4 Questions Bi Guys Should Ask Any Potential Therapist

·7-min read
Photo credit: RgStudio - Getty Images
Photo credit: RgStudio - Getty Images

As a bisexual Black man who was drawn to therapy to grow my confidence and understanding of myself, I have not always had positive experiences with therapists surrounding sexuality or race.

Between 2011 and 2015, I saw four different therapists, and while each taught me a few valuable life skills – like how to speak up for myself – they also set me back on my mission to embrace my bisexuality. I had to navigate not being believed, not having treatment specifically geared toward supporting my particular needs as a bisexual man, and having my already fragile enthusiasm toward engaging with women shot down and redirected.

When it became clear, in 2012, that therapist number four also lacked the knowledge and experience to talk about my bisexuality, I decided to intentionally avoid the topic for the duration of our time together. Instead, I'd talk about work stress, moving back home after college, and mental hygiene. I'd occasionally bring up things I couldn't handle on my own regarding dating men, but I'd keep any fears, insecurities, and challenges I had regarding women to myself—which really sucked.

Looking back, I recognise how much I could have benefitted from a bi-friendly therapist. Had I known what I was getting into with that fourth therapist, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and disappointment. That's why I talked to L'Oréal McCollum, MSW, LSW, M.Ed., the mental health training manager of Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), about questions every bi man can ask their therapist during a consultation.

1) Ask them: "What has your experience working with men who are bisexual or pansexual been like?"

You want to hear...

"That they believe that bisexuality and pansexuality are valid identities,” McCollum says.“[And] that they are aware of the impact that masculinity and its intersections with race, ethnicity, religion, etc. can have on clients’ identification with and disclosure of a non-hetero sexual orientation, especially bisexuality and pansexuality.”

It's also important to make sure they’ve “worked with more than a few bisexual+ men/masculine folk,” and are “knowledgable about various ways in which bisexual+ men/masculine folks’ concerns differ from men/masculine folk of other sexualities,” McCollum says.

If they haven't worked with this group and aren't bisexual themselves, then you want to hear that “they are [at the very least] committed to doing the work to expand their proficiency on an ongoing basis,” McCollum adds.

Red flags to watch out for:

• They have no experience working with bisexual men, nor have they done training on how to work with them. “Yes, we health and healing professionals must start somewhere,” McCollum says. “However, there are distinct nuances to understanding the experiences of bi+ men and masculine folks that require the professional to be clear on the many ways that these identities and their experiences can differ from others within the LGBTQ+ communities.”

• They make assumptions on what “bisexual,” “pansexual,” or any other label means to you.

• Any attempts at bisexual erasure or commentary conflating these identities with the experiences of gay men/masculine folks, “such as suggesting that they have worked with gay men/masculine folks before and therefore, are aware of the needs and experiences of bi+ men/masculine folks,” McCollum explains.

• Any discomfort in answering the question. “If you sense this, it is possible that the professional may not be adept in their understanding of the unique ways that masculinity and bisexuality/pansexuality can intersect and therefore, impact every other aspect of our lives,” McCollum says.

Photo credit: Vladimir Vladimirov - Getty Images
Photo credit: Vladimir Vladimirov - Getty Images

2) Ask them: "How do you respond to questions and concerns that come up that may be outside of your area of expertise and/or lived experience?"

You want to hear...

That they are aware of their limitations. “That they regularly seek support, resource-sharing, and professional development opportunities from their peers and clinical supervisors,” McCollum says. “[And] that they respect their clients’ decisions to seek a professional who best suits their needs, whenever necessary.”

You also want to hear that they are happy to refer you to another trusted professional(s) with expertise relevant to your needs, if you request it. “A mindful and self-reflexive therapist has already considered this possibility and will already have a list available of trusted sources,” McCollum says.

Red flags to watch out for:

• Any indications that the professional cannot consider who they are in relation to others, the impact of this on their worldview, and its impact on the client-therapist dynamic. “They may not be the appropriate person to respond to certain questions and concerns and that it is okay!" McCollum says. "If more clinicians acknowledged these truths and guided their clients in the direction of the person most appropriate to serving their needs, there would be far less harm done within client-therapist relationships."

3) Ask them: "Can you share how you go about addressing bias that may come up in our work?"

You want to hear...

“That they attend weekly peer and/or clinical supervision to talk about, process, and address any issues [such as bias and countertransference] that may come up in therapeutic sessions," McCollum says. “[And] that they do their own personal therapy work to process any challenges they may experience in all areas of their life.”

Red flags to watch out for:

• Any judgements or critiques they may offer within the session. “It is not a matter of how ‘we’ would do something if we were the ones in our clients’ situations—it’s about validating their experiences wherever relevant and necessary,” McCollum says.

• A lack of consultation with peers or supervisors. “It is imperative that we clinicians do the work to address our relationships to the many ‘isms’ that exist. It’s not a matter of if they exist within our personal and professional lives, it’s a matter of how they show up and therefore, impact our perspectives and engagement with others,” McCollum says.

• Not being able to accept feedback or work through areas of concern with their clients.

Ask them: "Can you please share with me your thoughts on the psychological impact of heterosexism, white supremacy, and oppression?"

You want to hear...

That they appreciate you bringing these concepts into the space. “It is commonplace that clinicians provide their areas of expertise particularly because they have direct influence on the ways that we live our lives, how we interact with others, and how our varying identities may be viewed. Bonus points if the clinician understands and can apply said understanding to the harm that heterosexism, white supremacy, and oppression has on the collective,” McCollum says. “[You want to get a sense] that they are aware of how these issues can impact one’s well-being and that they’ve done a lot of work to uncover how these issues affect their own life and well-being.”

Red flags to watch out for:

• Difficulty with answering the question, which could signal discomfort or even apathy, according to McCollum. “Considering the nature of the question, it would be necessary that the therapist be adept in theoretical knowledge at the minimum, have comfort and confidence addressing the topics, be able to apply their understanding to the circumstances of their clients’ lives, as well as validate their experiences,” she says.

• Attempts by the therapist to have you explain these concepts to them.

• “Any attempt to deflect from the line of questioning or disengage from the conversation, unless you have reached the end of the session," McCollum says. "In the case of the latter, the onus is on the professional to acknowledge the significance of the question, commend the client on their courage to ask the question, and be sure to address it in a follow-up session."

This was meant to offer guidance on beginning a client-therapist relationship on the right foot, but it's not an exhaustive, foolproof list. It's also worth remembering that a therapist may answer the questions perfectly, and still not be the right fit for you.

Unexpectedly, the fourth therapist I worked with has grown and is now quite bi-affirming. Believing in people’s ability to grow in an ever-evolving society while not basing decisions on their potential is important. People can educate themselves and grow, just keep in mind this shouldn't be at your expense, especially in a mental health setting. If it's not working out, don't be afraid to look for someone new. BiZone is a great resource for finding bisexual affirming therapists in your state, Ayana is a teletherapy app that matches marginalised communities to therapists who share their background.

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