The Mighty Logo

What Do You Do If Your Therapist Says Something Culturally Insensitive or Offensive?

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’m a huge proponent of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), talk therapy, psychotherapy and counseling. Why? Because none of us make it through life unblemished by pain, confusion and grief. Everyone can benefit from talking things over with an unbiased outsider, right?

I’ve been in therapy off-and-on for about 18 years due to depression and anxiety. Now is a season in my life where I’ve needed and benefited from mental health support. However, what happens when you’ve built a great rapport with your therapist, only to have them say something culturally insensitive or offensive?

During a couples therapy session, we’d been talking about how adrift I’d felt when the therapist asked:

Therapist: What one thing would you like to share with your husband about being bisexual?

Me: I guess I feel like I’m not really accepted anywhere. I mean, I’m not straight, but I also feel like I’m unwelcome by some within the LGBTQ+ community because I’ve come out as a married, monogamous person and won’t be exploring my attraction to women and gender nonconforming people.

She explained that sometimes, those who’ve experienced discrimination or bullying can turn around and be unwelcoming. However, their desire to be gatekeepers doesn’t negate the validity of my belonging. That made complete sense because sometimes, those who are bullied become the person who bullies.

But, then she turned a corner that had me scratching my head…

Therapist: I’m sure a part of your bisexuality revolves around issues of feminism and social justice.

My response?  Head-scratching.

Therapist: What is it about women that you find so appealing now?

Me: Uh…

Therapist: You know sometimes people get a lot of positive feedback when they first come out. Eventually, it becomes old news and nobody cares. I think you’ve reached that stage. We need to think about why you’re looking for outside validation and approval.

As a Black woman in America with a Black family, I’ve got plenty of social justice issues on my plate already, thank you very much. As a female software engineer in a male-dominated industry, feminism is already a huge part of my mindset.

I didn’t express my concerns during the session; I honestly hadn’t figured out how I felt. After leaving the office though, I began to rehash the session in my head:

1. Why had it made me so uneasy?

2. Why did it feel so off-putting?

3. Was she implying that bisexuality is a choice?

4. Did she basically just say that people come out to get attention? 

5. Was my therapist homophobic?

Imagine a scenario where the patient is straight. Would the therapist have implied the patient’s political agenda caused their straightness? Would she have asked someone who was straight to explain why they choose to be attracted to the opposite sex?

This incident was a reminder to me that not every mental health professional who considers themselves “friendly,” “welcoming,” or “inclusive” towards members of the LGBTQ+ community is actually knowledgeable. The lack of personal animus doesn’t mean they are equipped to help you through the unique challenges you may experience.

Does that mean, if you are LGBTQ+, you can only seek mental health treatment from someone who is also LGBTQ+? Not necessarily.

Just be aware there is a difference between a therapist who is tolerant and one who is affirming and supportive of your identity. In your journey towards mental health and healing, you deserve to have all aspects of your selfhood recognized, validated and celebrated.

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

Originally published: August 14, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home