Tabby Besley says it is extremely difficult for young people to find a therapist or counsellor who is part of the rainbow community, or who is at least rainbow competent.

“Every week we receive requests, phone calls, emails from people asking for recommendations. But unfortunately the people we were recommending, they’ve had to close their books because there was just too much demand,” she says. 

“Our trans and non-binary whānau tend to be experiencing even higher rates of bullying and discrimination,” the founder of InsideOUT, a support organisation for rainbow youth, says. 

“A big reason for this is because an understanding of gender diversity still isn’t taught widely in schools, workplaces or the mental health sector.”

A Victoria University of Wellington study released on Thursday found only half of rainbow rangatahi in Aotearoa thought their mental health professionals were mostly or extremely helpful. 

The survey interviewed 955 rainbow people aged 14 to 24. 

It found health professionals often made assumptions about the participants’ gender or sexuality, or seemed surprised or uncomfortable when they came out.

The researchers also found more than half of these participants (52 percent) had not encountered a mental health professional who they believed were knowledgeable about sexuality, gender, and sex characteristic diversity.

The researchers say their findings highlight the need for mental health professionals to seek education and training on their own so that their clients are not left to do this work for them. 

Research by InsideOUT in 2021 estimates 16 percent of young people in Aotearoa identify as part of the rainbow community. 

However, mental health professionals who are trained in sex and gender diversity are few and far between.

Besley is in her final year of training to be a counsellor. She says the education around sex and gender diversity throughout her course is “really disappointing”. 

“There’s been a casual mention of something here and there but there is no set training at all,” she says.

“I've been fighting to try and get rainbow training into the programme and they've just refused to pay or allocate any class time to it.”

Besley says once someone has a bad experience in therapy, it can significantly decrease their chances of reaching out for help again. 

“That’s why we need to get it right the very first time,” she says.

Where to get help:

  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information, and a sense of community. 

Top image: Young woman talking with her Therapist - stock photo Credit: Getty Images

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