Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Using Relational-Cultural Theory in LGBTQQ Counseling: Addressing Heterosexism and Enhancing Relational Competencies

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Using Relational-Cultural Theory in LGBTQQ Counseling: Addressing Heterosexism and Enhancing Relational Competencies

Article excerpt

There is a burgeoning field of research on the influence of heterosexism on the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) people (Grant et al., 2011; Grossman & D'Augelli, 2007). However, there has been less scholarship on the counseling theoretical frameworks counselors may use to address heterosexism in their work with LGBTQQ clients (Patton & Reicherzer, 2010; Singh, 2013; Singh, Hays, & Watson, 2011; Singh, Meng, & Hansen, 2014). Heterosexism is the system of oppression that privileges heterosexual or cisgender identities, whereas LGBTQQ people experience oppression based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and gender expression (American Counseling Association [AC A], 2010). LGBTQQ clients often experience heterosexist oppression on a societal level and within interpersonal relationships; LGBTQQ clients may internalize this oppression in the form of negative attitudes and beliefs about themselves as LGBTQQ people (Szymanski & Heinrichs-Beck, 2014). Because these experiences of heterosexism influence negative mental health outcomes for LGBTQQ clients, it is vital to increase conceptual work demonstrating the use of multicultural and social justice theories that counselors may use to explore and counter oppression and enhance resilience.

Relational-cultural theory (RCT) scholars in counseling have written about the important implications this theory has for counseling practice with historically marginalized groups as a result of the emphasis on relational competencies, wellness, and strengths-based tenets (Duffey, 2006/2007; Trepal, 2010). RCT is a theoretical framework that integrates multiculturalism, intersectionality, resilience, and strengths-based foci into counseling practice (Jordan, 2010) and therefore can be used as a powerful intervention approach to working with LGBTQQ clients. Specific RCT tenets highlight the importance of individual development toward, and as a result of, relational growth, which people acquire through experiences of mutuality (Comstock et al., 2008). Furthermore, RCT tenets assert that richly diverse and multifaceted relational networks are important to mental health and well-being. RCT also underscores the significance of mutual empathy and empowerment through authentic engagement as a means of facilitating growth-fostering relationships (Comstock et al., 2008). RCT surmises that by fostering and engaging in growth-fostering relationships, people increasingly experience personal relational growth and competence, which stands as a primary relational and developmental goal (Comstock et al., 2008). At its foundation, RCT was developed to address how societal oppression increases disconnections for people from historically marginalized backgrounds (e.g., people of color, women, LGBTQQ) through internalized oppression and by creating obstacles to individual and community resilience and thriving (Miller, 1976). Multiculturalism and social justice principles are central principles undergirding RCT (Frey, 2013).

RCT, therefore, provides counselors working with LGBTQQ clients with a theoretical framework to explore how experiences of oppression and resilience may hinder or expand relational competencies (Duffey, Haberstroh, & Trepal, 2009) and development across the life span (Comstock et al., 2008) as related to heteronormative society. RCT builds on a feminist counseling approach and expands humanistic principles to allow practitioners an increased focus on the relational connections that are vital to individuals' psychological development and emotional well-being (Miller, 1976). Therefore, scholars have increasingly looked to RCT as a means to draw attention to cultural and contextual factors when building relationships with culturally diverse clients (Frey, 2013; Flail, Barden, & Conley, 2014). The purpose of the current article is to apply RCT tenets to counseling with LGBTQQ clients. In doing so, a review of the LGBTQQ counseling literature and RCT scholarship is discussed. …

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