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How Psychotherapists Can Help LGBTQIA+ Clients Cope with COVID-19

Posted: 4-8-20 | The Affirmative Couch

LGBTQIA Communities covid19 Impact

Alison Picard, MA, AMFT

All corners of our society are affected by the current global health crisis caused by COVID-19. Beyond the obvious risks of severe illness and mortality, many of our clients are managing the myriad mental health effects of financial insecurity, social isolation or co-quarantine, and general societal uncertainty.  LGBTQIA+ communities face unique challenges during this pandemic. By understanding what some of these challenges are, clinicians can be better positioned to treat and empower their LGBTQIA+ clients. These challenges fall into several domains: social and emotional, economic, and physical. Additional training to help mental health professionals understand minority stressors can be helpful, especially in these unprecedented times. 

Social and Emotional Health

Some of the social challenges that may disproportionately affect LGBTQIA+ clients are the loss of perceived social connection due to the closure of many community spaces (Green, Price-Feeney, & Dorison, 2020; Burns, 2020), the necessity to shelter in place in an un-affirming or potentially violent space whether due to familial violence or intimate partner violence (Taub, 2020), and for Asian-American and other BIPOC, the increased likelihood of experiencing racist or xenophobic harassment (Loffman, 2020). 

Therapists can support clients through these social and psychological challenges by:

  • Maintaining continuity of treatment via telehealth, thereby ensuring that the therapeutic relationship can remain consistent through a period of uncertainty and change

  • Nurturing an awareness of the challenges unique to LGBTQIA+ communities (by seeking out online training and understanding the reasons behind the statistics)

  • Containing the client’s feelings of despair, frustration, and fear

  • Brainstorming with clients to identify available venues for social connection and/or connecting clients to additional resources*

*Although telehealth and video conferencing offer ways to stay connected to work, friends, and family, clinicians should be aware that transgender and gender nonbinary clients may experience an increase in gender dysphoria as a result of being on screen so frequently. Having the client hide their own view may work for some clients, but for others it may still be intolerable. Phone therapy may be a better option. Talking to your client about the best way to obtain therapeutic support will help.  

Economic

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds over the coming months and year, LGBTQIA+ communities will be among the most vulnerable populations. LGBTQIA+ clients may be cut off from family financial support, may not qualify for financial assistance due to the nature of their work (as in the case of sex workers or undocumented workers), and may not have emergency savings or cushions due to the barriers to high-paying employment as a result of homo-, bi-, and transphobic discrimination (Green, Price-Feeney, & Dorison, 2020; Kuhr, 2020). 

Therapists can support clients through these economic challenges by:

  • Where possible, negotiating financial arrangements with clients as needed, thus ensuring that clients have the option to continue treatment despite temporary financial hardship or uncertainty

  • Containing difficult feelings that arise in the face of financial insecurity (fear, anger, and shame)

  • Strategizing with them to advocate for benefits (if applicable), particularly since some clients may feel too ashamed or unworthy to advocate for their own needs

Physical Health

When it comes to physical health and its effects on mental health, the COVID-19 crisis has already begun to affect the LGBTQIA+ communities in the form of delayed gender-confirming surgeries and delayed appointments required to access hormones or blockers (Loggins, 2020). LGBTQIA+ clients experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek out testing or medical care due to past negative experiences with the medical system (such as misgendering, use of dead name, discrimination, or lack of access to healthcare) (Blum, 2020; Lang, 2020). 

Therapists can help clients manage the physical health challenges clients face by:

  • Working to minimize the psychological toll that delayed procedures can take

  • Containing frustration, anger, and despair as normal reactions, which is important to help clients from decompensating

  • Offering psychoeducation on how to bind safely (Wynne, 2020), while keeping respiratory health in mind

  • Exploring harm reduction options to help clients reduce stress without contributing to physical vulnerability (via smoking or vaping)

Therapists are navigating this unprecedented and stressful time simultaneously with our clients. One of the most effective things we can do is maintain an authentic, caring, and consistent therapeutic relationship when disconnection and fear are abundant.

The Affirmative Couch will be rolling out several courses that address some specific challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic creates for the LGBTQIA+, consensually non-monogamous, and kinky communities over the next few weeks.

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Blum, S. (2020, Mar 7). How Coronavirus Is Affecting the LGBTQ+ Community, From Drag Queens to the HIV+. Them.

Burns, K. (2020, Mar 18). Campuses shutter for coronavirus, leaving some LGBTQ students with nowhere to go. Vox. 

Green, A.E., Price-Feeney, M. & Dorison, S.H. (2020). Implications of COVID-19 for LGBTQ Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. New York, New York: The Trevor Project.

Kuhr, E. (2020, April 5). Coronavirus pandemic a perfect storm for LGBTQ homeless youth. NBC News.

Lang, N. (2020, Mar 26). Coronavirus Is Exposing How the Health Care System Neglects LGBTQ People. Vice.

Loffman, M. (2020, April 7). Asian Americans describe ‘gut punch’ of racist attacks during coronavirus pandemic. PBS News Hour.

Loggins, K. (2020, Mar 19). As Hospitals Prepare for COVID-19, Life-Saving Trans Surgeries Are Delayed. Vice.

Taub, A. (2020, April 6). A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. NYTimes.

Wynne, G. (2020, April 7). How To Safely Chest Bind Amid Coronavirus Concerns. Bustle. 

About The Author

The Affirmative Couch

The Affirmative Couch, LLC supports the mental health of sexual, gender, and relationship expansive communities through education. The Affirmative Couch, LLC is dedicated to a world where everyone has access to affirmative psychotherapists and information about their unique mental health needs.