NOTE: The content below expresses the views of the individual named as the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.
Reflections on Counseling in LGBT Contexts

Reflections on Counseling in LGBT Contexts

 [NOTE: This item expresses the views of the individual to whom the item is ascribed and does not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.]  

 One of my first cases as a counseling intern in Philadelphia was with a 12-year-old girl who was cutting herself and involved in a lesbian threesome. I worked at the Christian Counseling Educational Foundation, and her mom brought her in along with a baby sister who crawled around the room and knocked over a floor lamp during our first session.

The 12-year-old was watching lesbian porn when her mom wasn't home, and they fought about her grades and behavior when they were together at night. Near the end of the hour, the single mother looked at me while trying to stop her baby from pulling her earring. "Can you help me?"

That was more than 10 years ago, and no laws restricted licensed therapists from discouraging a minor from homosexuality or any part of an LGBT identity. Today that is changing. Last month, a ban on "conversion therapy" for minors was upheld in a California Federal Appeals Court, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a law preventing therapists from counseling LGBT youths to change their orientation.

Proponents of the ban say the law saves lives and prevents LGBT teens from bigotry, harassment and shame, in a type of therapy that can lead to suicidal ideation in those who don't want to change. People arguing against the bans generally express concerns in three categories: the restriction of freedom of speech, parental rights and the practice of religion.

As a counselor, I'd like to express a slightly different concern: that the bans unhelpfully and simplistically isolate sexuality from other struggles and behaviors. If a minor comes to me on his or her own or is brought by parents and their hetero or homosexual identity is expressed in relationships and behaviors that are self-destructive, I try to collaborate with the minor to stop or pause any of the actions or people in his or her life that may be harmful.

Not every minor with same-sex attraction comes with overt self-destructive behaviors or relationships, but unfortunately many do. The question is how to proceed holistically with wisdom, safety, hope and truth. And what does it mean legally if I advise an LGBT minor to stop certain LGBT behaviors that are harming him or her?

When the 12-year-old in Philadelphia began individual sessions with me, she often looked out of the corner of her eye and laughed at me, most of which was well deserved. I was in over my head with her layers of need.

Since my time in Philadelphia, I've repeatedly witnessed how sexuality among minors and adults is fragile, sacred and rarely sits isolated from other aspects of ourselves. When people's sexual experiences are destructively woven into other parts of their lives, much of the direction of therapy is to cut ties with those things.

Some have a clear self-awareness of how their sexuality is connected to self-destructive struggles but many do not, especially children. We are often a mystery to ourselves at every age, and 12- to 18-year-olds are just starting to wrestle with sexual development and self-awareness.

If I could transport the 12-year-old into my office today, I would consider it part of my ethical duty to create a shared goal to help her stop cutting. I would encourage her to stop all sexual activity as a way to bring peace to her stormy season. In the stillness, she is better poised to see what emerges in her heart and why, then reach for what she needs.

While the laws in New Jersey and California were formed with the intention of protecting and providing freedoms to LGBT minors, I believe they open a Pandora's box that could prevent vital therapeutic aid when it's most needed.


[FURTHER NOTE: The item below was originally published in the Dallas {Texas} Morning News on September 6, 2013] 

Reflections on Counseling in LGBT Contexts (by WRF Member Shannon Geiger)

Shannon Geiger of Dallas is a counselor at a Presbyterian church (PCA) and a Community Voices volunteer columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Her email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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