June 16, 2022 | Michael Galarraga (he/him)

Pride month commemorates the Stonewall riots that occurred at the end of June 1969 in NYC. These riots were a call to action, a fight, and more importantly, a movement to increase inclusivity and equity for LGBTQIA+ people, not just in NYC, but worldwide. When talking about diversity, consider the many intersectional identities that have been marginalized over time in various organizations, professions, and communities. As art therapists, it is important to recognize how we can be more inclusive, more equitable, and more diverse in amplifying our support for LGBTQIA+ people as patients, clients, and colleagues. As an art therapist, you may find yourself being called to action to advocate for the profession and the people we serve in many ways. That work can be inspiring!

How Art Therapists Can Build inclusivity and Foster Trust for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ Community

Marginalized individuals, including LGBTQIA+ people, deserve to feel safe. It is important to foster trust and respect for Queer and Trans individuals to truly support their inclusion in different spaces. When forming a therapeutic relationship, one might reflect on trust and how trust can create many windows of opportunity for [creative] expression.

Below are some notes to be mindful of when working with individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community:

  1. Be mindful of your understanding of LGBTQIA+ people and plan questions ahead of time. 
    • What social locators would be important for me to understand your identity?
    • Have you previously experienced oppression or discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity, race, etc.? Has this been experienced in the context of a Queer and Trans specific community?
  2. Help the client feel more welcome by creating an affirmative atmosphere.
    • Stock up on LGBTQIA+ specific magazines for common areas.
    • Have LGBTQIA+ affirming symbols in common areas and offices.
    • Have gender expansive bathroom signage.
  3. Ask culturally responsive questions.
    • What are your pronouns?
    • How does your identity inform your experience?
  4. Focus on the client’s needs and what they expect and want from therapy.
    • Remember that not every client will want to unpack information related to their sexual orientation and gender identity from the start. Allow them to be in the driver’s seat and bring up information about their identity. Ask relevant and mindful questions when appropriate to safely gain insight into how gender and sexual orientation impact their experience.
  5. Never judge the client (this is especially so for their inner and outer presentations).
  6. There is a difference between assessment, assumption, and judgment.
    • Assessment: the gathering and integration of data to evaluate a person’s behavior, abilities, and other characteristics, particularly for the purposes of making a diagnosis or treatment recommendation.
    • Assumption: the premise or supposition that something is factual or true; that is, the act of taking something for granted.
    • Judgment: the capacity to recognize relationships, draw conclusions from evidence, and make critical evaluations of events and people.
  7. Manage your own emotions and countertransference related to clients’ gender and sexual identities —seek supervision, therapy, self-care, and informed trainings.
  8. Know that relationships take time.
  9. Refer to another art therapist or mental health professional when appropriate—it is okay to not be the expert every time.
  10. Keep yourself informed of the political actions that affect LGBTQIA+ individuals. 
  11. Be aware of the safety resources for LGBTQIA+ clients such as 24/7 Trans Lifeline, 24/7 Trevor Project, and 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

While these notes are common for all populations, take some time to reflect on how they could be applied in your work as an art therapist. Consider how applying these could make you feel, could make your LGBTQIA+ clients feel, and how applying these would make for a more equitable therapeutic space. It is important to be mindful of what comes up for you when practicing inclusivity and fostering trust.

How to hold space for LGBTQIA+ individuals

The LGBTQIA+ community is not monolithic and has many dynamic parts to it that continue to evolve daily. Consider how many letters are in the acronym LGBTQIA followed by the ‘+,’ signifying the inclusion and addition of more parts to the Queer and Trans communities that are developing from exploration of queerness, sexuality, and cultural changes impacted by the evolving world around us.

Holding space for the exploration of these changes in LGBTQIA+ peoples’ lives is important. Consider taking the time outside of sessions to update your own understanding of terminology and the people that terminology represents. Remember to update your forms to relevant terms representative of peoples’ identities. This is part of that baseline inclusivity that our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion trainings teach us! This in many cases serves as the baseline of one’s capability to hold space and respect for LGBTQIA+ peoples’ identities.

Below are some links to help guide your understanding and we encourage you to check back on these links frequently to see what has been updated to expand your understanding.

Queer and Trans Terminology Links:






Michael Galarraga (he/him)

Michael Galarraga (he/him) is a gay, Latino male, Bilingual Art Therapist and Founder of Intersection Therapy, LLC in Philadelphia, PA. He focuses on providing art therapy and EMDR to the Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) community. You can learn more about his practice, Intersection Therapy, here.