How Group Can Benefit LGBT Patients
Growing up as a young gay person in suburban California and then Savannah, Georgia, I felt utterly alone. I felt that my only chance for survival was to hide my identity as a gay person in order to fit into society and be accepted. I had no gay role models, no gay friends, and no openly gay family members. Coming out freed me and allowed me the chance to be who I was, but I still found it very difficult to connect with people, especially with other gay men. Entering adulthood, I simply didn’t know how to connect in a healthy way, and constantly worried about rejection or lack of acceptance.
Only when I began my journey in LGBT group therapy did I begin to be able to observe how I felt in the presence of gay men in a healthy environment. I began to work through my impulse to shut down around others, and my debilitating fear of intimacy and the risks that accompany it. I started to develop a positive sense of myself as seen through the eyes of my peers, and a new sense of connection and community with other gay men began to emerge.
Group provided me a setting where I felt safe enough to slowly “come out” as my authentic self, and I began to allow myself to be “seen”. The power of this holds no bounds, especially as a boy who felt invisible growing up in a heterosexist and homophobic culture and family, and had very little or no mirroring as a gay man.
Going through this process with other gay men was especially healing. In some way or another, these other men had gone through some version of what I had gone through, and that common experience was binding. Group therapy gives us and our patients the ability to notice reactions they might have to others, some positive and some negative, and helps us understand where these reactions might be coming from. It also allows us to realize the power of choice they might have over their reactions, or even their feelings. Group also gives patients the platform to try as best as they can to identify and express their feelings, and be heard, something that is often difficult for many LGBT folks who literally had to suppress feelings to survive.
We live in a world of relationships and interacting with others. As a therapist working in this field, I now regularly bring up the topic of group therapy with my patients when the time is right. If I didn’t, I would feel as though I was withholding something of great value to them. Although individual therapy is so essential, I have grown to realize that group therapy can be just as powerful, or possibly even more so. Many gay men didn’t have a sense of belonging, or a healthy opportunity to develop naturally as their true selves in relation to others. They therefore especially need and deserve the healing power of group therapy.