I recently attended a workshop sponsored by the Human Empathy Project, in which the specific topic was on the therapeutic complexities regarding faith issues and the LGBTQ community. Within this multidimensional discussion several different perspectives were considered.
Much of the focus of that discussion was about how a Christian therapist with traditional values and teachings comes to terms with working with an LGBTQ client. A significant challenge for many therapists of faith is to recognize the spiritual or theological value in affirming persons of alternative sexual orientations, due to Biblical passages that are perceived by some to condemn such behaviors. Passages from scripture such as, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and “Judge not, as you are not judged,” are offered as suggested guidance toward greater grace in this regard.
It was pointed out that until recently, best practices indicated that therapists who felt uncomfortable or ill-equipped not work with clients who presented outside of the scope of the therapists’ expertise. However, while it may apply to working with specific mental health issues like eating disorders or gambling addiction, there have been several significant changes in the code of ethics across governing boards in this profession. The emerging best practice is to become more culturally proficient, thereby less biased toward any specific culture or sub-group be it about gender identity, race, disability or religious values and so on, in order to provide fair and just mental health services to everyone.
The complicated history of the relationship between the disciplines of psychology and religion on the issue of homosexuality in particular has led to pathologizing and demonizing of this portion of humanity over decades, if not centuries. This has resulted in harmful practices in our field, such as “conversion therapy,” based on incorrect information. It is imperative to understand that this is not a psychological disorder, but is biologically based, making gender identification not a choice that can or should be reversed, but something to be gracefully accepted and affirmed.
This position of being life affirming to all people, regardless of individual differences, is very much in keeping with Respect-Focused Therapy. From within this framework, therapists are able to move forward the deeper conceptualization of respect as a function of keen understanding and a healing force. It is a process of due diligence to stay open and curious to new possibilities and greater understanding of the larger human experience.
Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.