Thursday, September 6, 2012

Get Thee to a Shrink



It is not uncommon for a parent of a recently out child, to want to take him/her to a mental health professional. Every parent wants his child to be happy, and you may be assuming because he/she is gay, that they have deep-rooted problems. While this may seem altruistic and responsible on your part, to your child, it may appear that he/she has a problem that needs “fixing.” 

While I have interviewed gay adults who found relief in talking to professionals, some were skeptical of their parents’ intentions. One gay man from Birmingham, Alabama was annoyed that his mother had arranged an appointment with her friend, a clinical social worker, in Washington, D.C. Luckily, the meeting went well, and the man was able to unburden his soul. The social worker allayed the parents’ fears that their gay son was unhappy. However, the office visit could have been disastrous.

Follow These Suggestions for a Better Experience with a Therapist:

To ensure a productive meeting for your child, you need to first explain to your child why you think it’s a good idea for him to go to a “talking doctor” so he doesn’t misconstrue your motives. Studies have shown that kids who reveal their sexual orientation to their parents want to hear immediately that they are loved unconditionally. Timing is everything. So, it’s not a good idea to bring up a visit to the “shrink” right away. 

How Do I find a GLB-Friendly Therapist?

The American Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists (http://www. AGLP.org.)                                                      has a referral services for GLBT patients looking for therapists.

Is it essential for a GLBT child to be in treatment with a GLBT therapist?

Not necessarily, but your child or daughter may be more comfortable and less guarded talking to a professional with the same orientation who knows what it’s like to be GLBT. Jonathan Tobkes, M.D., a Manhattan psychiatrist with a private practice, offers this advice: “It’s less important that the therapist be gay than if he has worked with gay teens and families. Look for a therapist who has specific training in child and adolescent health.”

Should I be in family therapy with my son’s or daughter’s psychiatrist? It may be better at first to have your own therapist if you are trying to work through your own feelings such as shame, loss, guilt, typical issues that straight parents face. You don’t want your child to know that you are suffering because of his revelation. 

However, Dr. Tobkes recommends, “that if there is significant conflict within the family unit itself, you begin family therapy with a neutral therapist who doesn’t work with any other family member and has no primary allegiance.”

Let Your Child Take the Lead

Remember that this is the therapist for your child and as such, you will not get much feedback from the professional due to patient confidentiality. Do your homework and speak to a therapist about his experience working with GLBT youth, “ but let your child have a say in selecting a therapist,” cautions Dr. Tobkes. “Chemistry is important.”

What to Watch Out For!

Any psychiatrist or psychologist who tells you or your child that homosexuality is a mental disorder.  The American Psychiatric Association declassified (removed) homosexuality as a mental disorder in its DSA (Diagnostic) Manual in 1973.

Any mental health professional who tells you he/she can convert your child from gay to straight. This is known as conversion or reparative therapy and although it is condemned by both the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, it is still practiced. Studies haves shown that this type of therapy only sublimates the desire for the same sex, resulting in depression, shame for the GLBT participant. It doesn’t convert and is so ineffectual that the California State Assembly recently approved a groundbreaking ban on so-called ex-gay or reparative therapy aimed at minors. See my blog:( http: www.straightparentgaykid.blogspot.com/"Response to Jane Clementi's Article in New York Times, 8/25/12/ 8/29/12.)