Psychologist Paul Martin of Brisbane’s Centre for Human Potential is bringing his Working Effectively with Gay and Lesbian Clients workshop to Sydney, Cairns, Perth and Darwin.

The workshop came about as a result of the Centre’s years as a gay and lesbian specialist counselling service.

“We’d found that many of our clients over the years had told us that that one of the problems they’d had in the past when they saw other counsellors was that they didn’t feel they had an adequate understanding of gay and lesbian terms and language, and the norms in some of our subcultures and their underlying issues,” Martin said.

The course is open to “psychologists, social workers, welfare workers, youth workers — really anyone who feels a better understanding of these issues can help them in their work,” he said.

“At one of our workshops we had a mum from P-FLAG and she got a lot out of it because she wanted a much deeper understanding of gay and lesbian issues.”

Martin said counsellors could have problems understanding their gay and lesbian clients if counselling a couple in an open relationship, and assuming that’s the problem and then taking the counselling down the wrong path.

A counsellor might counsel someone who takes ecstasy at dance parties a couple of times a year, and then assume the person has drug dependency issues.

There’s also misunderstanding about sex-on-premises venues and the role they have in some gay men’s lives.

“A lot of our clients have said, ‘We had to come to you because there was a lot of stuff I didn’t tell my counsellor because I could tell they didn’t feel comfortable with it’, ” Martin said.

“What could be worse is if they don’t go to counselling at all. Even with some of the gay and lesbian counsellors who’ve come to the workshops, there have been issues they haven’t been aware of.”

Martin said many people still do not understand the effect living a double life can have on people.

“Concealment and secrecy can have massive emotional and physical health problems associated with it. In the case of gay guys who are not out, HIV progression can increase dramatically in people who have that concealable stigma.”

info: Working Effectively with Gay and Lesbian Clients is on January 19, at The Regus, Level 8, 1 Alfred St, Sydney. Other workshops are being held in Cairns, Perth and Darwin.

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