Lending GSM peers a supportive ear

'Peer counselling' for GSM persons is an aspect of mental healthcare. Is it necessary? Does it help? Read more about it...

Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Neelam Singh

“You’ll be a good counsellor due to your ability to listen to people (especially those who are in distress and need support) with patience and respect and empathize with them and their challenges. Please participate in workshops on peer counselling, if possible”, said my late colleague, friend and confidante. He was also a capable and committed peer counsellor (particularly for GSM persons), who literally saved the lives of many persons by offering them the necessary emotional and psychological support in an empathetic and timely manner. While I breathe a sigh of relief after every conversation I have with an emotional and/or psychological support seeker who identifies as a gender and sexual minority (GSM) person (whom I am trained to counsel), I also think of people who are not aware of or not able to access such assistance although they need it.

What is ‘peer counselling’ for GSM persons?

‘Peer counselling’ for GSM persons is an aspect of mental healthcare that consists of a GSM person obtaining emotional and/or psychological support from another GSM person who is trained and experienced in providing such support to GSM persons in an affirmative, respectful and objective manner. Peer counselling is vital as many GSM persons irrespective of their sexual orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC), caste, class, geographical location, religion, ideology, (dis)ability, race, ethnicity, language and other social-cultural attributes, hesitate to seek mental health care. This is owed to the associated taboos, lack of awareness or access to sensitized and affordable options, unwillingness to seek counselling or unfavourable experiences with professional mental healthcare providers/services.

In addition to the above reasons, I have heard and observed that GSM persons are likely to prefer a counsellor who is also a GSM person and speaks a mutually common language, even though the SOGIESC of the counsellor may differ from that of the GSM person seeking emotional support. This is because, most GSM persons tend to have some similar experiences of self-doubt, social stigma, gender dysphoria, and mental health issues such as severe anxiety, fear or panic attacks, suicidal ideation or attempts to commit suicide, isolation, loneliness, social withdrawal et al arising from the diversity of their SOGIESC.

My experiences as a trained peer counsellor over the last year have convinced me that peer counselling is quite necessary and effective if provided in a timely and suitable manner. As a matter of fact, my experiences as a lay counsellor made me believe that there is a dearth of peer counsellors who serve as first responders and often much more, to GSM persons needing emotional and/or psychological support.

Unlike mainstream counselling where the counsellor must not counsel persons they are familiar with, a GSM peer counsellor can also counsel GSM persons they are familiar with, if both the counsellor and person seeking support are agreeable to that.

Suggesting alternatives, not solutions

As a counsellor, one must preferably suggest varied alternatives and not solutions or decisions to the persons seeking assistance, as the latter would be ours, not their answers or solutions to their challenges or issues. This is tricky as many times, the GSM person needing support, expects and tries to compel me to provide solutions or answers – I politely refuse to do this but communicate to them that I will try to guide them to their preferred or suitable solution(s) or answer(s) by asking them pertinent questions. Further to this, some persons who seek support sometimes want to be introduced to potential romantic or sexual partners – which I refuse to do as I am a peer counsellor, not matchmaker.

GSM persons who seek support are maybe socio-economically disadvantaged or privileged or based in urban or rural spaces. However, some of them are unable to leave their natal home even if their biological family members do not accept their gender identity or expression and/or their sexual orientation, which fall outside the sphere of heteronormativity. Further to this, many of the GSM persons who seek support are those who are relentlessly pressured to consider marrying persons who are not GSM. If a GSM person marries a person who is not GSM especially without discussing their SOGIESC with the person who is not GSM, it could have terrible repercussions for those in the relationship and sometimes even any dependents, romantic partners et al.

The above aspects challenge the myth that there is more acceptance of GSM persons in urban spaces and among the privileged classes. Further, to this is the myth that a heteronormative marital relationship will ‘cure’ or ‘rid’ GSM persons of their ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour or gender diversity. Sadly but unsurprisingly, there are many persons including health care professionals all over the world who still believe that GSM persons have psychological or emotional ‘disorders’ or ‘abnormalities’ and must be ‘treated’ – usually, through ‘coercive therapy’ (how can coercion be therapeutic?). It is obvious here whose ‘abnormal’ beliefs need to be ‘treated’.

Disclaimer: Medical Science is an ever evolving field. We strive to keep this page updated. In case you notice any discrepancy in the content, please inform us at [email protected]. You can futher read our Correction Policy here. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment because of something you have read on or accessed through this website or it's social media channels. Read our Full Disclaimer Here for further information.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated about fake news trending on social media, health tips, diet tips, Q&A and videos - all about health