Can I talk to you about issues of sexuality or gender identity?
Yes. In counselling, you can talk to me about anything you choose. Sexuality and gender identity issues come up very often in counselling, one way or another. If you want to make these the main focus of counselling with me, that is fine. And if that leads on to other issues, that is equally okay. There is no rule that you must stick to one issue or another.
Possibly your cultural or religious background or your family upbringing play a part in who you feel you can be and how you can express yourself in terms of sexuality and gender. Again, it would be quite usual to explore these in counselling.
What do you mean by sexuality?
I mean: how you think of yourself as a sexual or asexual person; who you choose to engage with sexually; your expression of sexuality in your sexual fantasies and choice of sexual practices; and how you identify yourself privately or publicly in relation to any or all of these. You can see from this that I do not mean only sexual identity, for example whether you are bisexual, lesbian or gay.
What do you mean by gender identity?
I mean how you identify yourself in gender terms, regardless of what gender you were assigned at birth or what body you live in. This might be as one or more of the following:
- unquestionably male or female, whether or not in line with your assigned gender
- somewhere on the male/female spectrum, or not on that spectrum
- having more than one gender or no gender
- being of fluid or not-yet-decided gender.
Will you really respect my sexuality and gender identity?
My starting point is: “Who am I to tell you who you are?” It is not for me to decide or place limits on how you view or identify yourself. And I don’t feel the need to judge you for how you do this. I also try to avoid introducing labels. What labels you decide to use for yourself and what identity you choose to adopt is a matter for you to decide (or explore). That includes gender pronouns.
On a professional level, the membership body (BACP) to which I belong took a position in 2015 that it is unethical to try to change or alter someone’s sexual orientation through psychological therapies. I take this position too and apply the same thinking to gender identity also. The BACP’s latest good practice statement on sexual orientation and gender identity, effective from July 2018, can be found in our Ethical Framework (scroll down to section 22 on page 15).
What if you don’t understand something about my sexuality or gender identity?
No counsellor can have knowledge and experience of everything presented to them, even one who identifies with your own sexuality or gender. If you say something about your sexuality or gender identity which I don’t understand, I will acknowledge this and ask you about it. That said, I do have experience of working with these issues both as a counsellor and in other professional roles.
It is also important to note that terminology is often used differently by different communities and individuals and is still developing quite fast. People sometimes use the same word to mean very different things. If there is any doubt, I will encourage you to help me understand what you mean by certain terms and what importance they have in your life.
Do you recognise the existence of ridicule, bullying, harassment, abuse and hatred towards people on account of how they identify or present themselves?
Yes. These are real and can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves. Social media has intensified this (as well as hosting many forms of support). They affect how authentic we can be in presenting ourselves to our family, friends, peers and wider society. Counselling cannot make them go away, but it can help you manage your response to them. It can help you find the balance between keeping yourself physically and mentally safe and maintaining the identity you want. This may include ways of reducing the feeling of being isolated or unprotected and finding yourself sources of support.
Can you advise me on medical and legal processes?
No. I am not qualified to advise on these issues. You should access appropriate advice, services or treatment in relation to your sexual and reproductive health, gender reassignment, etc. In counselling, you can of course explore any aspect of these in terms of their meaning for you or impact on you, so that you feel supported on the journey you are considering or have started on.
Do you distinguish sexual and romantic relationships?
The important thing here is that I understand what you mean by these terms and work within your frame of reference. You might be, for example, in a marriage rooted in religion where there are norms set out for you in relation to forming relationships, marriage and sex. Alternatively you might practise ethical non-monogamy or even relationship anarchy. My roles is not to judge you, but to help you become the person you want to be.
Go back to sexuality and gender identity (main page)
Go back to YOUR QUESTIONS