The transitional model of therapy with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and Two Spirit people is based on the premise that human development is transitional by nature. We grow and change over time. We may “stay the same” from an outward point of view, but are always changing and moving through life stages.
Two transitional frameworks are used that are actually complementary – like two sides of one coin. They are acceptance and commitment methods and transitional methods. But overall we think of this work, and of acceptance methods, as part of the transitional approach to psychotherapy.
This approach is holistic meaning of the mind, body, and spirit. The approach is psychodynamic and person centred. The philosophy is based on a transcendent humanism that works within respect for the Presence of God in life, ecology, human relations, and therapy. This respect is in acknowledgement of an extensive history and the wealth of many nations that is found in our western cultural and spiritual wisdom traditions.
Sexuality and gender are conceptualised within this wisdom tradition overall as transitional, and part of the whole of human developmental patterns. These aspects of our being are created natural, good, and beautiful. How we choose to treat ourselves and others may be in keeping with our innate beauty and soul, or may in some ways challenge or contradict this God given energy of our being. This pathwork of discernment of spirits is part of every person’s life and is a central developmental challenge for most people.
In the present day, with the best understanding we have of modern science, sociology, psychology, and theology, we have discerned a vital pathway toward working with people in respect of all these traditions – inside what is called by psychotherapy as an integrative and holistic method. At the base, this method tends to be pragmatic. The driving energy is actually “how can we change our approach to assist this person in their felt-sense of their life?” The focus here is on listening, attending, helping, healing, resolving, opening, and providing people with optimal choices that enable their empowerment to make informed decisions.
Likewise, the approach is in line with “philosophical” methods. However, we prefer to say that our approach is contemplative and works within a method of mindfulness, meditation, and a deeply heart-felt and logically clear analysis. In these ways, every person’s life becomes a unique moment of awakening to challenges and opportunities. The only way to approach this work with people is to respect their innate humanity in all the mystery and beauty this conveys.
We see two basic pathways that are reflected in the table below. These are related to a person’s felt-sense of their current situation and the choices and awareness they have in the moment. Both pathways suggest forms of personal responsibility, as many choices around our identity and relationships with others implies growth in maturity in one way or other. People may not agree with the choices or direction we take, but we see that human beings learn this way. Often by mistake, and try and try again, until something clicks in and people go, OK. I get it now.
Using the modern social ethics we take people where they are at and work with them in their chosen pathwork. This model is all about how do we work with Christian discipleship in the context of sexuality and gender minority identity and relationships? This question applies to all human relationships where there is the light of faith involved. For many people this is not an issue – and does not get addressed. This article focuses on those people who wish to work on and develop within their spiritual life.
On one hand we see the left side of the diagram. Here individuals decide to move within their felt-sense of sexuality and gender identity by accepting and committing the self to working with the capacity to love someone of their own gender, or to transition in other ways that are in keeping with their emerging identity. This choice may involve remaining chaste and single, or entering or maintaining an intimate commitment with another person.
Both choices have their pros and cons for each person, and require sensitive therapeutic methods of support. Finding Christ within is much the same for everyone, regardless of capacity for loving people of either gender. The path to experiencing Christ in our person comes often within struggles, growth, and facing challenges. But mostly this awakening emerges from the realisation of God’s mercy and loving kindness. In this humble moment, we learn we are children of God. This puts everything else into a new light, something we could only call a transcendent reframing of our lives in light of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for us.
On the other hand, the second pathway to the right shows a person who decides to take a more “traditional” Christian approach. This person may have an inner commitment to Christ in chastity. In some cases, this arises from ethical and moral layers of self. In other cases, the person has a deeply felt spousal relationship with Jesus and/or with God the Father. Others may see the feminine face of Christ and of God, and this also moves the heart in profound ways to commit to “the road less taken.”
Chastity is highly underrated and extremely unsupported by societies today. However chastity is a valid and honourable choice, and can be supported in many ways. This is true not only for single people, but equally as well for married couples. Chastity in marriage is a reality for many over extended periods of time, and this is normal.
In some cases, certain people whose given identity leans toward bisexuality may decide to maintain a heterosexual relationship because they feel this is more in keeping with their Christian beliefs and values. Perhaps they wish to raise children with someone of the other gender. They transition into this life path at first, by trial and error, coming to terms with their desires and needs, and forming ways of coping with the challenges they face.
The centrality of trusted friendships combined with a strong degree of independence in identity seem to be themes in these people’s experiences. Perhaps this comes about by the hard work that forming an adult identity involves. We often inherit our identity from parents and community. Coming to terms with an autonomous identity tends to grow in people who face many challenges, and who in some ways intentionally change and leave behind certain values to embrace new values. Over time, this cycles back in how people revisit old values later in life. But now from a completely different perspective.
Various Christian and non-Christian religious traditions now take different approaches to individuals and couple relationships among sexuality and gender minority people. For therapists in today’s western world, and in many eastern, southern, and northern worlds, we collectively may see clients whose life experience and affiliation to a Church or community support system varies significantly.
Across this vast diversity of contexts, we need to form an ethical and sound approach to supporting difference and have some integrity in working with people’s most personal and innate felt-sense of identity. This identity may grow and develop. As children of God we form our identity within the traditions of spirituality and culture, family and society.
While variable, emergent, developmental, and growing, identity is also basically given like a seed of an oak tree. An oak tree seed is no less an oak tree, in identity, than the tree it will become. All the potential of humanity arises in the womb and at the very moment of conception. This ancient wisdom transcends most world religions and indigenous world cultures.
The right hand side of this diagram presents a person whose path in life comes to terms with a profound and abiding felt-sense of God’s calling for minority people. This calling is expressed in many ways. Western Christianity traditionally embraces sexuality and gender diversity within the calling toward consecrated life. Today many cultures around the world are coming to terms with this truth.
However, in secular western nations we have in large measure lost the innate sense of the power, beauty, and reverence that is found within a life of chastity. To be single in this crass world only means that we are literally in transition to finding either a sexual partner or a long term relationship. The focus is on the body, and the sex of our partner. The identity of the self as mystery and wonder tends to escape our view. For many people who remember the magic of growing up, this is a very strange world indeed.
But the reality of mature relationships warrants a level of commitment that transcends personal material gains. Loving kindness and longevity in relationships requires putting oneself second to someone’s needs. The same is true in chastity. Here we give our life for the sake of others, taking perhaps even less for ourselves. We become identified with our community, tribe, and nation, in what we contribute and in who we are as people. This is nothing to do with our sexuality and gender identity, on one hand. But on the other hand, we can not separate these inherent parts of human identity from who we are in the world.