What Does "Affirming" Mean?

A number of therapists and other professionals describe ourselves as affirming. But what exactly does that mean?

Affirming an identity or an experience means we encourage, validate, and defend it against those who challenge it. It doesn’t mean we simply “tolerate” it, or that we only recognize it in some cases. That might seem easy to do ("I accept all people!"). But as we increase our awareness of how frequently identities and experiences are challenged, the more important it is to push back on the pervasively oppressive context in which they simply try to exist. Affirming an identity means we recognize that no matter how much we embrace it, understand it, or participate in it,  we’re still part of a mainstream culture that tries to erase it.

LGBTQ+ Affirming Therapy

As an affirming therapist, I consider the real impact of oppression on the emotional issues that bring you to therapy, and simultaneously recognize that some "issues" are pathologized only because they exist within a culture of oppression. In other words, it’s not you - it’s them.  

I embrace my own identity as a bisexual woman these days. But for a long time, I didn’t. As a(n extremely privileged) member of this community, there are many ways that I still participate in the erasure of others' experiences. Having this awareness is one of the fundamental requirements of being affirming. Awareness is a great start. Taking action is even better.

There are many ways we can learn to counteract the default cis-het existence and embrace each person’s identity as unique. It can be as simple as seeking out the work of queer authors and artists, or supporting queer owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Listening to and learning from people in marginalized communities widens our experience of the world and helps us actively counter assumptions. It’s harder to have a default when you’re exposed to so many different identities.

As an affirming therapist, I train and consult with queer, trans and allied professionals in my field and others. I stay up to date on research and books on LGBTQ+ experiences. It’s not a one-time training we can take; it’s an ongoing intention to practice, learn, and listen.

Being affirming means we work incrementally to de-center the mainstream and hold space for a multitude of identities. It means we recognize that society defaults to one acceptable way of being and perpetuates oppression toward everyone else. Creating an affirming setting means we put marginalized identities at the center, rather than leading with the context created by other people for them.

It’s a work in progress, but as long as we recognize our own aptitude - and limitations - for understanding marginalized experiences, we continue to create space for everyone.

 

If you are interested in learning about how LGBTQ+ affirming therapy can help you, call (562) 704-4736 for a free consultation. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals of all genders and identities in Long Beach, CA, and surrounding areas.

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