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Five Tips for Making Your Practice a Safe Space for LGBTQ+ Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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June is Pride Month!

In honor of #Pride, we asked Clarissa Harwell, LCSW for advice on making the therapy room a safe and welcoming space for teens who identify as LGBTQIA.

Clarissa Harwell, LCSW

Clarissa works for Uplift Family Services in the Bay Area and also has a private practice in Campbell, California. In addition to working with children and teens who engage in high-risk behavior, such as suicidal ideation or self-harm, Clarissa has worked with children who have experienced abuse and neglect, adults impacted by severe mental illness, and new parents. She’s trained in Trauma, LGTBQIA issues, and Internal Family Systems. Her goal is to provide safe, inclusive, culturally sensitive services for all her clients.

Here are the five top strategies she recommends clinicians to take in order to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ teens.

Top Tips For Therapists Working With LGBTQIA Teens

1. Update your intake forms.

“One of the first steps in welcoming LGBTQIA clients into your practice is ensuring that your intake forms are inclusive,” Clarissa says. This means having space for youth to write their pronouns and not having male/female as the only options for gender. Clarissa recommends including the following options: Female, Male, Non-Binary, Transgender, Two Spirit, and Gender Non-Conforming. “Some clinicians like to leave the space blank so clients can write in what the gender is,” she says.

Professionals often ask about how to bill insurance if a youth goes by a name other than the name assigned at birth. “Unless the client has legally changed their name, you will still need to bill using the name assigned at birth,” she advises. “On intake forms, you can provide space for this.”

2. Make bathrooms gender-neutral.

“If you have single-stall bathrooms in your office, consider designating them as gender-neutral. If you lease an office in a building that designates male/female, take the time to tell your clients that they may choose whichever they prefer. Advocate for your landlord or rental property to have gender-neutral restrooms.”

3. Practice inclusive promotion and marketing.

“Use inclusive materials in your office and in your advertising, including your website, brochures, Psychology Today profile, and anything else associated with your practice. Do you display equality symbols, such as the Pride flag, in your office and on your website? More importantly, have you taken the time to educate yourself about the meaning of the various Pride symbols? If you use stock photos on your website or in your advertising, do they depict a broad array of human relationships inclusive of the gender spectrum? Do any materials (such as books and magazines) in your waiting room or office include at least one publication that is for LGBTQIA people? Do you have children’s books written and illustrated by queer authors/artists, which include LGBTQIA characters and/or are?”

4. Display your non-discrimination policy.

“Post a non-discrimination policy in a visible area. Ensure that it includes gender and sexual-orientation discrimination language. For example: ‘Equal care will be provided to all patients, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, physical ability or attributes, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

5. Reflect.

Finally, be willing to do the in-depth, reflective work with yourself. “We all have implicit biases and many of us hold multiple privileges such as identifying as cisgender, being White, being able-bodied,” Clarissa says. “To be a true ally to our LGBTQIA clients, we must educate ourselves. Read works by authors who identify as LGBTIA, follow activists and other mental health professionals who identify as LGBTQIA on social media. Watch shows and movies that center on these characters and/or are written, directed, and produced by queer-identified people. Consider the messages you received in your childhood about LGBTQIA people and the messages you are still receiving by friends, family, and colleagues. Be ready to educate yourself about issues that your clients bring up in session. It’s okay if it’s new material. When in doubt, seek out paid consultation and expert advice from LGBTQIA-identified clinicians.”

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