Queer-Affirming Therapy: Finding a Safe Space

Queer-Affirming Therapy:

Finding a Safe Space

“It is absolutely imperative that every human being’s

freedom and human rights are respected,

all over the world.”

– Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

by Gavin Hannegan, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo undergraduate intern, supervised by Dr. Hannah Roberts

Therapy can be an incredibly rewarding experience, so it is important to find a therapist that you would feel comfortable with. For LGBTQ+ folk, it is even more important to find queer-affirming therapy. The therapist-client relationship can offer a safe space for you to be able to freely express yourself without judgment. The process of finding queer-affirming therapy can feel overwhelming. Some therapists explicitly state that they welcome people of all backgrounds, but other times, the cues can be a bit harder to read. 

Here, I will be offering a few signs to look out for to help you determine if you would feel affirmed by your therapist. As you read, keep in mind that the process of building that trust with your therapist may take time. You might also respond differently to different therapists. There is no rush to feel comfortable right away! 

Your Therapist Is Open to Learn

A common misconception is that an LGBTQ-affirming therapist has to also identify as LGBTQ, but there are plenty of straight or cisgendered therapists who can empathize with your experiences. One theme that emerged in interviews with SLO County residents who attended therapy is that positive experiences with therapists occurred when the therapist were willing to learn more about LGBTQ identities, regardless of if the therapist identified as LGBTQ or not (Bettergarcia et al., 2021). A therapist might ask you some questions about your identity to better understand your perspective. It is also okay for you to educate your therapist when the opportunity arises. Here are some examples:

  • “I actually go by this name, and I use these pronouns.”
  • “No, I haven’t really felt that way. I feel more like this…”
  • “That term is a little outdated, it’s more appropriate to say this…”

You are well within your right to correct your therapist and explain how that made you feel. However, it is not your job to teach your therapist everything about how to effectively work with the LGBTQ+ population; the therapist may need to do some homework and develop their knowledge outside of the session.

Your Therapist Actively Validates Your Identities

An active effort on the part of the therapist is key. In their research, Anzani et al. (2019)

distinguish between passive forms of affirmation towards trans people (i.e., not using microaggressions) and active forms of affirmation (i.e., encouraging gender exploration). While both forms can be helpful, Anzani et al. (2019) recommend that therapists strive to be actively affirming in order to help their clients navigate the cisnormativity that exists within society. Active validation looks like:

  • Your therapist connecting you to local groups and resources
  • Your therapist using the correct name and pronouns before, during, and after transitioning
  • Your therapist treating your identities as normal and authentic

In other words, an affirming therapist should do more than the bare minimum. When meeting with your therapist, you can ask them directly how they will actively validate your LGBTQ+ identities. If this feels too forward, you can also take note of how your therapist responds to LGBTQ+ issues. Do they simply acknowledge homophobia or transphobia or do they work with you to develop tactics to combat these prejudices? 

Your Therapist Treats You As An Individual, Rather Than a Representative of Your Identity

The ways in which you experience your identities might not be the same ways that other queer folk experience their identities. If a therapist generalizes these experiences as representative of the broad LGBTQ+ community (i.e., “All gay people experience…”), then they might be missing some important details. For starters, the label of LGBTQ+ encompasses many different identities. In one survey, mental health clinicians reported that even though they might be affirming of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients equally, they actually perceive themselves to be more competent when treating lesbian and gay clients compared to bisexual clients (Ebersole et al., 2018). Each of these distinct identities can bring unique experiences–on top of the unique experiences that each individual already has! Again, you are more than welcome to correct your therapist if they make a generalization, but don’t feel responsible for teaching your therapist about the diversity of LGBTQ+ identities. You might also encourage your therapist to adopt a multicultural approach and to consider the interplay of multiple identities. Keefe et al. (2023) found that racial and ethnic minorities who also identified as LGBQ responded best to mental health programs that emphasized the minority stress model, compared to those that did not implement this model. In other words, racial and ethnic minorities may be subject to discrimination based on race and discrimination based on LGBTQ+ status, so your therapist should account for each of these influences. 

One last note: your reasons for attending therapy might not even be related to your gender or sexual identity. While affirming therapists should not outright ignore your identities, it may not be necessary for your therapist to always attribute certain topics to your gender identity or sexual orientation. These identities are just a few aspects of who you are. Remember that this is your journey, and you deserve to feel respected and affirmed in the ways that feel most comfortable to you. 

Feel like you want your therapist to have more information? Here’s a blog post that features the same tips, but directed specifically towards those in the helping profession.

Have more questions or feel like you need queer-affirming therapy? Schedule a session with one of our therapists today! You can schedule online here!

We hope you enjoyed this blog post! Have more topics you’d like us to blog about? Contact us and we’ll be sure to include your topic in a future post!


Anzani, A., Morris, E. R., & Galupo, P. (2019). From absence of microaggressions to seeing authentic gender: Transgender clients’ experiences with microaffirmations in therapy. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 13(4), 258-275. https://doi.org/10.1080/15538605.2019.1662359

Bettergarcia, J., Wedell, E., Shrewsbury, A. M., & Thomson, B. R. (2021). “There’s a stopgap in the conversation”: LGBTQ+ mental health care and community connection in a semi-rural county. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 26(1), 48-75. https://doi.org/10.1080/19359705.2021.1900973

Ebersole, R. C., Dillon, F. R., & Eklund, A. C. (2018). Mental health clinicians’ perceived competence for affirmative practice with bisexual clients in comparison to lesbian and gay clients. Journal of Bisexuality, 18(2), 127-144. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299716.2018.1428711

Keefe, J. R., Rodriguez-Seijas, C., Jackson, S. D., Bränström R., Harkness, A., Safren, S. A., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Pachankis, J. E. (2023). Moderators of LGBQ-affirmative cognitive behavioral therapy: ESTEEM is especially effective among Black and Latino sexual minority men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 91(3), 150-164. https://doi.org/10.1037/ccp0000799

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