West Hollywood based therapist, Michael Pezzullo, shares his expertise on trauma therapy in the LGBTQIA+ community.
What is Trauma?
Generally speaking, trauma is an experience that overwhelms one’s ability to cope, leading to severe dysregulation, anxiety, panic, shame, depression, helplessness, and dissociation. One often feels as though they are coming apart, fragmented, or disembodied. Trauma can be acute (one discrete event, such as an assault) or complex (multiple events that occur and compound over time). There are a lot of other life experiences that can trigger unsettling emotions. While these are important to process in therapy as well, I wouldn’t necessarily consider these instances traumatic, unless they meet the criteria above.
Understanding Different Treatments
There are a variety of therapeutic modalities. Traditionally, therapy involves meeting with a therapist once a week and engaging in talk therapy. There are a number of modalities that fall under that category itself (an entirely new article can be written about those). Over the last couple of decades, psychologists have developed a number of techniques to treat trauma that are somatically based. Meaning, they focus on working with the body, rather than engaging in a verbal dialog. The most popular modality here is EMDR, which utilizes bilateral stimulation (such as alternate tapping on each side of the body) to process traumatic memories.
Queer trauma refers to any discrimination, harassment, or even violence you encountered as a result of being LGBTQ+ identified. From my perspective, all queer people experience some of minority stress. For some it’s relatively mild, and for others it can be quite severe. Regardless of your background, I would argue that we all receive messaging from culture, family, friends, etc. that being LGBTQ+ is somehow less acceptable than being heterosexual and cisgendered. This chronic negative messaging can become internalized, leading to what we call internalized homophobia (or biphobia, transphobia, etc.)
LGBTQ Affirmative Treatment
Having a therapist who identifies as queer, or a highly educated ally, is essential. It is imperative that therapy addresses all parts of you—especially the parts that have already been wounded. It is not enough for therapists to simple passively accept you, your sexual identity and your gender identity. They must actively affirm and celebrate you. I always offer to my clients: if you have to leave a part of yourself at the door, you are in the wrong room.