Shana Williams became a therapist for a simple reason: As a Black, queer person, she wanted a therapist who understood her experience. At the time, she couldn’t find one, so she decided to fill the gap herself.
It’s important for people to connect with someone who looks like them, Williams said. She now leads the clinical program at The Attic Youth Center, where she continues to build and grow a range of free mental health services available to queer youth.
Attic stands out as an essential resource for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community — both youth and adults — for whom affirming and accessible mental health care is not always easy to find. Although queer people are increasingly visible and accepted, health-care providers are not always trained to address their specific needs. Finding queer-positive providers is not the only obstacle. These services can often be expensive, which can make them inaccessible for some.
So, how can you find qualified, affordable queer-friendly mental health resources in Philadelphia? Here are some places to start, and advice for finding the right fit for you.
Why it’s important to find an LGBTQ-affirming therapist
If you identify as LGBTQ, there are many misconceptions that can affect your care. That could include why you need help, says Judy Morrissey, a licensed clinical social worker, who is also the director of behavioral health at the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health provider in Center City.
“[Many people] assume that the issues that the people come in to deal with are gender identity and sexual orientation,” Morrissey said. While that certainly may be true sometimes, Morrissey said plenty of queer folks are also just dealing with the everyday challenges that would bring anyone into therapy.
In a way, that’s an argument that any therapist would be just fine. But Morrissey said it’s important that you be seen as an individual, with your identities and relationships fully understood and respected.
That’s central to Mazzoni’s work, which offers individual therapy, substance use treatment, and support groups. “The therapy itself isn’t that different, what’s different is our approach,” Morrissey said.
It’s powerful to feel seen and accepted by your provider, Morrissey said, especially if you want to feel comfortable enough to share vulnerable parts of your life.
“I think it’s important that folks continue to understand their mental health and find ways to cope,” Williams said, a need that has only been amplified by the pandemic.
Group support and peer counseling can also be a lifeline, said Chris Bartlett, executive director at William Way LGBT Community Center.
“For folks who particularly may not either have financial access to a therapist, or for whom the idea of going to a therapist is even troubling, sometimes peer counseling is a good first step,” he said.
“There’s a real need for folks to find either therapeutic support or peer support or group support,” he said. “Perhaps mental health services are the most important thing we can provide right now.”
How to find the right resources
Finding mental health care is both personal and individual. No matter what type of service you need, it’s important to make sure you have the right provider before you dive in.
Here’s Morrissey’s advice about finding the right therapist:
Have a clear idea of what you need to feel comfortable. That might be a certain counseling style (more guiding versus more directive) or specific environment (individual versus group therapy).
Ask questions. “Find out about how the therapist practices, what approaches they use, how many queer people they’ve treated in the past. There is sometimes a general hesitancy for clients to ask about that, but it’s something we strongly encourage,” said Morrissey.
Keep an open mind. Don’t write someone off if they don’t fit the exact picture of your ideal therapist right away. “A lot of growth happens when the person doesn’t necessarily look like you or act like you or think like you,” Morrissey said.
When money is a concern, be direct about costs, and ask about any discounts or sliding scale rates.
If you’re stuck and can’t find the right provider (and have insurance), try contacting your insurance company. There might be a list of therapists who can help make a connection. Or, if you find a provider that’s out of your network, reach out to your insurance and ask them what concessions they can make.
“The member who carries the insurance has a lot more pull,” Morrissey said.
Virtual and telehealth therapy
Many of the queer-positive mental health resources in Philadelphia are located in Center City, which make them inconvenient or inaccessible depending on where you live and how easy it is for you to travel.
But most services are now available via telehealth because of the pandemic. That eliminates the need to travel for therapy or support groups, since some are available virtually or by phone.
“It’s also made us accessible to folks who may have had mobility issues,” Williams said. She expects that even after the pandemic, The Attic will offer some virtual services, especially with its support groups.
LGBTQ mental health resources in Philadelphia
Here’s are some queer-affirming providers in the Philadelphia region to get you started:
What they offer: Outpatient mental health services, individual therapy and substance abuse recovery counseling for youth and adults who identify as LGBTQ.
How much it costs: Mazzoni accepts private as well as public health insurance plans. If you are uninsured, there is a sliding-scale for services for as little as $30.
Virtual services: Yes.
What they offer: Mental health counseling for LGBTQ youth and young adults up to age 23, as well as their families/caregivers. Support groups tailored to various needs within the queer community, such as healthy relationships, self-esteem, and gender identity.
How much it costs: All services at The Attic are free and supported by the organization’s grants and donations.
Virtual services: Yes.
What they offer: Confidential, one-to-one peer counseling. Social support groups for trans people.
How much it costs: Counseling services and support groups are free of charge.
Virtual services: Due to the pandemic, peer counseling services are available only over the phone, and support groups are being held on Zoom.
How much it costs: Philadelphia FIGHT accepts Medicare and Medicaid, but “all patients are served regardless of their ability to pay.”
Virtual services: Yes. In-person services are also available by appointment only.
What they offer: Motivational support groups, mental health services, and youth services focused on LGBTQ people of color.
How much it costs: All services are free and confidential.
Virtual services: Yes. Due to the pandemic, services are being provided virtually or in person by appointment only.
What they offer: Outpatient therapy and psychiatric care tailored to the LGBTQ community.
How much it costs: Einstein accepts commercial and public insurance, but also offers assistance and a sliding-scale fee for uninsured patients.
Virtual services: Yes. Due to the pandemic, mental health services are being offered virtually through telehealth.
What they offer: Treatment and counseling for LGBTQ people who are struggling with addiction.
Virtual services: Yes, all services are being conducted via telehealth until further notice.
What they offer: A variety of LGBTQ-focused group meetings for people recovering from substance use.
How much it costs: Meetings are free to attend.
Virtual services: Some meetings are being held in-person in Philadelphia, while others can be accessed by phone or Zoom.
📍Various locations, depending on the group, 🌐 aasepia.org/?type=lgbtq
Williams also recommended a handful of private practices that are affirming and open to LGBTQ clients:
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