Guest Post: How to Find a Bi Competent Therapist by Estraven Le Guin

“One US study found that over a quarter of therapists seen by bisexual clients erroneously assumed that sexual identity was relevant to the goal of therapy when the
client didn’t agree, and around a sixth saw bisexuality as being part of an illness. Seven percent attempted conversion to heterosexuality and 4% to being lesbian or gay. Many therapists were openly uncomfortable about bisexuality.” (Page, E)  Another British study found that bisexuals were treated worse than  gays and Lesbians by their therapists. At a recent training of monsexual therapists on bisexual issues that I did, even though the therapists were middle-aged or older, most of them were quite surprised to find out that bisexuality is not just a phase, and that bisexuals can be monogamous. You might think that by going to a so-called LGBT treatment center, you would be assured of bi-competent care, but some of these organizations are known for their covert hostility to bisexuals.
 
So how do you find a bi-competent, or at least a bi-friendly, therapist?
 
The first place to look is at the Bisexuality-Aware Professionals’ Directory:
 
http://www.bizone.org/bap/baplist.php?category=Therapists
 
Therapists on this list have had to meet at least 3 of the following criteria for bisexuality-awareness:
*Believes that bisexuality is a valid lifestyle and is welcoming towards bisexual people  
 *Knows of several ways in which bisexuals’ concerns differ from gays’ and lesbians’ concerns  
 *Has worked professionally with several bisexual clientele in the past 
* Has organized bisexually oriented support or social groups or workshops 
*Is an active participant in bisexual community events or forums
*Has read 3 or more professional books or journal articles on bisexuality
*Has attended a professional workshop on the concerns of bisexual people 
 *Has given lectures on bisexuality
*Has written articles or books on bisexuality
Until very recently, due to biphobia, even post-graduate training programs considered training in gay and Lesbian issues to be sufficient for clinicians to work with bisexuals, since bisexuals were considered to be half gay. Therefore, most clinicians will not have had specific training, since it did not exist, but will have had to educate themselves . 
 
If there is no one near you on the Bisexuality-Aware Professionals’ Directory, but you do have a LGBT Center nearby, call their help line. All kinds of people put up their cards at the Center, but the staff are likely to know which therapists are bisexual or, at least, who works well with bisexuals. If you are in college, the same is true of your college Counseling Center (assuming your college is reasonably LGBT-friendly). If you have a local bi group, go to a few meetings and ask who people are seeing, and who they had good experiences with and who they did not. Don’t be shy; people talk about everything at bi group. To locate a bi group, look here:
 
http://www.binetusa.org/bi-groups-in-the-us
 
or ask for one on the BiNET USA Facebook page:
 
https://www.facebook.com/groups/binetusa/
 
If none of that works, if you have bi friends, ask them who they are seeing.  If there is an LGBT  Treatment Center near you, you can ask at the bi group or ask your bi friends if it truly welcomes bisexuals, or is one of the covertly hostile places. 
 
If none of that has worked for you, it gets more complicated. If you have insurance, go on the back of your card and look for the Web site. The Web site should have some sort of “Find a doctor” feature. This will allow you to search under Behavioral Health for “Psychologists” and “Licensed Clinical Social Workers.” Then, under these, there will be a listing of their specialty areas. Some plans list the speciality areas Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual together, and then Transgender separately.  Some plans list Lesbian/Gay together, Transgender separately, and erase Bisexual. My own insurance company lists Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual together. I just looked at these listings  for my area, and I was a bit dismayed. I saw people on that list that have come to my Counseling Bisexuals trainings, and who are not, in my opinion, gay, Lesbian, or bi competent, while I know that others on the list are at least gay and Lesbian competent. Once you have found names on the list, if there are a lot, start googling the ones who are near to you. See if they have any connection to the bisexual community, or even the queer community. Some therapists can afford Web sites, some are on LinkedIn:
 
 https://www.linkedin.com/
 
Some may be bi activists, give talks, etc., and their knowlege about bi issues and being part of the bi community is clear once you google them. If you are lucky, and can find a therapist who has clear ties to the bisexual community and is on your insurance plan, your work is done. Call and ask to schedule an appointment.
 
However, if no one shows up as a result of your google search, I have heard stories over and over of people being actually harmed in therapy by therapists who thought they knew better than their bisexual client about bisexuality, and were wrong. This means you will need to do some more work at this point. Therapists actually expect to have a little discussion on the phone when first contacted. It amazes me how often people call me and say “hi, I’d like to make an appointment.” No name, no information, no reassurance that you are not a serial killer coming to my isolated office with terrible plans… I want to know why you are coming for treatment, and a little bit about you. You want to know if I can help you . So it is reasonable for you to say,” Hi, my name is Susie, I am struggling with internalized biphobia (or whatever your issue is), and I am looking for a bi-competent therapist with a great deal of expertise on bisexuality to help me with this. Do you think this is an area you could help me with?” If they say no, it’s not an area of specialization of theirs, ask if they know someone in the area who does specialize in that. If they say yes, say “I understand that it is hard to get training in counseling bisexuals, but how have you trained yourself?” You might have the criteria above printed out for comparison, and check them off. If they only have the weaker ones (the top three), say “Thank you, I will keep you in mind, but I was looking for someone with more training.” And keep going. But keep their information in case they are the best in your area.
 
Psychology Today has a “Find a Therapist” site:
 
http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_search.php
 
And under this you can search for therapists who treat bisexuals. However, again looking at this for my area. let me just say that I would want to ask them the questions above. Anyone can claim that they treat people for a magazine, but true bi-competance is rarer.
 
Once you have narrowed it down to three or four names, it is time to schedule some consultation sessions. Therapy can be a serious investment of time and money on your part. It is reasonable for you to schedule an initial consultation session with a possible therapist to see if the two of you are a good fit.  A person can be a wonderful therapist, but for whatever reason your personalities just don’t go well together. Therapists are trained to not take things personally. During that session, briefly discuss the bi issue you would be working with them on, and ask them how they would handle it. You can also ask more detailed questions about their sexual orientation and training in counseling bisexuals during this session. If they do not seem knowlegable, or make biphobic remarks, I would politely indicate that they don’t seem to be a good fit, pay them, and go on to the next person you have a consultation session scheduled with. One hopes that after these consultation sessions you have found someone you can work with.
 
If you do not have insurance, but have Medicare, you can follow the same process. If you have Medicaid, you will most likely have to be treated in a mental health clinic. Medicaid varies from state to state. In the more LGBT-accepting states, if you make it clear during your intake that your bisexuality is a big part of your issues, again, the staff usually know who is good at treating bi issues, and, depending on how totally overwhelmed they are, will try to assign you to that staff. In LGBT-unfriendly states, you may not want being queer as part of your medical record. Some therapists work on a sliding scale, but have to make a living, so tend not to advertise that fact. It will take persistance, but if a bi-friendly therapist who works on a sliding scale exists where you are, you may be able to track them down.
 
Finally, the way the insurance companies handle the specialization area “Bisexual” is problematic. It is problematic when they do not list it as a specialty area, and only list Gay/Lesbian and Transgender. I emailed the company I work for about the mental health needs of bisexuals, and pointed out how important it is that bisexuals be able to find therapists who specialize in treating them. I encourage all of you whose insurance companies erase us to do the same. You can use the Bisexual Invisibility Report as a reference for bisexual mental health needs:
 
http://www.sf-hrc.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=989
 
However, lumping us in with gays and Lesbians, as the company I get health insurance from does, is equally problematic. If a therapist is competent to treat gays and Lesbians, and knows they are not competent to treat bisexuals, they are forced to lie in order to capture the fact that they treat gays and Lesbians. Treating bisexuals is a whole different set of competencies, and should not be lumped in with gays and Lesbians. Please write your insurance company if they treat it that way, and ask that Gay/Lesbian and Bisexual be listed separately.
 
Hope this helps, and that you find a wonderful, bi-competent therapist.  If you do, please ask them to list themselves on the Bisexuality-Aware Professionals’ Directory  by emailing  geriweitzman@gmail.com
 
 
References
 
 Evans, Margaret and Barker, Meg (2010). How do you see me? Coming out in counselling. British
Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 38(4), pp. 375–391.
 
Page, E. (2007). Bisexual women’s and men’s experiences of psychotherapy. In B. A.
Firestein (Ed.) Becoming visible: Counseling bisexuals across the lifespan (pp.52-71). New
York, NY: Columbia University Press
 

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3 Comments

Filed under Bisexuality, LGBT Writing

3 responses to “Guest Post: How to Find a Bi Competent Therapist by Estraven Le Guin

  1. Pingback: Bi Mental Health Interview with Dr. Mimi Hoang Links

  2. Pingback: BI Mental Health Links 2015

  3. Bifemme

    Outstanding article. As a last resort, and not guaranteeing someone who is appropriate to work with bi folk, there is at least a chance with some of the folks on the Kink Aware Professionals list https://ncsfreedom.org/key-programs/kink-aware-professionals/kap-program-page.html

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