Typical modalities for substance abuse treatment include individual, group, couples, and family counseling, but LGBT individuals can face other unique problems if they are treated by traditional programs through group, couples, or family modalities.
The group modality may be difficult for LGBT individuals if heterosexism/homophobia is demonstrated by staff and other group members. Groups should be as inclusive as possible and should encourage each member to discuss relevant treatment issues or concerns. If a group combines heterosexuals and LGBT individuals, provide sensitivity training relating to LGBT issues and concerns; ensure that all clients are aware that groups will be mixed. Placing LGBT individuals in therapy groups with homophobic clients may lead to difficult situations and/or hostility toward the LGBT individuals.
Staff need to ensure that LGBT clients are treated in a therapeutic manner and should provide a strong verbal directive that homophobia and hostility will not be tolerated. If it does occur, staff must take strong action on behalf of LGBT clients. LGBT clients should not be required to discuss issues relating to their sexuality or sexual orientation in mixed groups if they are uncomfortable. On the other hand, in a mixed group setting led by adequately trained, culturally competent, and LGBT-supportive staff, LGBT clients may have the powerful experience of gaining acceptance and affirmation from peers. The acceptance and care that can come from members of groups could be healing for LGBT persons.
Often, intensive programs provide groups for special populations (e.g., women, professionals, those with HIV/AIDS, racial/ethnic minorities) to address their multidimensional needs (CSAP [Center for Substance Abuse Prevention], 1994). If a program has enough LGBT clients, it may start an additional or separate group for them. This may provide a safe or more cohesive venue for discussing issues specific to LGBT clients. However, attendance should be voluntary. When LGBT or gender- specific groups are held, therapists should regularly direct attention to safe-sex practices and sexual feelings about and experiences with same-sex individuals.
Family counseling can be difficult due to issues relating to the client’s sexual identity/ orientation, substance abuse, and, in some cases, HIV/AIDS diagnosis, which have caused distance and alienation. LGBT clients are more likely to seek support for their partners if they view the program as LGBT sensitive. If a program provides treatment primarily through an individual modality, many of these issues may not be relevant. Providing one-to-one services may decrease the difficulty of mixing heterosexual and LGBT clients in treatment groups and decrease the likelihood that heterosexism/homophobia will become an issue. LGBT individuals will be able to discuss issues revolving around their sexual orientation/ identity without fearing that non-LGBT individuals will be hostile, will be insensitive, or will minimize LGBT issues.