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LGBTQ+ Group at Cygnet Hospital Ealing

As Pride Month begins, Andrew Seed (pronouns he/him), our integrative psychotherapist at Cygnet Hospital Ealing, talks about creating a safe space for the service users and staff to celebrate their gender and sexual identity.

The world is changing. How we understand ourselves, our identities and our communities is changing, which means social work and mental health practices benefit from keeping up with these changes.

Social Worker Natalia Masternak and I perceived there was a need on the ward to create a safe space for individuals who are trans, non-binary, queer, lesbian and gay to express and celebrate their identity as well talk through their struggles.

Our society is moving towards accepting people of diverse gender and sexual identities but still has a long way to go. There is stigma which means many people from the LGBTQ+ community suffer invalidation, rejection, bullying or violence targeting individuals with diverse gender and sexual identity.

The LGBTQ+ group consists of semi-structured weekly meetings where group members can celebrate their gender and sexual identity, express themselves and consider common difficulties faced. There is a strong community on the ward and it was an opportunity for the residents to hear each other’s story, developing what I experience to be an already strong sense of empathy.

I found that this group was not a group where I taught a skill or model, as generally the residents have a greater awareness and understanding of gender and identity than myself. Many of the residents have first-hand experience and the younger generations have grown up at a time where identity is understood differently and often more inclusively. It was also a place for staff members to reflect on these themes and for staff who identify as LGBTQ+ to therapeutically share some details of their struggle. Non LGBTQ+ residents go along to hear people’s stories and as allies.

In order to learn more and offer an external perspective I reached out for help from The Clare Project, a charity which supports transgender, non-binary and intersex people. Residents then had the chance to come to a session led by transgender community member, activist and LGBTQ+ awareness trainer Luka White (pronouns: they/them). Luka shared details of their journey, specifically the experience of being LGBTQ+ and also being a mental health inpatient, and talked about the work The Clare Project do with people in Brighton and Hove. There was also an opportunity for people to ask questions and discuss difficulties they have had.

An important part of the group was supporting the development of a supportive and safe community. We thought about this inside the hospital and outside of the hospital. The Clare Project also provided details of community groups some residents might wish to link up to upon discharge, so that they can, as Luka puts it, “find their tribe”.

The group culminated in both wards coming together for a Pride event to celebrate and strengthen the community in the hospital. Residents and staff socialised, sang LGBTQ+ karaoke songs, ate rainbow cake baked by a resident and had a chance to unwind a little. Residents shared their journey and created art to express their journey and have their voice heard in ways that haven’t always been possible in their life.

Co-facilitating the LGBTQ+ group with Natalia has been a humbling experience. I have reflected and learned from the resident’s experiences and stories. To hold a space where residents can express themselves in whatever way is meaningful for them can be healing and has been a great honour to experience.

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