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LGBTQ+ Competencies for Counseling

Chris McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW, talks about the importance of counseling competencies when working with LGBTQ+ clients. Chris uses his knowledge and experience of the LGBTQ+ community to provide an in-depth look at common areas of concern for this client population, and where clinicians often fall short.

During the interview, Chris talks about the immense value of respecting whatever a client shares, and that bringing parents or guardians into the conversation can be “a delicate balance.” Ordinarily, Chris says that his “rule of thumb is to always follow the lead of the youth,” and that his role is to never out youth to their parents—even if safety issues are present. According to Chris, “regardless of the presenting concern,” he always asks questions about sexual orientation and gender identity with his clients. For some youth, they may have never encountered an adult who expressed interest in these issues; and for others, they may be waiting for a safe enough space to be vulnerable.

Chris credits other professionals, and the counseling field as a whole, for rising to the challenge and striving to advance their knowledge of LGBTQ+ needs; but Chris also suggests that providers often have more comfort with LGB clients in the LGBTQ+ community, which could leave other clients at a higher risk for inadequate care. In Chris’ experience, many providers continue to “collectively struggle” with gender identity—one of those issues that require clinicians to be curious about their own views on the topic and to notice how their beliefs affect their clients. 

Chris advocates for using a “strengths-based, collaborative” approach with families who are pushing a therapist’s own buttons. Doing so can help clinicians identify how their own reactions are impacting therapy outcomes. One of the primary competencies when working with the LGBTQ+ population is understanding how a concept is linked to a client-centered intervention so that the client can steer the direction of the session. Chris recommends that professionals begin developing LGBTQ+ knowledge, which includes understanding LGBTQ+ language, what it means to come out, why it’s necessary to move beyond binary thinking, and how to make environments more inclusive for LGBTQ+ clients, among others. Most of all, Chris encourages clinicians to truly connect with what the clients want and not let their egos get in the way. 

Chris also cites a new study by The Trevor Project which found that, based on thousands of queer youth opinions across the US, “45% of LGBTQ+ youth said that they had seriously considered suicide over the course of the pandemic, with 14% of these youth acknowledging at least one suicide attempt. For trans youth, in particular, that number is closer to 1 in 5.” These statistics cast a darker reality over the challenges that LGBTQ+ clients are facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Chris reports that “25% of LGBTQ+ youth said they needed behavioral healthcare during the pandemic and could not find it.”

For organizations seeking further guidance on LGBTQ+ issues, Chris offers a consultation service to walk organizations through essential competencies that move them closer toward being LGBTQ+ affirming providers. You can learn more about Chris’ professional background and interests here.

Chris McLaughlin, MSW, LCSW, (he/him/his), is the Executive Director of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and owner of Inspired Consulting Group, LLC. He obtained his BA in Psychology and his MSW from the University of Maine. Chris has spent more than 20+ years as a provider and a leader in behavioral health services for youth and families across a variety of clinical settings. Chris is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maine and Husson University in Bangor. 

Additionally, Chris served for four years on the Maine Board of Social Work Licensing and is a member of both the NASW and the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care (SSWLHC), where he is the current Maine Chapter President, and he is a member of the National Board. Chris holds additional certifications from Cornell University. Nationally, he was SSWLHC’s 2019 recipient of the Eleanor Clark Award and was named Health Care Social Worker of the Year in 2019 by the Maine Hospital Association and the Maine Chapter of the SSWLHC. In 2020, Chris was awarded the Alumni of the Year distinction from the University of Maine School of Social Work.

By: Michael Tugendhat

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