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In June we have focused on Pride: the unique challenges LGBTQIA+ people face with substance use disorder and treatment, and an interview with the incredible Eric Dorsa. In our last feature celebrating Pride, we interviewed Beck Gee-Cohen, the director of LGBTQIA+ programming at Visions Adolescent Treatment Center.
Gallus: In your role as director of programming at Visions Adolescent Treatment Center what is your experience of the challenges that LGBTQIA+ individuals face with SUD?
Beck: The unique challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community with SUD are really based in shame, lack of acceptance, and lack of competent providers to help. I’ve seen many individuals in and out of treatment numerous times that have never talked about the nuances of their gender and sexuality in treatment.
I work with teens now, and though many of them haven’t had the years of hiding their identity or the years of using as the adults I have worked with, their struggles are still significant. Family acceptance is at the base and is most vital foundation for a young person. Many of them are bullied and traumatized by the same institutions that adults have been. We have come a long way and we have a long way to go.
My role as the director of LGBTQ+ Programming is really based in not just addressing the mental health and substance use, but also addressing any gender/sexuality pieces that can often be a source of struggle for the teen and/or for the family. We don’t just “accept” teens into our program that are LGBTQIA+, we are very intentional about our work with them. We see them, we celebrate them, we help them along their journey of discovery, and we help them and their families with what it means to be truly affirmative.
Gallus: Can you talk a little about the intersection between LGBTQIA+ folx who have SUD and other mental disorders?
Beck: We know that LGBTQIA+ individuals with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation are about three times the rate of their cis/straight peers. And if I’m looking at substances as a symptom, as a way out of those mental health struggles, then yes the rates are high. I believe the statistics show upwards of 20-40% of the population struggles with substance use, depending on what study you look at. I don’t think we look enough at the trauma (personal and community) that LGBTQIA+ individuals carry. We need to address the mental health and the SUD recovery as a parallel process. We cannot expect individuals to get sober then work on their trauma.
Gallus: How do those challenges translate to treatment? Are there any unique difficulties than any other person seeking treatment?
Beck: The challenges to seeking treatment is not found within the individual as much as it is in the providers. Everyone today says they work with LGBTQIA+ people. And that might might be true, but it is the COMPETENCY of the program/providers that is lacking. A program, from admission to discharge needs to be knowledgeable about this community. There is such a disservice to this population in the addiction “industry.” I see individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community that are harmed by institutions that are supposed to help them every day.
Gallus: What would you recommend as best practices for detox and treatment facilities offering services to LGBTQIA+ individuals?
Beck: I would recommend a consultant to come in and really put eyes on your program. Have an outside perspective come in and really see the blind spots. And then take the feedback and change it. That is what true affirming work is. It is not just one training, it is not just having one LGBTQIA+ identified counselor, it is constructively critiquing what you do on a regular basis.
Gallus: What are your top five resources for professionals in the SUD and mental health space who want to learn more about being more inclusive in their offering for LGBTQIA+ people?
Beck: I think the best way today for people to look learn more about inclusivity is through webinars (especially since a lot of people are now at home)
We offer webinars regularly through Visions on many topics. And they are recorded, you can find them here: https://visionsteen.com/educational-resources/
Another resource for great webinars is https://www.fielddays.space/
The internet is amazing. You can find so many stories and conversations of LGBTQIA+ people from all over the world. It is important that we listen to as many voices and experiences as we possibly can in order to better ourselves, our practices, and our programs.
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