JOURNAL ARTICLE

Development of expertise in mental health service provision for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities

Kimberly Rutherford, John McIntyre, Andrea Daley, Lori E Ross
Medical Education 2012, 46 (9): 903-13
22891911

OBJECTIVES: There are significant health disparities according to sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in mental health; however, very few mental health professionals specialise in caring for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The purpose of this study was to explore how providers with LGBT-focused practices have developed their capacity for working with these populations.

METHODS: Eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with practising mental health service providers with extensive experience serving LGBT individuals. Participants represented four professional disciplines: psychiatry (n = 2); social work (n = 3); psychotherapy (n = 2), and psychology (n = 1). The data were analysed for themes that were identified using a descriptive phenomenological approach.

RESULTS: All providers self-identified as members of LGBT communities; however, most agreed that this membership was not necessary to provide supportive, appropriate care for LGBT individuals. Providers described their self-identity as members of LGBT communities, associated lived experiences and recognition of the need for mental health services that are sensitive to the unique needs of LGBT individuals as influential factors in their career decisions. The lack of training opportunities and resources specific to the provision of LGBT-sensitive mental health services was highlighted. Provider recommendations included the introduction of mandatory LGBT health content in education curricula that addresses basic LGBT-related terminology, appropriate interview questions to facilitate the disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity, information regarding the health impact of heterosexism and homophobia, and specific health care needs of sexual and gender identity minority people.

CONCLUSIONS: Data from this study suggest there are few opportunities for medical providers to access training and gain expertise in the provision of care to LGBT people. Additional research is needed to consider whether the lack of LGBT health content in medical and psychiatric training programme curricula indirectly contributes to the health disparities experienced by these populations.

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