GSRD (Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity) might not be a term you’re familiar with so in this blogpost we’ll share what these terms refer to and why having understanding, and challenging our own assumptions and ideas, is so important for therapists.
An introduction to GSRD for Therapists
GSRD refers to Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity. This can cover clients who identify as LGBTQ+ but also gives space for exploration of all experiences, including those who sit within the norm. Let’s take each term at a time to give a sense of what we’re talking about.
With each of these sections there are a wide variety of ways to relate to each term. Gender can be how we identify – whether male, female, non-binary, genderqueer or other identities – and individuals will have pronouns (ie he/him, she/her, they/them) to correspond with how they identify. We will either be cisgender (with our gender matching that which was assumed when we were born) or transgender (our gender differing from that which was assumed at birth).
Exploration of gender may be more present with clients who are trans – whether they fit a binary gender or are non-binary, but it’s something that will be relevant to all clients. There are experiences, expectations and roles that can be unpacked for all genders. We know, for example, how damaging it can be for men to feel they can’t express emotions or access support.
Considering sexual identities includes:
- Who we may be attracted to – such as being heterosexual, gay, bisexual, pansexual etc
- How we experience attraction and sexual feelings, including asexuality – a spectrum across where individuals experience little to no sexual attraction or interest in sex (or where certain conditions will need to apply for this to be experienced – such as being demisexual, meaning only feeling sexually attracted to someone when there is an emotional bond present in the relationship).
- How we engage in sex – covering all variations and including understanding of BDSM, kink and fetish.
It can be hard for clients to bring up sex and sexual feelings, especially interests in BDSM, and it is up to us to provide a safe, accepting space and ask questions, which show insight, where appropriate to facilitate this. We can also check in with how this is for the client. There may be an expectation of being shamed which it can be helpful to acknowledge.
What are our assumptions around relationships – who they are with and how they play out? We need to have understanding of the various ways relationships are experienced and conducted. There is little awareness given to, and frequently stigma around, those who practice various forms of consensual non-monogamy, such as those who are polyamorous (in or open to being in more than one relationship) and also those who are on the spectrum of being aromantic – not experiencing romantic attraction or experiencing it only under certain conditions.
Relationship identities and values can also link to sexuality, with BDSM/kink power exchange relationships that go beyond sexual practices, or gender – with sexual attraction toward multiple genders but romantic feelings and relationships with one gender – such as with being a heteroromantic bisexual, or having romantic feelings but not sexual feelings, as with asexuality – such as with being heteroromantic/homoromantic/biromantic asexual. As you can imagine, there are vast variations of intersecting identities.
Again, exploring expectations around what it is to be in a relationship, including values, boundaries and communication, will be of worth for all clients, and therapists will need to unpack their own feelings around this.
Diversity is a key word here as it signifies the wide variety of identities and experiences related to gender, sexuality and relationships. GSRD isn’t about othering – we all will have a relationship with these concepts, whether we’re conscious of it or if we take it for granted. An intersectional understanding is also crucial to consider how these terms correspond, and the links with other aspects of our identity, such as race and disability.
Issues for therapists to be aware of around GSRD
Many clients attending therapy may identify in a number of the ways described above, but that does not mean it’s their reason for attending therapy nor that it causes them problems. As with any client, we are bound to explore their relationships and identities – and as we do, having existing understanding of these identities means the client will not have to spend time educating us.
Along with identity comes being in the world as that identity – coming “out” not just once, but over and over again, and having to risk assess if it is safe to do so. We need to be aware of how marginalised clients across the spectrum of GSRD will likely have experienced potentially traumatising prejudice and discrimination which can have a huge impact on mental health and create feelings of shame. This can include from those within the LGBTQ+ community but also from therapists.
GSRD and harm in therapy
Past experiences around judgement, erasure and pathologising in counselling can lead to wariness when entering a new therapeutic relationship. It’s important that we are aware of this. On a broader scale, understanding the historical and cultural contexts of GSRD includes knowing how people of varied identities have been seen and treated by the psychological professions – with identities pathologised into diagnosable disorders, harmful ideas around developmental disruptions causing gender or sexuality variance, and conversion therapy which is shockingly still happening today.
Why all Therapists Should Understand GSRD
It’s easy to think that if you accept all identities that you don’t need additional training or reading in this area, but the issue is that inevitably we may hold assumptions that we won’t have examined – and there will be identities that therapists aren’t aware of. There are identities that have poor, stigmatising representation in the media, and other identities that don’t receive any attention at all. Sadly GSRD generally isn’t covered within core counselling training – and often books on reading lists will hold outdated information. This means that in the room with a client you may find yourself totally unaware of their identity and what it means or misinformed having taken outdated information in.
Ultimately, we want our clients to have a good experience in therapy – to feel understood and accepted. A lack of understanding can at best be a barrier that can be worked through but at worst it can lead to harm. This isn’t always intentional – there can be a feeling of acceptance, yet a misguided instinct to seek causation rather than understanding and accepting that people just are how they are. Asexual clients, for example, can be encouraged to get in touch with their sexuality – or have their identity pathologised. This, too, is an example of conversion therapy.
“Just as GSRD training is not just about marginalised clients, it is also not just relevant to heterosexual, cisgender, monogamous therapists. We all need to reflect on this, as we can all fall into making or imposing assumptions in these areas.” Meg-John Barker
As Meg-John says in this quote, GSRD understanding and training isn’t just for therapists outside of the LGBTQ+ community. There is always a risk of making assumptions and we also know marginalised clients may have experienced prejudice from within the community – such as harmful derision over non-binary identities and the use of they/them pronouns or how bisexual people have been perceived by those who are gay. All of us can benefit from exploring GSRD.
Why GSRD exploration isn’t just about LGBTQ+ identities
Understanding LGBTQ+ identities is important but GSRD is about more than that – we can all explore these ideas even if, and perhaps especially if, we’ve taken our identities for granted. Therapy is often about bringing the unconscious into the conscious, so we can live more intentionally and mindfully – with a greater sense of freedom. Exploration of gender, sexuality and relationships means looking at our engagement with each concept and considering how it impacts our life and experiences. Maybe there are ideas around what it means to be a woman, or expectations around sex, that we’d rather shrug off. This doesn’t necessarily mean a shift in how we identify (though it might) – just that we can process who we are and how we want our lives to be, knowing that all identities and experiences are valid – and not a sign of something being wrong.
“In my experience, gender, sexuality and relationships style is relevant to all clients… it’s actually often those who are more normative who struggle more with these issues, because they’re still trying to conform to rigid cultural ideas” – Meg-John Barker
Further learning for therapists on GSRD
While we will inevitably learn from all clients, we need a foundation of knowledge and this should be sought outside the therapy room. Thankfully there are so many fantastic resources for counsellors on Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity which can broaden understanding, including Meg-John Barker’s BACP guidance on GSRD.
In addition to this kind of learning, a more interactive, experiential approach allows practitioners to examine their own assumptions, relationships with the concepts and to ask questions (even the ones that feel uncomfortable to ask!). This is crucial so we are not othering, instead being willing to delve into what these concepts mean for ourselves as well as clients. Meg-John’s CPD day in June will be a wonderful opportunity to engage in this kind of active learning – with Meg-John’s guidance and peer discussions allowing rich engagement in a safe space.
A very brief introduction to Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity
This blogpost has been a very brief introduction to ideas around GSRD and why it is important for therapists. There is so much depth and complexity to this subject, and one that we can all benefit from exploring – both for ourselves and with clients. We hope you’ve found this article helpful – if you have please do share with colleagues.
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