She sits in my office, a woman in her 20s, carefully yet casually dressed, clearly anxious. This is our first visit, and I don’t yet know what brings her to me. A counseling session opens with informed consent, so we speak of confidentiality, of any exceptions to that sacred boundary (any situation in which harm to self, to others, and/or to minor children or elderly requires breaking confidentiality). Then we come to the question – What brings you here today?
She tears up, and her words begin to pour out as she struggles with her answer. “I am attracted to women. I have fought this and fought this, and not wanted it, and tried to be different, but it is no use. I have no response to men. I have dated men, and I have known kind, good men. I grew up with kind parents. I had a good home. I am a Christian, and I grew up in a loving church. At least I thought I did. But my church is against homosexuality, and sees it as a sin. I am torn apart inside. I don’t want to be a lesbian. I don’t want to live my life outside society’s acceptance. Can you help me? Can you help me change how I feel inside about being attracted to women?”
My heart sinks as I hear this question, because I know that the answer is not what she will want to hear. Reputable therapists don’t offer what used to be called “conversion therapy” to supposedly help someone redirect their attraction template. This so-called therapy is actually illegal in four states and is considered unethical by the mental health professions.
This client and I have a long road ahead together, if she decides to follow through with counseling. Helping a person come to terms with their own sexual orientation, when it is different from what is considered the norm, is a challenge. Many same-sex oriented individuals have struggled for years before they seek any kind of help and have absorbed the many homophobic messages that surround these issues.
The educational process will involve looking at the biology of attraction, at the internalized messages that complicate self-acceptance, at the kind of relationship the client wants (often a stable, adult, long-term relationship sanctioned by both the state and his/her faith background). It will also involve looking at what it means to live one’s life as a gay/lesbian person in one’s family, community, profession, church. It will involve helping this client differentiate between such Biblical issues as temple prostitution and sexual slavery, clearly opposed by the Old Testament, and the experience of monogamous, same-sex unions, which were not even thought of in that culture and time. It will involve the question of children – whether and how to become a parent. Most of all, it will involve learning self-acceptance and self-compassion.
The United States has experienced a remarkable shift in attitude over the last two decades, culminating in the recent decision by the Supreme Court affirming the right to marriage for same-sex couples. This does not mean, however, that the acceptance for same-sex couples is easy, especially in the context of some faith-based institutions.
My hope for this client is that I will be able to walk with her through her fears, through giving up the dream of a “regular” life, to the point of being able to lovingly accept her own being.
My hope for our country is that we will all be able to walk through our fears, recognize that difference is not dangerous, and reach the point of being able to lovingly accept our fellow citizens in all their infinite variety.
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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