• Therapist Martin Kelly reflects on the benefits and limitations of LGBT+ labels

  • If you are interested in exploring your identity or authenticity, LGBT+ or otherwise, therapy can offer you the space to do so. Find your therapist here

"Oh, you mean people?" This was the reaction of a friend to my reeling off all the letters that LGBT + refers to. As a gay man I am grateful no longer to be persecuted by the law or discriminated against when it comes to employment, housing or marriage. User-friendly labels have been an important part of making us visible and securing equal rights. However, there is a danger in being labelled, above all because – as human beings - we cannot be categorised. Each of us is unique. 

As a counsellor sitting in front of a client for the first time I ask myself, "Who is this person? What journey are they on? How can I reflect back to them their dignity?" I don't for a minute underestimate the pain they may have approached me with, but I seek to see how they will grow through it, what sort of person they have the potential to be. It is easy to assume that all LGBT + people have been victimised for their sexual or gender identity, but for more than one client this has not been the issue at all. 

Neither the place of victim nor of aggressor is a place of freedom. We may need to pass through these stages as we take on board the depth of our hurt, then the strength of our resentment towards those we believe caused it, but in either case we are still reacting to external influences. We have not yet learned to act out of our inner Self. 

When we do, we can respond to injustices in a way that does not damage our sense of our own dignity by tipping us off balance. We become free and strong. This is what I want for all my clients, LGBT + or not. As a Catholic, I am particularly interested in the spirituality, in whatever form that takes, of my clients. Many have been told they cannot be who they are and belong. To see LGBT + people reclaim their rightful place as pilgrims on a spiritual journey is to witness the joy and confidence that integration brings. 

In all my work I try to follow the advice of Carl Jung to learn my theories well, then leave them outside the room. Psychosynthesis, in which I am professionally trained, was developed by a colleague of Jung, Roberto Assagioli when both were students of Sigmund Freud. At the same time, I cherish the etymology of the word 'amateur' – one who loves. My training therapist once said, "no matter how skilled your interventions, if you don't care for the client, nothing happens." My hope is that the care I offer will facilitate whatever needs to happen in the people in front of me.

Martin Kelly is a verified welldoing.org therapist in WC1, London

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Martin Kelly

Being an LGBTQ affirmative therapist

How social and political forces shape our identity

Working with gender identity in the therapy room