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Advocacy: Mental Health Professionals

All through 2009 and well into 2010, members of O met with medical and mental health professionals in Lahore to discuss the treatment of queer people in need of their assistance. We asked them their current protocol for treating queer people who come to them and learned a number of things.

Firstly, we learned that, most often, the protocol among mental health professionals is to take refuge in common Islamic prohibitions against fornication and homosexuality. Psychiatrists and psychologists advise abstinence and prayer because, despite what the DSM says, they believe that homosexuality is an aberration and a sin. This has left their clients feeling further insecurity, self-blame and hopeless. Often queer people never return for a second appointment because, rather than getting care, they receive blame, guilt and a confirmation of all their insecurities.

We also learned that part of the problem with the psychological care provided is that mental health professionals worry about backlash from their clients’ families. Many times, queer people are brought in by their parents, who believe their children’s attraction to the same sex is a psychological problem. Psychologists and psychiatrists follow the family’s lead in suggesting religious and behavioural “cures” for  queerness. Thus, mental health service providers often worry as much or more about their own continuing practice and safety as they do about the health of their clients.

Some of the practitioners had, however, attempted to go beyond Islamic provisions and family pressures to understand their clients’ dilemmas and be supportive of their own actualisation. They reported that their clients’ families and religious convictions were the biggest challenges queer people faced. While family pressure was something that psychologists felt able to counsel their clients on, the problem with religious prohibitions and convictions was a barrier they were unable to surmount.

After several exploratory meetings, O members put together a presentation that explained the meanings of the various terms in LGBTQ, the most recent understandings in psychiatry on how to treat queer people, particularly emphasising the cruelty and inefficacy of reparative therapy.  We also led a discussion about how we had coped with our own family and religious pressures, brainstorming ways in which they could change their approaches.