Psychotherapy holds within it, for some, the idea that there is a “healthy” way of functioning in the world and creating that “healthy” person is the goal of psychotherapy. Within this view rests the belief of a universal psychological health, one that can be quantified and evaluated. Often, an individual holds that certain behaviors, or internal states, are healthy and thus strive to conform to those ideals. But, the overarching theme I see is of people negating their own wisdom of health in favor of the messages of health from the outside world, family, and culture.
This negation is often based on a strong desire to belong to “be a part of,” a natural and very basic need of most humans. We are, after all, designed to connect with each other. Yet, often from a very young age, the information we receive about ourselves and our environment is invalidated by our family. We are told that what we feel, sense, or see is not really happening. As we grow, these familial messages become affirmed by our culture and the larger society until we are thoroughly confused – not knowing if we can or should trust ourselves.
To take the step of questioning the “truths” of our family and culture is a radical approach. That step naturally will upset people, others will dislike us, and many people will take steps to hinder these types of questions. Yet, in order to live fully embodied in the truth of our reality, we must brave these waters. You must question even what you think you know about yourself and others to allow solutions you never thought possible to emerge.
This is where the title of this post comes into play, “Queering Psychotherapy.” I am using the term “queering” not to describe not sexual preference or gender presentation, but a lens through which to view psychotherapy. This lens is informed by Queer Theory, which on a basic level works to debunk and question the stability of sex, gender, and sexuality. Thus, to queer something means to debunk and question the stability of what is accepted as true or infallible. The spirit of “queering” something is to disrupt the status quo and voluntarily enter into a place of discomfort with the knowledge that something unknown and potentially fertile will spring forth.
In the context of psychotherapy, using the spirit of queering can open up previously unknown solutions for clients in the sessions. Clients have permission to actually be themselves, to explore all their facets, without judgment or repression. As a therapist, I can also show up fully in the process of queering psychotherapy; I can see my self-imposed – and culturally imposed – limits that could unconsciously bind clients to certain ways of being. In terms of psychotherapy as an institution, much needs to be done to allow for questioning the status quo, and to open up spaces for movement on an institutional level. And for the educational future of mental health workers, an attitude of curiosity, rather than solidity and expertise, will benefit our clients enormously.
This is the first of three parts on “Queering Psychotherapy.” Part two up next!