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Seeking Qualified Therapists? Call to Action

Can therapists get away with being homophobic in BC?

Can therapists get away with being homophobic in BC?

Yes, but a group of concerned counsellors is pushing for regulation

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In BC, anyone can hang out a counselling shingle, without necessarily being qualified. An umbrella group of concerned therapists’ associations wants to change that.

Indiana Joel/Daily Xtra

Bigots and charlatans pose too great a danger to queer mental health patients for psychotherapy in BC to go on unregulated, practitioners say.

Currently, anyone can claim to be a professional mental health counsellor without presenting, or possessing, any skills or qualifications.

“Psychotherapy counselling has a long history of traditional training that is heteronormative at best and homophobic at worst,” says Pega Ren, a clinical counsellor in Nelson, BC (and Daily Xtra’s retired “Ask the Expert” columnist).

As part of her counselling practice, Ren, who spoke with Xtra by phone, says she works with queer patients who require remedial therapy after inadequately trained therapists cause harm.

She remembers one client who came to her “quite broken” after being told they could just stop cross-dressing if they really wanted to. She fears what they might have done if they had been left with that message.

“We have people struggling with counsellors who are giving them the message that they’re sick or wrong or broken and that they can be fixed by willpower and self-hatred,” she says.

When someone is struggling and seeking help, Ren says, they need competent help, not further harm caused by an unqualified therapist.

A voluntary umbrella group of concerned therapists’ associations is now urging the provincial government to regulate the field of psychotherapy.

The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in BC (FACT BC) is calling on practitioners and the public to write their MLAs.

FACT BC wants to help the government set up competency evaluation, a process for registering as a professional, quality assurance, and complaint resolution.

The initiative would be funded entirely by its members, says chair Glen Grigg.

FACT BC is funded by practitioners and advocates for statutory regulation under the BC Health Professions Act, Grigg tells Daily Xtra by email.

Grigg says he hopes enough people will write their MLAs to get the issue into platforms for the 2017 provincial election.

Vancouver-West End’s gay MLA says he has discussed the risks of unregulated counselling with practitioners, but politicians need to hear from the public before taking action.

“There may be an assumption that it already is regulated, that for something this important there would be a requirement for practitioners to sign a code of ethics,” Spencer Chandra Herbert suggests.

Chandra Herbert says part of the problem may be the privacy with which people guard their mental health.

“You’re at some of your most vulnerable moments when you go out and seek help,” he says.

“You would never want to be in a situation where you reach out for help and find a homophobic counsellor, and be unable to say they shouldn’t be practicing because they are giving hateful advice,” he says.

“Right now, you can still do that and call yourself a counsellor,” he says.

Only Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have full counselling regulation, according to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association website.

First Visit Reactions

A number of clients have shared with me their reactions to their initial sex therapy visit. I thought it might be instructive to those of you considering therapy to hear what they had to say.

A man in his mid fifties told me that the pre-session homework I ask of everyone had been enormously helpful. This involves answering two simple questions: “What are the problems?” and “What would need to happen for you to know the problems have been resolved?” He explained how this exercise had focused him, even before our first meeting, on the precise nature of his troubles and on his goals. He added that the questions reminded him that this appointment was dedicated solely to talking about him, which he had been avoiding for ages. This brought up mixed feelings of trepidation and relief.

Another new client, a woman in her thirties, disillusioned by the disconnection between the myth of happily-ever-after and the reality of maintaining a real-life relationship, shared her relief that she had found a place where she could admit her fears and doubts to someone who would not judge her. Though her friends offered a comfortable place to vent and share good times, they could not give her a neutral and confidential ear. She also appreciated learning accurate information about her body and its sexual functioning.

Then there was the couple who had grown so estranged that visiting me marked their last attempt to save their marriage. I noticed that they did not touch or even make eye contact. They were still emotionally connected and got along well, but it had been a long time since they had experienced any intimacy. I asked them if they would do exercises at home. They admitted they had not like the idea—felt it was juvenile and pointless—but they agreed. Their willingness to risk feeling awkward and vulnerable with each other signalled their willingness to change the character of their relationship.

Sometimes people come in just because they need a safe place to talk about something. It can be difficult to find someone non-judgmental and uninvolved, especially regarding sex. Clients generally tell me they feel a bit anxious when they first arrive, but that it doesn’t last long.

Other times clients need accurate information and want help in determining how that information best applies to their lives. Often that can be sorted out in a session or two. Still, it can feel a bit humbling to admit we don’t know something about sex. We all want to be knowledgeable about something that’s supposed to “come naturally.” I try to make the learning fun and relaxed.

Still other times clients come in who feel quite hopeless about their sexual situation. They arrive bursting with questions and emotions. I can hardly give them information and support fast enough and I watch their anxiety dissolve as the session progresses. Their body language and even their breathing change over the course of the visit. I hear phrases like “I never thought of it that way before” and “I wish I’d come in ages ago.”

Few people have contacted a sex therapist before. I’m used to that. I appreciate the trust put in me as folks stretch their boundaries to learn more about their sexuality and relationships. I hope this peek into what initial sessions can be like helps you to feel more comfortable in approaching the process of sex therapy with anticipation. It can be an exciting adventure. After all, the potential reward is great sex for the rest of your life!

First Visit Jitters

A number of clients have shared with me their reactions to their initial sex therapy visit. It might be instructive to those of you considering therapy to hear what they had to say.

A man in his mid fifties told me that the pre-session homework I ask of everyone had been enormously helpful. This involves answering two simple questions: “What are the problems?” and “What would need to happen for you to know the problems have been resolved?” He explained how this exercise had focused him, even before our first meeting, on the precise nature of his troubles and on his goals. He added that the questions reminded him that this appointment was dedicated solely to talking about him, which he had been avoiding for ages. This brought up mixed feelings of trepidation and relief.

Another new client, a woman in her thirties, disillusioned by the disconnection between the myth of happily-ever-after and the reality of maintaining a real-life relationship, shared her relief that she had found a place where she could admit her fears and doubts to someone who would not judge her. Though her friends offered a comfortable place to vent and share good times, they could not give her a neutral and confidential ear. She also appreciated learning accurate information about her body and its sexual functioning.

Then there was the couple who had grown so estranged that visiting me marked their last attempt to save their marriage. I noticed that they did not touch or even make eye contact. They were still emotionally connected and got along well, but it had been a long time since they had experienced any intimacy. I asked them if they would do exercises at home. They admitted they had not like the idea—felt it was juvenile and pointless—but they agreed. Their willingness to risk feeling awkward and vulnerable with each other signalled their willingness to change the character of their relationship.

Sometimes people come in just because they need a safe place to talk about something. It can be difficult to find someone non-judgmental and uninvolved, especially regarding sex. Clients generally tell me they feel a bit anxious when they first arrive, but that it doesn’t last long.

Other times clients need accurate information and want help in determining how that information best applies to their lives. Often that can be sorted out in a session or two. Still, it can feel a bit humbling to admit we don’t know something about sex. We all want to be knowledgeable about something that’s supposed to “come naturally.” I try to make the learning fun and relaxed.

Still other times clients come in who feel quite hopeless about their sexual situation. They arrive bursting with questions and emotions. I can hardly give them information and support fast enough and I watch their anxiety dissolve as the session progresses. Their body language and even their breathing change over the course of the visit. I hear phrases like “I never thought of it that way before” and “I wish I’d come in ages ago.”

Few people have contacted a sex therapist before. I’m used to that. I appreciate the trust put in me as folks stretch their boundaries to learn more about their sexuality and relationships. I hope this peek into what initial sessions can be like helps you to feel comfortable in approaching the process of sex therapy with anticipation. It can be an exciting adventure. After all, the potential reward is great sex for the rest of your life!

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Seeking Qualified Therapists? Call to Action

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