From assuming a female patient is married to a man to using incorrectly gendered language in sessions, mental health providers can exacerbate what is often already a fraught experience for the LGBTQ+ community.
Through the new Sexual and Gender Diversity Learning Community program, the University of Maryland Prevention Research Center is trying to address that with a training regimen researchers hope to turn into a national model to help people who disproportionately experience mental health challenges but are often stigmatized in medical environments.
As part of Pride Month, a Launch UMD crowdfunding initiative is aiming to raise $10,000 by the end of June to train 40 therapists.
“This program for a therapist is reorienting your brain from a lifetime of scripting in terms of language, values, perceptions, instincts and expectations related to sexuality and gender,” said Bradley Boekeloo, the center’s director and a professor of behavioral and community health in the School of Public Health. “The program helps mental health services organizations identify and change policies, procedures and environments to be more supportive, and helps therapists be more aware and skilled at addressing the unique needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ clients.”
The program, rooted in previous efforts to develop HIV prevention and sexual risk interventions in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., has already trained 25 therapists in the past year through workshops, technical assistance and regular clinical consultations.
“It’s really evaluating the awareness, the social consciousness of clinicians. It’s also about not making (only a patient’s identity) the central point of focus—they aren’t just a trans person, they aren’t just a gay person,” said Jessica Fish, deputy director for research and evaluation at the center and an assistant professor in family science.
Early participants have praised the program as “invaluable,” a way “to see how to make improvements across our agency for LGBTQ+ affirming and inclusive care,” and offering suggestions that can be put “into practice right off the bat.”
Ultimately, Boekeloo said, this sort of training can help therapists and mental health providers be more sensitive across the board.
“Some of the basic principles actually can benefit any client,” he said.
- Department of Behavioral and Community Health
- Prevention Research Center