There are many factors that play a significant role when treating gay adolescents. Sadly, many people still believe that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, immoral, or the basis for a mental illness. In fact, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized text and clinical reference used by psychologists and therapists across North America to diagnose their clients. The manual includes the names, features, symptoms, and demographical information on all the recognized mental illnesses, including addictions. For some time, homosexuality was included as a mental illness, until in 1973, when the American Psychological Association (APA) recognized changing social norms, the weight of empirical data, and a developing active gay community in the United States. As a result, the APA changed the diagnosis of homosexuality to ego-dystonic homosexuality. However, that continued to receive criticism from mental health professionals. Finally, in 1986, the diagnosis was removed altogether.
The process just described is a process that most people have to go through when faced with homosexuality among those they love. Eventually, parents, caregivers, siblings, and friends need to explore their own feelings about homosexuality and come to terms with it if they are going to be able to fully accept their child or friend or relative for being gay.
If your teen has disclosed his sexual orientation and he or she is attending therapy, it’s important to be sure that even the therapist is not attempting to control or change your teen. Although that would undermine the safety that therapy can provide, there continue to be mental health professionals practicing Conversion Therapy, also known as Reparative or Reorientation Therapy. These are therapeutic methods aimed at changing a client’s homosexual identity to a heterosexual one.
In fact, ideally, gay adolescent treatment includes supporting a client in accepting him or herself. According to Christopher Heffner, Psy.D, author of Counseling the Gay and Lesbian Client: Treatment Issues and Conversion Therapy, there are six stages a teen might go through in finally accepting themselves and their homosexuality:
- Identity Awareness – This is when a teen begins to realize that he or she has feelings for the opposite sex and that these feelings are different than what he or she has been taught by his or her society and family.
- Identity Comparison – A teen in this stage may explore his or her feelings inwardly and compare them to the beliefs of society, parents, and peers.
- Identity Tolerance – A teen in this stage will rebel against his feelings or attempt to deny them. He or she is feeling the loneliness of being a gay or lesbian individual in a straight world.
- Identity Acceptance – During this stage, a teen realizes that homosexuality is a part of who they are. They begin to embrace it and explore their feelings around it. They begin to find places in the world where they can feel accepted and welcomed.
- Identity Pride – During this stage, a teen might feel anger towards society, parents, or religion for having told them they are wrong for being who they are. With this anger, they embrace their gay lifestyle and their sexual expression.
- Identity Synthesis – Finally, this stage is an integration of homosexuality into the full array of who a teen is. A gay adolescent isn’t only homosexual and being gay isn’t the only thing that defines them. A gay teen might also be a sister, brother, son, daughter, student, aspiring writer, and so on. In this stage, a teen accepts themselves for who they are.
Gay adolescent treatment should include a very safe environment for a teen to feel safe to be who they are. This is essential for supporting the above six stages and facilitating the self-acceptance that will be pivotal for their psychological well-being. Effective gay adolescent treatment needs to include safety, acceptance, and trust.
Christopher Heffner, Psy.D. (September 23, 2002) Counseling the Gay and Lesbian Client: Treatment Issues and Conversion Therapy. Retrieved on June 3, 2014 on http://allpsych.com/journal/counselinggay.html
By Robert Hunt
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