A few years ago my phone rang and there was a gentleman looking for services for himself and significant other. He discussed his reasons for needing therapy: an abusive relationship, addiction, financial issues; the “typical” relationship ills that often leads to therapy but I sensed there was something more. He said “um… I’m gay and my significant other is a man… is that a problem?” I replied honestly “Is it a problem for you?” he responded that it was not, he was gay, had been gay his entire life but that he had been denied treatment at three different offices for family counseling because of his “lifestyle.” I informed him that I would have no issue working with him so long as our schedules could find a time in common, and for the life of me could not understand why anyone would turn down a person who was seeking assistance based on their sexuality.
I was amazed that this type of garbage was still a factor especially in a “progressive” area of the country like I live in. He discussed some of the treatment and comments he had encountered when trying to make a session. Replies ranged from outright prejudice “I don’t condone the way you people choose to behave and will not encourage your behavior through working with you.” To the more veiled prejudice “couples and family counseling is defined as working with a man and woman who are legally married and any children they may have. Since you are not legally married I cannot consider you a couple, sorry.” I wonder what they would say now that gay marriage is legal in our state and the states around us.
I am a simple man to be sure. If something is broken I try to fix it. If I cannot fix it I call a professional to see if they can. I change my own brakes, fix my tractor whenever I can and believe that only the grand architect of the universe can judge a person; the rest of us should simply do our part to make the world as friendly as possible, better than when we found it. I do not have to condone or participate in the “lifestyles” or “choices” of my clients. I have no piercings, tattoos, I do not drink, smoke, do other drugs, cheat on my taxes, abuse my wife or kids, nor do my boots ever go under any bed but the one I have made with my wife; in short, I do not have to do or condone the bulk of things that clients come to me to treat, just as they do not have to live the life that I choose to live.
My mentors, my philosophy and my life not to mention the code of professional ethics have taught me that I have an obligation to do no harm. I have a duty to serve those in need to the best of my ability and within my professional and educational abilities. I do not have to like or dislike a client’s choices, behaviors, actions, associations, religion etc. in order to treat them. Perhaps I am missing something here? Where do we draw the line in who we will serve? Surely we would not post a bill on our building that we only treat “whites,” “Irish,” or “Lutherans need not apply.” Why then would we deny a large segment of society simply because we have personal or religious beliefs that are in conflict with the client? Many of us work with murderers, rapists, child molesters and the like; does that mean that we are condoning their behaviors because we choose to work with them? Does it mean simply that we are treating those in need?
I worked with this client and many other people who are gay and also became a member of the Human Rights Campaign, not because I am gay but because I believe we are all made in the image of our creator and as a simple man it is not for me to judge what I have not created. I am not meaning to sound preachy or negative, the opposite actually. The world has hate because many choose to perpetuate hate, not because the world is a hateful place; just imagine what it could be if we chose love instead?
Not long ago a male client “came out” to me during a session. He started off very peripherally, seeming to test the responses I gave before moving forward. Finally with a cracking voice he said the words he had been both dreaming about and dreading coming from his lips for so very long. He paused a bit and looked at me as a responded with support and asked him how it felt for someone other than he and his significant other to know. He gave a thoughtful answer and then asked me how it would affect his treatment as we moved forward. Again I reassured him that the only thing that would change in therapy was that he would not feel like he had to hide who he was and that perhaps I would learn the name of his significant other (he was always just said “my girlfriend” and provided no other information). Such a powerful therapeutic tool is the thing we call unconditional positive regard. As time passed I did learn his name and even met him a time or two in family counseling. My clients’ parents were far more supportive than he feared, and for the most part his friends were as well. He lost a few folks, but he gained an ever growing circle of support.
I have been blessed to work with so many different types of people in my career; both as clients and colleagues. I have learned from them all. When we enter the office we are no longer Yankee or Red Sox fans, we are no longer Democrat, Republican, Green or whatever party members; instead we are professionals who took an oath to do no harm and not to push out personal beliefs on our clients.
Have a great week.
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).