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DVD Cultural Diversity: Treating the LGBTQ "Coming Out" Conflict
LGBTQ continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 17
Providing Training about Sexual Orientation
in Counselor Education

CEU Question 17 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Homosexuality
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

With estimates of 4% to 17% (Gonsiorek & Weinrich, 1991) of the population identifying themselves as lesbian or gay, the issue of providing competent and ethical treatment to gay and lesbian clients is an important one. This concern has not gone unnoticed by the mental health field. The proposed revision of the ethical standards for the American Counseling Association (ACA) offers that "counselors do not condone or engage in discrimination based on age, color, culture, disability, ethnic group, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status" (ACA, 1994, p. 20).
The stance the American Psychological Association (APA, 1992) takes is similar, given as follows:

Whenever differences of age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status significantly affect psychologists' work concerning particular individuals or groups, psychologists obtain the training, experience, consultation, or supervision necessary to ensure the competence of their services, or they make appropriate referrals. (p. 1602)

It is clear that the responsibility to provide ethical and unbiased services to gay and lesbian clients falls on the shoulders of mental health practitioners. Key to the provision of such treatment is the necessary distinction between gay and lesbian clients and the similar and divergent issues that each gender presents.

The question is this: How do mental health professionals become prepared to offer educated and unbiased treatment? Several studies suggest that without proper training it is unlikely that mental health professionals could provide unprejudiced treatment to gay and lesbian clients. The Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns (1991) addressed this concern in a national survey, the results of which indicate a broad range of biased, inadequate, and inappropriate practice being provided to gay and lesbian clients. In another study, Graham, Rawlings, Halpern, and Hermes (1984) reported that the practitioners they surveyed had great concern about their own biases and prejudices and expressed difficulty in identifying the strengths, weaknesses, problems, and coping mechanisms of their gay and lesbian clients. Additional reports reveal the biases that mental health providers have toward gay and lesbian clients (Fassinger, 1991; Glenn & Russell, 1986, Rudolph, 1988).

The answer, then, may begin at the graduate level of training. This article addresses the status of training for graduate students in counseling gay and lesbian clients. The importance of including gender issues relevant to counseling gay and lesbians clients is also discussed. A course designed to meet the ethical challenges of preparing counselors to treat gay and lesbian clients is described. Suggestions for including segments of this course in any graduate course is presented.

The literature shows a lack of emphasis on gay and lesbian issues in graduate training programs. In a study of female counseling psychology doctoral students, Buhrke (1989) discovered that for approximately 29% of the participants, gay and lesbian issues were not addressed in any of their courses. Almost 50% of the respondents reported providing no direct therapeutic service to gay and lesbian clients during their training experience. Similarly, Glenn and Russell's (1986) study to assess biases among students in counseling psychology, guidance, and counseling programs found that of 36 female master's-level counseling student participants, only 2 had received any kind of training on counseling gay and lesbian clients. Murphy's (1991) examination of the status of specific training in gay and lesbian issues for mental health professionals concluded that "despite official statements about the importance of sensitivity to sexual orientation, gay and lesbian topics are rarely discussed either in graduate education programs or in the field" (p. 233).

Additional confirmation of the absence of training is provided by assessing the practice of clinicians. The national survey conducted by the Committee on Lesbian and Gay Concerns (1991) found practitioners reporting inaccurate information about and lack of sensitivity toward particular concerns and issues regarding gay and lesbian lifestyles and identity development. In addition, practitioners reported receiving inaccurate and prejudiced supervision and teaching during clinical training. In the survey by Graham et al. (1984) of practicing psychologists, it was revealed that they had received little or no information on lesbian and gay Issues during their doctoral training. Graham et al. concluded that given the results of their survey, graduate programs should include training about working with gay and lesbian clients and that "training should reflect the fact that lesbian and gay client populations constitute two separate subcultures and therefore require different knowledge bases and skills" (p. 493).

Gender differences are often not made salient when discussing "homosexual" clients. Eldridge (1987) noted that "in working with lesbian or gay male clients . . . concepts of gender and the corresponding socialization may be far more salient than sexual orientation" (p. 569). This implies that the shared experience of same-sex sexual orientation does not result in gay men and lesbians being more like each other than their heterosexual counterparts. Moses and Hawkins (1982) reminded us that "gay men and women have both been raised and socialized as members of their respective genders [and that] because of this, gay men are typically like nongay men and gay women are like nongay women in most facets of their lives" (p. 59).
There are many aspects of both gay and lesbian identity development and lifestyles that indicate differences based on gender. In particular, the developmental process of acquiring a gay or a lesbian identity, or coming out, and the issue of entering into and maintaining a gay or a lesbian relationship are areas in which the literature has uncovered disparate gender-based experiences (Browning, 1988; DeMonteflores & Schultz, 1978; Isay, 1989).

Coming Out
The process of coming out unfolds through a series of stages, beginning with the recognition of oneself as gay or lesbian (Cass, 1979; Coleman, 1982). Gender role factors affect the coming out process for men and women. Gender role violation may make coming out more difficult for men than for women. Isay (1989) reported that because the male role is valued over the female role in this society, homosexuality is more threatening for men than for women, making the stigma attached to being gay more painful for them. DeMonteflores and Schultz (1978) suggested that because of gender role expectancies, sexual activity plays out differently for gay men and lesbians in the coming out process (see Browning, 1988; Browning, Reynolds, & Dworkin, 1991; Fassinger, 1991; Isay, 1989). It seems that gay men become aware of and act on their homosexual feelings earlier than do lesbians (Browning, 1988; Isay, 1989), whereas lesbians often come out later, and they do so in the context of a relationship with another woman. These differences parallel the sexual socialization process in which sexual activity is fused with masculine competence for men and sexuality is meshed with emotionality for women (Troiden, 1988).

In a literature review of gender issues with same-sex couples, Eldridge (1987) discussed the differences found between gay and lesbian couples. She reported that the chief factor affecting differences in relationship values was gender, not sexual orientation. The dynamics within the relationships varied as a result of the patterns of interaction associated with men and women. Differences tended to cluster around the value placed on emotional expressiveness and sexual exclusivity. Sexual exclusivity was more highly valued by women than by men, with gay men tending to be more sexually exclusive during the beginning stage of a relationship than later on. Because lesbian couples tend to value emotional attachment and intimacy over autonomy, enmeshment is a frequent result (Krestan & Bepko, 1980; Pearlman, 1989), whereas the tendency of gay male couples to value independence and competition may result in intimacy difficulties (Hawkins, 1992; Isay, 1989).

A different course in the development of a gay or a lesbian relationship may also be noted. As a result of differential socialization patterns of men and women, gay male couples tend to develop an affectional relationship from a sexual one and to have a briefer courting period, whereas lesbian couples often develop a sexual relationship from an affectional one after a more lengthy courtship (Eldridge, 1987).

Because of the scope and complexity of issues facing counselors and mental health professionals working with gay and lesbian clients, it is clear that graduate programs need to provide training that addresses these issues. It is also apparent that an emphasis on gender-related issues needs to be embedded within the curricula.
- Whitman, Joy, Providing Training about Sexual Orientation in Counselor Education, Counselor Education & Supervision, December 1995, Vol. 35, Issue 2.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about providing training about sexual orientation in counselor education. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Drinane, J. M., Roberts, T., Winderman, K., Freeman, V. F., & Wang, Y.-W. (2021). The myth of the safe space: Sexual orientation disparities in therapist effectiveness. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication.

Pachankis, J. E., Mahon, C. P., Jackson, S. D., Fetzner, B. K., & Bränström, R. (2020). Sexual orientation concealment and mental health: A conceptual and meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 146(10), 831–871.

Thompson, M. N., Chin, M. Y., & Kring, M. (2019). Examining mental health practitioners’ perceptions of clients based on social class and sexual orientation. Psychotherapy, 56(2), 217–228.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 17
Why do gay male couples tend to develop an affectional relationship from a sexual one and to have a briefer courting period, whereas lesbian couples often develop a sexual relationship from an affectional one after a more lengthy courtship? Record the letter of the correct answer the CE Test.

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