity.

The State of LGBTQIA+ Mental Health

Compared to cisgender and heterosexual youth, lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience poorer mental health outcomes. This is because these individuals are often discriminated against and stigmatized for their sexual orientation.

Greater society has historically held negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay and bisexual people, transgender adults and youths, and anyone with fluid gender expression. They are often marginalized, ignored by healthcare institutions, and mistreated by peers and societal institutions. This has led to larger numbers of those with a sexual orientation identity that is not straight or cis to be at greater risk for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and other challenges like low self-esteem.

Why is LGBTQIA+ counseling important?

Because of the psychological harm caused by the societal stigmatization discussed earlier, it can be essential for psychiatric treatment for LGBTQ+ people to be offered in a safe and non-judgmental space. For teens, this can include a professional school counselor, school psychologist, or other community resources.

Same-sex attraction is not a mental disorder, though some religious groups treat it that way. Same-sex attraction does not necessarily signify sexual activity, nor does it even signify homosexual orientation. Human sexuality is a spectrum, and some people want to explore their attractions without identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

It is impossible to change one's sexual orientation, and yet there are still religious organizations that push conversion therapy as a solution for those who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For younger people in a sexual minority, they may have parents who have conflicting religious beliefs that can cause mental health issues for their children. Family therapy with an affirming therapist can help create acceptance of an individual's sexual orientation, or gender identity change efforts.

Sexual Orientation Therapeutic Interventions

Today several community resources can support transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. First, you have national organizations serving transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, such as GLAAD, The Trevor Project, and the National LGBTQ Taskforce.

Then there are state and local prevention projects that provide education to school psychologists, secondary school principals, school administrators, and other staff on challenges experienced due to gender expression and sexual orientation. The CDC worked with school districts in the states of California, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Illinois to provide support for the mental health of those questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

How to Find a Sexual Orientation Therapist

If you are a person who has struggled with societal reaction to your gender identity or gender expression, have mental health challenges due to perceived sexual orientation, or have had traumatic experiences with conversion therapy attempts, then working with mental health professionals who specialize in transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual mental health care can help you to process your trauma and heal.

Sexual Orientation Therapy in Brooklyn

If you or a loved one is exploring gender identity or experiencing mental health challenges due to societal reactions to gender expression or gender identity, therapy can help.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of doctoral-level Brooklyn LGBTQ-affirming psychotherapists offers both online therapy and in-person mental health services in a safe and affirming space that respects gender identity and sexual orientation.

Give us a call today and our patient coordinator will help you find the right mental health professional to offer the tools needed to manage mental health issues, shift self-destructive behavior, improve self-esteem, and develop a sense of self-love and pride.


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