LGBT Couples and Relationship Therapy

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ+) individuals and couples often seek therapy for help with many of the same relationship and life issues as hetero-normative couples. With any couple, the staff at Dr. Eliana Cohen Psychology Professional Corp. value diversity and appreciate the breadth of human identities through all the therapeutic exploration exercises in their counseling sessions. This often includes discussion of the fluid nature of sexuality and gender expression.

However, research examining the clinical issues faced by LGBTQ+ couples and the therapeutic techniques used with such couples has offered insight into how to best approach non-heterosexual individuals during couple’s therapy. The process of undergoing couple’s therapy with any professional is a very private. Due to the sensitive nature of the conversations that take place during couple’s therapy, it is vital that couples select a therapist who both individuals feel understands their needs, and also has the skill-set and academic knowledge on how to best deal with the issues that can face LGBTQ+ clients. Such issues include:

  • Issues of accepting sexuality
  • Coming out
  • Internalized homophobia
  • Depression
  • Self-destructive behaviours
  • Dating
  • Social skills
  • Intimacy
  • Infidelity

It is also important that therapists are aware of the social, political, and legal realities faced by sexual minority couples that might be incriminated in therapy sessions.

While we acknowledge that there is a wealth of research dedicated to couple’s therapy with sexual minorities, there are a few lessons one can learn from the academic literature. A study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that sexual minority clinicians of both genders and heterosexual female clinicians were all rated as more helpful than heterosexual male clinicians (1). Moreover, research has found that it is important for therapists to provide a gay-affirming environment for sexual minority clients (2).

In more recent research, it was found that poor and destructive communication in relationships is a major presenting issue when all types of couples seek therapy (3). LGBTQ+ couples generally only grow up with knowledge of heterosexual models of relationships, and these types of relationships that limit them from determining behaviour and boundaries within their own intimate relationships (4). Due to an absence of role models with which to compare their relationship situations to many LGBTQ+ individuals have been found to find themselves in abusive relationships (5). LGBTQ+ couple’s counseling can help couples navigate healthy, fulfilling relationships and provide tools for positive communication amongst individuals. As with hetero-normative relationships, a trained couple’s therapist will also understand the diversity in relationships and tailor communication techniques and therapy sessions to your individual relationship.

Most couples wait far too long to seek help. The most positive relationship outcomes are found when couples reach out for help sooner than later.

Most therapists, like those who work for Dr. Eliana Cohen Psychology Professional Corp, are committed to anti-discrimination and aspire to provide a quality service that values difference in all relationships. Finding the right couple’s therapist for you and your partner(s) can create the most beneficial outcomes during your commitment to therapy.

  1. Liddle BJ. Therapist sexual orientation, gender, and counseling practices as they relate to ratings on helpfulness by gay and lesbian clients. Journal of counseling psychology. 1996 Oct;43(4):394.
  2. Macdonald BJ. Issues in therapy with gay and lesbian couples. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 1998 Jul 1;24(3):165-90.
  3. Doss BD, Simpson LE, Christensen A. Why do couples seek marital therapy?. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 2004 Dec;35(6):608.
  4. Bepko C, Johnson T. Gay and lesbian couples in therapy: Perspectives for the contemporary family therapist. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2000 Oct 1;26(4):409-19.
  5. Donovan C, Hester M. ‘Because she was my first girlfriend, I didn’t know any different’: making the case for mainstreaming same‐sex sex/relationship education. Sex education. 2008 Aug 1;8(3):277-87.