Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Experiences of Lesbian and Gay Occupational Therapists in the Healthcare System

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Experiences of Lesbian and Gay Occupational Therapists in the Healthcare System

Article excerpt

Narrative data from open-ended questions from a descriptive cross-sectional survey surrounding the experience of 24 lesbian and gay occupational therapists in their work and patient roles are discussed. An iterative and inductive analysis of therapists' responses resulted in identification of three emergent themes: deciding when to come out, the culture of the setting impacts if and to whom I come out; and shades of discrimination affect the work and patient role. Findings are discussed in relation to the implications for occupational therapists and other allied healthcare providers as a way to inform professionals and educators of the lived experience of lesbian and gay therapists, the impact of embracing diversity through one's attitude, knowledge and skill through education, and advocacy at the professional and pre-service levels. J Allied Health 2015; 44(2):65-72.

THE PROFESSION of occupational therapy (OT) is dedicated to a holistic approach when evaluating the needs of clients. In the guiding framework in OT, the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework,1 client factors are one of the cornerstones to consider in practice. Sexual orientation has a profound influence on an individual's values, beliefs, and worldview, making it an important client factor to take into account. However, gays and lesbians often hide their sexual orientation due to fear of ridicule, ostracism, and maltreatment in healthcare settings and in several healthcare disciplines.2-6 There is evidence that, despite the tenets of the profession, occupational therapists, as well as other allied healthcare providers, vary greatly in their attitudes toward gays and lesbians.5-8 About one third of occupational therapists in a Midwest sample reported feeling uncomfortable when treating gay or lesbian patients.9

As the visibility and acceptance of gays and lesbians becomes more prominent and vocal in American society, issues both in the office and clinic increasingly confront lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) occupational therapists.3 Some common workplace issues impacting these healthcare providers include tolerance, job satisfaction, partner benefits, and employee relations. In the clinic, sexual orientation affects caregiver education, visitation rights, confidentiality, and sexual function as occupation.9-11 Needing to "pass" as heterosexual has also been shown in the research to be highly stressful.2,7,12-14

The literature on sexuality related to the rehabilitation process has had a heterosexual focus.15-18 In Great Britain, there is a growing body of occupational therapy literature on sexuality and sexual identity, including several articles related to LGBT issues.19-23 In a recent literature search of occupational therapy peer-reviewed journals, 95% of the articles found using the keywords "gay," "lesbian," or "LGBT" focused exclusively on HIV/ AIDS or other illness-related topics.24-26 In the North American literature, little was found that reflected LGBT issues from the LGBT practitioner perspective among all allied health providers, including physicians.3,6,7,12,13

Much of the literature describes a seemingly heterosexist view of healthcare that may limit collecting information about sexual orientation27 and thus impact client-specific intervention.21 The issues of being comfortable and confident delivering client-centered LGBT care are noted as they describe the impact of effective OT and other healthcare provider service delivery.7-10,28-31 Several authors discuss the mental health issues that are experienced by LGBT people, including prevalence of depression, panic attacks, general anxiety, psychological distress, and suicide.2,4,32 These authors report that the increased level of perceived and intentional discrimination lead to poor quality of life for LGBT people. Dean et al.6 discussed the impact of a lack of research and evaluation of LGBT issues and a lack of knowledge about the specific healthcare issues. Some issues cited include fertility challenges of lesbian couples, transgender genital reassignment surgery, and reimbursement for surgery. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.