Author: Ali Abbasov, psychologistt-consultant
This article is presented within the framework of the “LGBTI+s Demand: Mental Health and Justice” programme, implemented with the support of the USAID Azerbaijan and the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation (BST), by the Nafas LGBTI Azerbaijan Alliance.
Before touching on the subject of psychological counselling for LGBTQI+ individuals, it may be useful to first consider in general what a psychologist does or does not do. Subsequently, attention will be given to issues that should be considered during psychological counselling with LGBTQI+ individuals, the lack of knowledge of many psychologists about psychological counselling with LGBTQI+ individuals, and the fundamental issues brought by LGBTQI+ individuals.
When considering what a psychologist does or does not do, one of the important aspects that should be realised is that the psychologist is not superior to the individual seeking their services. While the psychologist may have developed themselves in the field of psychology, they do not know the details of the individual’s life better than they do. For this reason, it is necessary for the psychologist to listen to the individual’s story without assuming a hierarchical approach or showing more interest in the story than the individual themselves.
Another issue is that the psychologist should not make decisions for the individual seeking their services. While listening to the individual, the psychologist should not make statements like “I think it would be better for you to reconcile with your family,” “I think you should not discuss this with your friends,” or “I think if you text your friend, the problem will be solved.” This would not only impose the psychologist’s own will on the individual but may also lead to various conflicts.
Another issue I would like to address is that the psychologist should not make predictions about the future. The aforementioned statements can be seen as a type of prediction about the psychologist’s future. For example, by expanding one of the aforementioned statements to “I think it would be better for you to reconcile with your family. If you reconcile with your family, you will feel more comfortable,” a prediction sentence can be created. A psychologist who creates such sentences probably assumes that if the individual reconciles with their family, the problems causing their discomfort will be solved. However, the individual may become upset when they hear this sentence without thinking that it will be beneficial. Another possibility is that the discussion does not result in the “feeling of comfort” predicted by the psychologist.
The other topic that needs to be addressed is the issues that a psychologist should pay attention to when providing psychological consultation to LGBTQIA+ individuals. One of the critical issues that a psychologist should be aware of is the importance of not imposing their own values on the individual seeking help, even if it means going beyond the ethical code. The psychologist should avoid being non-objective towards the age, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other cultural and individual characteristics of the person seeking help. Such behavior goes against ethical codes, including the American Psychological Association’s ethical code, which emphasizes that a psychologist should not impose their values on the other person.
In this context, I can give an example of a psychologist asking questions such as “Have you ever considered changing?” without listening to the LGBTQIA+s’ concerns. Unfortunately, some psychologists still ask these kinds of questions, which violates ethical rules and imposes their values on the other person. A more beneficial approach for a psychologist with this type of attitude is to work on their non-objective methodology.
Another issue is that a psychologist should not solely focus on the gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or gender expression of the person seeking help for their own interest. While listening to the concerns brought up by the person seeking help, the psychologist should be aware that their gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or gender expression may play a role in the issues raised. However, asking questions about this solely for the psychologist’s interest, when it is not helpful for the person seeking help, may harm the therapeutic relationship and prevent the person from expressing their needs.
Another topic I would like to address is the lack of information that psychologists have on providing psychological consultation to LGBTQIA+ individuals. I believe that one of the main reasons for this is the lack of emphasis on this topic in both formal and informal education. Based on my observations, from primary education onwards, the formal and informal information on this subject is scarce, and much of the information available is based on personal opinions rather than scientific resources. As a result, psychologists who cannot access scientific resources may not have sufficient knowledge on this subject.
When writing about misguided and biased thoughts, I would also like to touch on another topic. Although writing these sentences makes me quite sad, I do not want to move on to the next part without touching on this issue. Based on my observations, some psychologists can voice biased thoughts that support phobic thoughts that have taken root in society, even though they are knowledgeable about LGBTQI+ people in the field of psychological counseling, just to gain more acceptance. Even if the psychologist who adopts this approach assumes that what they say is wrong, they may choose to believe in that wrong thing just to gain more acceptance. In this case, the psychologist not only violates ethical rules but also strengthens wrong thoughts by using their status, and may even indirectly support hate speech.
Another point I would like to note is the topics brought to the sessions by the individuals who apply for psychological counseling. Since it is too long to emphasize each of these topics, it will be the subject of a separate study. LGBTQI+s’ main issues are often related to their sense of belonging. Being misunderstood by many people around them may result in the individual feeling like they do not belong to their circle. In this case, the individual may face isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness. In this regard, some approaches such as informing them that it is not right for them to be discriminated against based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, and/or gender expression, supporting them in summarizing their needs, moving protective factors in their social environment, and empowering activities may be helpful. Another point is the family relationships, which are also related to the circle. In this case, in addition to the above-mentioned studies, creating communication with the family if possible, working on communication patterns may be beneficial. Although these topics cover a part of the issues brought to the meetings, I would like to emphasize that the needs of the individuals who apply for counseling or the topics they bring are not limited to these.
Finally, I would like to touch on the necessity of a systematic approach to the topics brought by the individuals who apply for psychological counseling. Specifically, psychological counseling should focus on a specific part of the issues in the individual’s life. However, the topics brought by LGBTQI+ individuals often cannot be seen as separate from each other. Therefore, a holistic approach that considers the individual as a whole may be more beneficial in this regard.
Above, I tried to touch on different aspects related to psychological counseling for LGBTQI+ individuals. This topic is actually much deeper and needs to be enriched with new research. I hope this article sheds some light on the importance of psychological counseling for LGBTQI+ individuals and leads to more detailed future studies on the topic.
Psychologist-consultant Ali Abbasov wrote about the psychological counseling for LGBTQI+ individuals for the Nafas LGBTI.