Review of “Gay Affirmative Therapy for the Straight Clinician: an Essential Guide” (WW Norton & Co., 2008) by author Joe Kort
In AASECT’S Journal of CONTEMPORARY SEXUALITY
December 2008 Vol 42, No. 12
Review by Tammy Nelson
In “Gay Affirmative Therapy For the Straight Clinician: An Essential Guide” (WW Norton & Co., 2008), author and psychotherapist Joe Kort would have us believe that most straight clinicians are contributing to the covert sexual abuse that pervades a society where gay and lesbians are traumatized by the expression of their own sexual identity.
And after reading this book, I can’t help but agree with him.
Clinicians working with gay and lesbian clients may be unaware of how they perpetuate these covert sexual abuse symptoms, practicing well meaning and perhaps even commonly taught psychotherapy practices. The author describes the difference between being “gay friendly,” where we as the practitioner believe we are free of homophobic views are open minded to “alternative lifestyles,” and “gay affirmative therapy” where he begins by listing the common therapeutic errors in therapy by straight clinicians, not the least of which is the use of the term “alternative lifestyle.” This, in fact, implies that the client has a choice about their sexual orientation.
Another common error among well meaning straight therapists is the belief that “a couple is a couple” and that being a good couples therapist means that all issues, including gay and lesbian issues, fall under the same therapeutic umbrella. The author goes on to assure us that in our naiveté on this subject we may not only be missing the point but may be overlooking the crucial elements in the lives of our gay and lesbian clients.
Mr. Kort’s theory encompasses the belief that the coming out process for gays and lesbians in our culture is so fraught with prejudice and hardship that it creates trauma, regardless of its reception. The fear instilled in young people around how our society views homosexuality creates anxiety and sometimes even terror around revealing one’s sexual orientation, to family, friends and society. This trauma can have long range psychological effects, including post traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) symptoms and developmental issues due to attachment disruptions in key relationships.
Therapists can ask clients about their coming out process to determine their developmental strengths and weaknesses. This process and history taking will give the therapist information about the client’s experience of the world as well as how they coped with the results of outing themselves.
Post traumatic stress disorder sympto9ms may result from coming out, as in the case history of Patricia (page 73) who grew up with a homophobic police officer for a father and had learned all her life that “queers” and “homos” got busted at rest stops to the amusement of her father and his colleagues.
Mr. Kort says “it is crucial for the therapist to identify and understand the trauma of growing up gay.” He defines this trauma as contributing to the long term cognitive distortions as in “pretending nothing is wrong” and “self perceptions are hopelessly flawed.”
This attachment disruption is experienced as a developmental insult.
The author believes that many of the difficulties that the straight therapist may face when working with gay and lesbians stems from their own homophobia, perhaps hidden or denied. Things like assuming that all couples should have “intercourse” is an assumption born of a straight world experience and does not accurately reflect many lesbian relationships, nor does it give a realistic picture of gay male sexuality.
Mr. Kort goes on later in the book to inform the straight therapist in his supervision description that their ideas about gay men and anal sex may be wrong. He educates his supervisee about “tops” and “bottoms” (p 180) and discredits the “straight” idea of sexual penetration as the ultimate sexual act, and describes it as a prejudice that straight therapists bring to their work with gay men.
Joe Kort’s book is a well written, well rounded and thoroughly researched text on how to treat gay couples. All therapists can benefit from this book. The case examples are perfect illustrations of the points he wants the reader to understand and the research is timely and up to date.
I would like to note that for the reader there is a slight tone of derision and almost a warning from the author to the straight clinician to humbly admit to ourselves that regardless of how good our intentions are we may, in actuality, have been doing this work all wrong.
For this, Joe, I thank you.
Keep up the good work.
TAMMY NELSON, a Certified Imago therapist, and certified Imago workshop presenter, and Advanced clinician, is the founder of “Passionate Partnerships” © counseling, which helpsmen and women re-charge their relationships, and brings passion into their lives.She is the author of “Getting the Sex You Want” using Imago therapy techniques to increase intimacy and sexual connection. (April 2008, Fair Winds Press).
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