Creating accessible counselling services for lesbians and gays

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Josephson, Dean Jaik Rea
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The author explores the barriers faced by gays and lesbians in accessing relevant and non-biased counselling services. The investigation utilizes a qualitative research design that borrows procedures from a grounded theory model for research. The first goal of this study is to review the ways in which helping professionals have historically responded to homosexuality. Current obstacles to participation in counselling are then investigated through interviews with ten lesbians and gays. Respondents identify barriers to service as including concern about interventions aimed at reorientation, the client's comfort level with their own sexual identity and heterosexist bias within the therapeutic approach. Given the sense of alienation individuals describe in relation to conventional helping systems, the author reflects on the variety of alternatives to counselling that lesbians and gays may employ in addressing problems. As most participants report having had some form of contact with counselling practitioners, the researcher examines how clients determine comfort within a therapeutic setting. Assessments about suitability of service inform decisions related to 'coming out' to the helper and proceeding or terminating with participation in counselling. The study concludes with a series of recommendations about the development of a more accessible approach to clinical service. The respondents advise that practitioners commit themselves to a process of reeducation that entails challenging internalized bias and expanding their knowledge base with regard to gay and lesbian issues. It is suggested that accessibility is enhanced through the counsellor's efforts to outline agency confidentiality policies; adopt inclusive language; ensure the presence of physical indicators of a lesbian and gay clientele; and, the promotion of a visible profile within the sexual minority communities. The author argues that counselling professionals have a responsibility to advocate for the rights of those citizens who belong to the gay and lesbian minorities.