Long gone are the days when people felt the need to keep their therapists under the wraps. In the last two decades, the world has made great strides in conducting open discussions and spreading awareness around the benefits of seeking mental health care. However, despite the widespread acceptance of seeking therapy, the misconceptions around the practice still remain quite prevalent. Many people still believe that one needs to wait until a ‘breaking point’ to benefit from seeing a psychologist. The reality is that there is no wrong or right time or good or bad age to see a therapist. People go to therapy for all kinds of reasons, be it treating a specific mental health issue, having trouble adjusting to a certain situation, or as simple as reaching a specific goal in life. Simply put, therapy is a practice that lets you conduct an emotional and mental audit on your life. Therapy provides a safe space to get to know yourself better, unravel past hurts and disappointments, and make sure that they are not negatively impacting the choices that you’re making today. And all of this can be done under the guidance of a well-trained and educated counselling therapist.
Counselling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and the client. A counselling psychologist is a mental health professional who works with clients to help them overcome mental health concerns. It takes a minimum of five years to become a counselling psychologist. Becoming a psychologist requires completing a three-year undergraduate degree in psychology from a reputable institute and then working on a specialization of their choice in a two-year postgraduate program. Counselors usually study for many years to learn how to support people by using specific counselling techniques and often go for advanced certifications to hone their craft better. Professional counselors are trained to help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems that might be causing them emotional turmoil, seek to improve communication and coping skills, strengthen self-esteem, and promote positive behavioral change and optimal mental health.
A counselling therapist has an understanding of and capacity to engage in evidence-based and culturally-informed intervention, assessment, prevention, training, and research practices. They focus on healthy aspects and strengths of their clients, environment, and contextual influences such as cultural, sociopolitical, gender, racial, religious, caste, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic factors that shape people’s experiences and concerns, the role of career and work in people’s lives, and advocate for equity and social justice. Counselling psychologists focus on normative development and mental health issues and challenges faced by their clients across their lifespan, as well as systemic challenges such as prejudice and discrimination experienced in groups, workplaces, organizations, institutions, and communities. They are adept at using strengths-based perspectives and practices to prevent and ameliorate emotional, relational, physical, social, cultural, vocational, educational, and identity-related problems.
Even though the definitions and explanations of therapeutic practices paint an ‘all-inclusive’ and a ‘come as you are' picture, the mental health industry is not shielded from the issues of misrepresentation of marginalized people in the healthcare sector. Be it DSM or modern psychology curriculum across the world, dealing with the issues of marginalized communities such as the LGBTQIA+ community are still not a part of the mainstream curriculum, which in turn churns out counselors and therapists who are not only uneducated about dealing with queer clients but also ignorant of the marginalization that they face in the world. This results in therapists and counselors who use a neutral lens and ‘one shoe fits all’ approach toward all their clients, which can be very damaging for people whose experiences don’t align with the majority such as the LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Despite being gender and sexual minority, LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime. According to research done by Platt L. titled 'Patterns of Mental Health Care Utilization Among Sexual Orientation Minority Groups,' LGBTQ+ individuals have a higher rate of mental health service use than their heterosexual counterparts. The numerous studies and stats regarding the topic showcase a dire need for counselors who are adept and competent in counselling LGBTQ+ clients. Although counselors have a personal responsibility to learn more about the queer community, the lack of representation of queer issues in standard curriculum and training programs serves as the biggest hindrance in offering LGBTQIA+ people the mental-health care that they need and deserve. One such organization that is working towards bridging this gap and promoting queer-affirmative therapy in India is Another Light Counselling in Mumbai.
Another Light Counselling is a mental health organization founded by Aanchal Narang that specializes in trauma, gender, sexuality, addiction, and kink-affirmative therapy. One of the major ways in which they are changing the mental health scene is by training their therapists in queer-affirmative therapy even before they see their first client, and by utilizing a trauma-based approach to therapy. Despite trauma counselling and queer-affirmative counselling being two different terms, they are much more interconnected than one might think. Rates of trauma are alarmingly high and experiences of violent trauma are incredibly common in today’s world. In fact, according to research, at least 70% of humans experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Not only this, trauma is especially prevalent in childhood, where approximately 2 out 3 children and youth ages 17 and younger have reported being exposed to some form of violent victimization at home or in the community, out of which 50% had more than one exposure (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2015). Among queer youth, rates of exposure to potentially traumatic events are even higher (Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014).
LGBTQ+ youth often face adversity related to their sexual orientation and gender identity which includes but is not limited to bullying, harassment, violent victimization, experiences of discrimination, and social isolation. This adversity plays out well into adulthood where LGBTQIA+ individuals have to face systemic discrimination on a daily basis. System discrimination takes many forms. From using pervasive ‘microaggressions’ related to gender identity and expression like using derogatory terms, looks, or comments, to being told not to ‘flaunt’ one’s sexuality. Beyond these daily insults is the very real threat of violence against the queer community. According to Marzullo & Libman, 2009, more than half of LGBTQ individuals are concerned about being the victim of a hate crime. Despite federal legislation, the ever-present threat of violence and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals gives rise to the need of using trauma-informed care when it comes to counselling queer people. Without acknowledging, understanding, or addressing the impact of trauma or tailoring responses to address trauma-related needs, counselors can end up causing more harm than good to their queer clients.
Counselors at Another Light Counselling are trained to use a queer-coded and trauma-informed lens to provide quality mental health care to their clients. Not only are they trained to participate in self-reflection to shed their biases and heteronormative thought patterns, but they are also trained to find out the needs of their queer clients, give LGBTQ people a voice, and after listening and understanding their needs, advocate for their behalf. Counselling therapists at Another Light Counselling not only aim to help their clients achieve their mental health goals but also have an in-depth understanding of how their own privilege, class and caste barriers and socio-political infrastructures can cause mental distress to their clients. They are not only trained to identify and understand these crucial details but also in recognizing how affirming these struggles and placing distress in the socio-political contexts and not just in biology or faulty-thinking patterns can help create a safe space for queer individuals where they can tackle their mental-health struggles and feel understood and supported.