The group dynamic can be a counselor’s ally — a powerful setting that induces growth and change for clients.
It is no different for counselors who lead groups with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) clients. However, there is a void of literature and counselor training on group work with this population, according to Kristopher Goodrich and Melissa Luke. This prompted the two counselors to write Group Counseling With LGBTQI Persons, published by the American Counseling Association earlier this year.
From relationships and developmental issues to grief or career readiness, counselors need to keep specific needs and considerations in mind when working either with LGBTQI groups or groups that feature a mix of LGBTQI and non-LGBTQI clients.
“Not only is it probable that a group leader will work with LGBTQI group members, but the group leader is also likely to encounter a larger number of group members who live with and love LGBTQI persons,” the duo write in the book’s introduction. “Thus, we approach this book with a belief that without more knowledge, awareness and skills in working with LGBTQI persons, group leaders are at risk of stereotyping and perpetuating societal misattributions, which both can be harmful to individuals and groups. [This] book is also predicated on the belief that with increased knowledge, awareness and skills, group leaders can utilize the unique properties and growth-promoting experiences for all group members, specifically LGBTQI members.”
Goodrich and Luke’s book contains chapters focusing on a range of issues, from groups that focus on addictions or coming out/disclosure to school and residential settings.
Q+A with Kristopher Goodrich and Melissa Luke, co-authors of Group Counseling With LGBTQI Persons
What about the group setting works well for fostering growth and change for LGBTIQ clients?
Melissa Luke: Group work has been supported by research as an effective modality of treatment for most presenting issues and a particularly effective treatment modality for clients who struggle with core issues that manifest with interpersonal and relational challenges. Accordingly, most LGBTQI+* persons have grown up and live in cultures and societies that are rooted in heterosexist, transphobic and gender normative assumptions and, further, many are part of families and educational or work institutions wherein ongoing discrimination, bias and harassment exist. It is therefore not surprising that these experiences can contribute to not only intrapersonal risk factors but also can generate interpersonal challenges as well.
While individual counseling offers a means to address the former, group work is distinctive in its ability to offer an in vivo space to explore, develop and try out new ways of being with and relating to others in a therapeutic setting.
*The + in LGBTQI+ is used to encompass all the identities that are part of the LGBT community; for instance, the Q can mean queer or questioning.
In what ways does group work meet the unique needs of LGBTQI clients?
Kris Goodrich: Group work can uniquely meet the needs of LGBTQI+ clients in a variety of ways. In regard to LGBTQI persons, it allows for the individual to learn they are not isolated or alone, [and] the presenting concerns they may have can be identified and felt by others. In addition, it allows the individual to role-play and practice new ways of interacting with others, as well as practice revealing additional aspects of themselves with feedback from others.
Interventions at the couples and family level allow group members to come together and process what it is like to be part of a system and have the helpful feedback from others in similar situations as well as the group leader; to note processes that may be occurring without their awareness; and to learn new ways [of] responding as a couple/family system. Finally, group work for non-LGBTQI+ persons allows [them] to understand new ways of understanding and interacting with LGBTQI+ persons and also helps to teach the group leader/counselor ways to use systems interventions to advocate with, and act as allies for, LGBTQI persons. Pulling from ecological counseling theory, we know that systemic interventions can be extremely powerful and, in many ways, more influential for long-term change processes. Group interventions are one way to address LGBTQI concerns at a larger systemic level than traditional individual counseling.
What inspired you to collaborate and write this book?
ML: First of all, Kris Goodrich is not only my academic partner but also one of my dearest friends, and that enriches our work together. We have also discovered that both our interests and work styles have proven to be productive complements to one another. In my mind, these aspects are foundational to good and enduring collaboration.
That said, Kris and I have worked together now for over a decade on many different projects, and through that work, we became aware of a number of gaps in the literature. One gap being the ways in which group work could uniquely meet the needs of LGBTQI+ persons, and another gap being the lack of training and resources for group counselors to develop their skills to more effectively respond to the unique needs that LGBTQI persons bring to group work. Given that Kris and I both thrive from challenging ourselves, we decided to endeavor to fill that gap. That was the genesis of the book.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
KG: Melissa and I hope that readers take away the fact that there are many different presenting issues and concerns that LGBTQI+ clients bring with them to group counseling situations, and that group leaders are uniquely trained to address these issues using the power of group dynamics to allow for corrective experiences of LGBTQI+ clients and those close to them. Our book has a number of new group interventions, most not published elsewhere, using group dynamics to address a variety of presenting issues or concerns not often discussed in the group or LGBTQI+ counseling literature. We hope that readers will be able to take away that LGBTQI persons have more presenting concerns beyond identity development, coming out and relational concerns, and that systemic interventions can be more powerful than interventions at the individual level.
In the book’s introduction, you write that counselors who do not have enough skills or awareness about working with LGBTQI persons are at risk of “stereotyping and perpetuating societal misattributions” in group settings. Can you elaborate?
ML: Just as most LGBTQI+ clients grow up and live in cultures, societies, families and work environments that reflect institutionalized heterosexist, transphobic and gender normative beliefs and practices, so do most counselors. As such, no counselor is immune to the arguably insidious effects of such. It is our belief that without ongoing and intentional efforts, we are all at risk of stereotyping and misunderstanding others, including LGBTQI+ persons.
Recently, there has been increased media attention on LGBTQI+ persons and a number of well-publicized and historic events relating to LGBTQI+ concerns. However, when we refer to LGBTQI+ persons, this encompasses many different communities and identities, not all of whom have the same circumstances and needs.
In addition, the field is continually evolving in our knowledge about LGBTQI+ identity, as well as the ways in which we as counselors can more effectively work with LGBTQI+ clients across the life span. As such, we believe [that] to ethically and effectively meet the needs of our clients and to fully enact our multicultural, social justice and advocacy competencies, we counselors must commit to lifelong reflective practice, including supervision, lest we risk inadvertently reifying the same oppressive beliefs and practices that have historically marginalized LGBTQI+ persons.
What do you want counselors to know about this?
KG: Melissa did a very good job addressing this issue in the previous question. The only thing I might add is that within the fields of counseling and psychology, there is a focus on issues relating to microaggressions. This comes from the work of Derald Wing Sue and his colleagues in regard to race but has also been applied to sexual/affectual orientation by Kevin Nadal and others. Just as we as counselors are vulnerable to unconsciously perpetuating racial microaggressions, the same can be said for affectual orientation or gender concerns.
Understanding the nuances about LGBTQI identities is the first step toward self-awareness and affirmative practice on this journey. However, it does not end there. Group leaders and counselors need to interact with the material, which often means interacting with LGBTQI+ persons, to better understand LGBTQI persons’ needs and concerns, as well as any unconscious processes that might influence how that counselor may interact with clients (in individual or group counseling settings) in the future.
Counselors must know that regardless of our identities or background, we are all vulnerable to uninformed or misaffirming beliefs or behaviors due to the heterosexist, transphobic and gender normative culture we have grown up and lived in. This isn’t said to disparage counselors or question their ability to effectively work with LGBTQI+ clients but to form awareness that for each of us, there is always more to be aware of [and] to learn [so we can] continue honing our skills with others.
Who is your target audience for the book? What type of counselors?
ML: The primary audience for this book is practicing counselors, counselors-in-training and those who educate and supervise counselors. The book includes chapters that address specific counseling contexts (e.g., school, community), as well as varied types of group work (e.g., gay-straight alliances, coming out groups, family groups, grief and loss). While the book is clearly focused on group work with LGBTQI+ clients, we are very careful to remind readers that whether or not they recognize it, it is likely that all group work involves some LGBTQI+ clients.
Also, we have been told that much of the content in the book — each chapter begins with a literature review, includes sample interventions and then concludes with a case vignette illustrating application of an intervention — is easily adaptable to work with all clients across a variety of treatment modalities, not solely group work. We are also very pleased to learn that the book has been well-received by other human service practitioners who work with LGBTQIA (the A stands for ally/asexual) persons in group contexts, such as educators and community organization workers.
How might the book be helpful for counselors who primarily work individually and do not practice group work?
KG: When we wrote the book, we really tried to address many issues that LGBTQI+ persons might interact with over their life course. This information is helpful for both individual as well as group counselors. The interventions, although written for a group counseling setting, can easily be applied in individual counseling, with the group leader acting as the “chorus” of group members, pushing individual clients to see insight in their beliefs and actions.
Do you feel this topic is adequately covered in today’s graduate school programs and counselor training?
ML: Said simply, absolutely not. Recent research has identified that although the identities and needs of some LGBTQI+ persons are more included in counselor preparation than in the past, bisexual, transgender and intersex identities are much less discussed.
In addition, though counselor educators increasingly report including LGBTQI+ content in their course work, [we, together with] Janna Scarborough (2011) found that this was typically attempted in a single, three-hour class session and that the focus of this work was on counselor knowledge and awareness, not counselor skills. Todd Jennings (2014), a teacher educator who conducted a replication study with a different sample, found similar results. Further, participants in this study identified the importance of personal engagement, well-developed training resources, as well as experiential and iterative learning. Sadly, research has demonstrated that these opportunities are lacking in counselor preparation and supervision with respect to LGBTQI+ persons and related topics.
What would you want recent grads and new counselors to know about working with LGBTQI clients in group settings?
KG: As these concerns are typically not covered in a comprehensive fashion in counselor training, we would like recent graduates to know about this material and introduce new ways of interacting with LGBTQI clients. We also would love to instill the idea and passion for continuing education, as there is never a time when one [can] know everything about how to work with clients, especially from multicultural groups.
As Melissa noted above, many identities addressed within this book (e.g., bisexual, transgender, intersex, etc.) are not covered or receive very little attention within counselor training programs. That is problematic because if we do not know about these identities, we are likely to perpetuate stereotypical or biased behavior against these clients or unconsciously commit microaggressions against them. That could influence both our relationship with our client [and any future potential relationship that those clients might have with counselors. It can steer whole groups of people away from counseling.
This is most pronounced in the transgender community, as so little information is known by counselors, and counselors can be seen as gatekeepers by those individuals who have interest in pursuing gender conforming treatments. Of course, gender confirmation procedures are not pursued by all trans* clients, as addressed in our book, but it is one example of when a client might present to counseling and feel mandated to do so. Having an awareness of the history, the concerns and affirmative ways to interact with clients not [only] allows one better relationships with one’s own clients, it also opens that client to future counseling experiences if needed in the future.
Overall, we want new counselors to know that their training and education are not done, and there is always more to know. We also would like them to recognize the differences between affectual orientation and gender identity and how these two concepts interact with one another. And, finally, we would like to provide them some tips and tricks to add to their toolbox, as there are some very creative interventions in the book that could be utilized by anyone with an interest in creativity in counseling.
*trans* (with an asterisk) has become more commonly used than “transgender,” as it stands for the different variations of the transgender identity, according to Goodrich.
Group Counseling With LGBTQI Persons is available from the American Counseling Association bookstore at counseling.org/publications/bookstore or by calling 800-422-2648 x 222.
About the authors
Kristopher Goodrich is the program coordinator and assistant professor of counselor education at the University of New Mexico. A licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and an approved clinical supervisor (ACS), he is president of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling and president-elect of the Rocky Mountain Association for Counselor Education.
Melissa Luke is an associate professor of counseling and human services and the coordinator of school counseling at Syracuse University. An LMHC and ACS, she is the president of the North Atlantic Region of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org