Helping Clients Heal From the Negative Effects of Homophobia and Heterosexism

Neisen (1993) discusses the process of recovering from shame associated with heterosexism. Counselors who want to help their clients heal from homophobia and heterosexism may find the following steps helpful.

Breaking the silence parallels the process of coming out. It is important for LGBT individuals to tell their stories and to address the pain of being different in a heterosexist society. The counselor can:

• Encourage a discussion of how the client hid his or her LGBT feelings from others

• Explore the emotional costs of hiding and denying one’s sexuality

• Discuss attempts the client has made to change in an effort to fit in

• Examine negative feelings of self-blame, feeling “bad” or “sick,” and the impact of shaming messages on the client

• Foster the client’s courage to accept and speak up about who he or she is.

Establishing perpetrator responsibility allows clients to understand their struggle in the context of discrimination and prejudice. The counselor can:

• Help clients manage anger in a constructive manner rather than direct it toward themselves

• Help clients understand that anger and a negative self-image are the result of cultural victimization and not a personal defect

• Shift clients’ perspective by drawing parallels to the process of recovery from physical or sexual abuse—recognizing that they have suffered a form of abuse

• Ensure that the treatment environment fosters behavior by staff and clients that is not hostile to LGBT individuals—a difficult task in the case of subtle or covert behaviors.

Reclaiming personal power involves helping clients:

• Improve their self-concept and self-confidence

• Identify internalized negative messages that result from cultural victimization and heterosexism

• Change negative messages to positive, affirming statements about themselves

• Find positive, affirming expressions for spirituality to combat any negative messages about their own morality that clients may have received

• Recognize residual shame and a victim mentality and begin to release it • Integrate public and private identities

• Build a support network of individuals who accept and value them for who they are.