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LGBTQ+ & Art Therapy In Context
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has faced discrimination for many years. This discrimination ranges from when homosexuality was defined as a mental disorder, to former President Trump’s military travel ban on transgender individuals. Art therapy is one treatment approach that can serve this community. Therapy can generally help those that are perceived as other, or different from the majority group. LGBTQ+ individuals face unique struggles that tie directly to how they are perceived and how they interact in society. It is important to note, however, that there is simply not enough research showing how art therapy has helped the LGBTQ community and even less research available in exploring what practices are the most ideal when addressing identity, self-exploration, suicidality, and the lack of acceptance.
Art therapy offers an opportunity for the creative process, with therapeutic techniques, to provide a space that encourages one to explore their own unique identity. Art therapists select art materials and art-making tasks in accordance with therapeutic goals. The process of creating offers individuals a way to explore issues in an entirely different way, developing an understanding of another’s viewpoint while encouraging an empathic response.
Through this article, we explore art therapy in the context of the LGBTQ+ community, including resources that may be helpful in this matter.
Clinical Concerns in the LGBTQ+ Community
The rate members of the LGBTQ+ community die due to suicide is 5-6 times greater than heterosexual individuals, which makes it a primary reason why members of this community are in need of psychological services. An article by NBC reports that “Two in 5 LGBTQ youth in the United States have seriously considered suicide in the past year.” Additionally, “68 percent of the respondents reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, 55 percent reported symptoms of major depressive disorder and 48 percent reported engaging in self-harm” (NBC article). The underlying reasons why this rate is elevated include struggles with mental health connected to the acceptance of one’s identity in society.
The LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for substance use, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), cancers, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, bullying, isolation, rejection, anxiety, and depression, compared to the general population, making them a severely vulnerable demographic. A big part of why this is is due to poor quality of care because of stigma, lack of healthcare providers’ awareness, and insensitivity to the unique needs of this community. Many therapists do not cater to the needs of LBTQ+ youth or adults, and people in this community oftentimes feel uncomfortable seeking out help for fear of feeling judged by health care professionals. Additionally, there tends to be a lack of access to health care professionals that are willing to help LGBTQ+ youth in certain areas of the country, where political beliefs are more conservative.
Clinical concerns are even more alarming within the transgender community. A study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that “more than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide.” The numbers are not much better for transgender adults. A study performed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that “more than 40 percent of transgender men and women in the U.S. have attempted to take their own life. That’s nearly 10 times the national average.”
What exactly is Art Therapy?
Art therapy uses the art-making process to highlight how one copes with issues that impact their lives. The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy notes that art therapy consists of creating art through methods including drawing, painting, sculpture, and collage. Some patients might choose to express themselves through other methods such as film or music. The list of forms art therapy can take is not an exhaustive one, and each session will vary depending on the patient and the therapist.
As mentioned above, a less conventional method used in art therapy is film. Although this type of art therapy does not take place over the course of one session, but rather it requires personal time, it is one of the best ways in which people can express their emotions. Foe example, “Queer Vibes Only” at North Brooklyn Farms In New York introduced Qinfolk Festival: an art, film and mental health event centered on queer and trans people of color. The event took place on October 5, 2019 and it was a great way for the LGBTQ+ community to heal, express themselves, and see themselves represented authentically. And speaking of film, the LGBT National Help Center actually provides a list of films that people in the LGBTQ+ community have found helpful in different aspects of life such as dealing with family or coming out. You can find the list here.
Important themes that impact an individual’s life can be examined using art. Common overlapping factors that are important to explore for the LGBTQ community include race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and identity. Art therapy clinicians have published little research on what the best practices for the LGBTQ+ community are. However, there is an association called Art Therapy with the LGBTQ Community Association (AATA) that seeks to close the gap and share their findings and knowledge.
Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, not all therapists understand their struggle of the LGBTQ+ community. The AATA emphasizes that art therapists must first address their own feelings regarding the LGBTQ community and homophobia. This also speaks to art therapists that identify as LGBTQ, since internalized guilt and trauma may impact their ability to treat clients that are LGBTQ. Therapists can address biases and educate themselves by connecting with colleagues that are part of the LGBTQ community, through literature, and by receiving their own personal therapy. Through her article, Why I Needed to See a Queer Therapist (And How You Can Find One, Too), Rosemary Donahue outlines some of these concerns. The article provides a good list of resources for queer therapy online such as BetterHelp, TalkSpace, and Pride Counseling.
The Benefits of Art Therapy
Research has found that levels of emotional and physical well-being decrease considerably when coming out. However, there is growing evidence in support of a relationship between personal creative expression and sexual identity, as well as between expressiveness and physical and emotional health. Although coming out is only a small part of what being in the LGBTQ+ community entails, the positive finds of this research that connect creativity and mental health, are promising for other areas in which art therapy could help.
Creative activities overall have seemed to reduce stress and aid communication, which is why they are being used as therapy and could be hugely beneficial for the LGBTQ community (you can learn more about it through this article). Some of the major benefits of practicing art in any one of its forms or formally attending art therapy include improved self-esteem, self-discovery (Creating art can help you acknowledge and recognize feelings that had previously only been present in your subconscious), emotional release, and stress relief. People don’t have to be talented or trained artists to participate in art therapy or to create art as a form of stress relief.
Although art is linked to a plethora of benefits and has been proven to help largely with mental health, we don’t know the extent of the benefits of these art practices. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health notes that “the extent to which [art] interventions enhance health status is largely unknown.”
Although getting professional help is always recommended, sometimes having resources to help you in your day to day life as an extra support system is greatly beneficial. There are various free or low-cost resources that seek to provide a community for anyone who might be struggling or wants to learn more. Some resources that have great ties to creativity and mental health in the LGBTQ+ community are listed below.
Rest for Resistance
Rest for Resistance uplifts marginalized communities and creates a healing space for LGBTQ+ individuals, namely trans & queer people of color. Through their platform they give a voice to people who might be otherwise voiceless or oppressed. Check out their website to read some amazing stories.
Making the Body a Home
Making the Body a Home designs wellness offerings to empower people who wish to unlearn and heal from racist conditioning. Take a look at their website or at their insanely aesthetically pleasing Instagram to learn more.
Celestino is a multimedia artist that processes feelings and heals through art. Check out their Instagram to learn more and get involved.
QTPoC Facebook Group
This Facebook group seeks to provide general support to queer and trans people of color.
This national initiative seeks to provide support to LGBTQ people who identify as Indian. Through the IHS (Indian Health Services) they provide resources ro their families, and the communities where they live to ensure that they receive equal access to health services.