My doctoral psychotherapy practicum on the Valeo Intensive Outpatient Unit at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital focused on the treatment of mentally ill substance abusers within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community. Valeo is one of three GLBT-focused treatment programs in the Chicago area, along with Howard Brown and The Center on Halsted.
These three sites collaborate to provide their externs with weekly didactic sessions on issues specific to individuals within the GLBT community. So, over the past year I gained a very broad base of knowledge about the clinical issues and approaches recognized within this field, while simultaneously working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered clients. This provided an integrative experience that definitely improved my understanding of the interactions between social and psychological factors for minority groups.
Didactic sessions I attended included:
- Boundaries & Self Disclosure
- Internalized Devaluation & the Coming Out Process
- Substance Abuse Assessment Issues
- Assessment Issues with Transgender Clients
- Domestic Violence Assessment Issues
- GLBT Youth
- Midlife Issues for GLBT Clients
- Issues in Older Adult GLBT Populations
- GLBT Sexual Assault: Barriers to Care, Recovery, & Survivorship
- Work with the BDSM/Kink/Leather Communities
- GLBT Issues in Higher Levels of Care
- Spirituality Issues in the GLBT Community
- Termination Issues
- HIV Grief & Loss Issues
- Legal Issues in HIV/AIDS Clinical Work
- Ethnic Minority GLBT Clients: African American
- Ethnic Minority GLBT Clients: Hispanic/Latino
- The Gay/Straight Divide in Therapy
- Children of Same-Sex Parenting
- Working with Female Couples
- Working with Male Couples
While many very specific issues were covered during the course of these training sessions, I found that ultimately it is the similarities between people that are the most useful as a psychotherapist. I do think that it can be valuable to learn about a specific minority population in-depth in order to be able to be more conversant in their culture. However, for me the main takeaway message has been that ultimately the diversity one finds within any group tends to be equal to the diversity between groups.
If a therapist enters the therapy ready to try to understand the individual clients' specific worldview, I think they will tend to be more successful than even a better-informed therapist who has it in mind that a client should fit into a particular type of category. Having worked with clients from a tremendous variety of backgrounds over this past year, I have found that openness and candor are two of the most important prerequisites of successful therapy, regardless of the client's race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or any other demographic factor.