IOL Hosts Own LGBTQ Conference

More than 120 providers from across Connecticut attended an Institute of Living conference focused on treating and supporting the LGBTQ community in the healthcare setting on Friday, Oct. 26.

“I do many speaking engagements in schools and other clinical institutions in the greater Hartford area, and frequently, people would ask about an all-day training. Since I didn’t know of any and I feel very passionately about educating clinical providers on LGBTQ-informed care, I decided to make our own conference,” said Laura Saunders, PsyD, ABPP, assistant director of psychology and clinical coordinator for The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track.

The conference, which was presented by the IOL’s Family Resource Center and The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track, offered providers training not traditionally available in journals and clinical publications, including sessions on transgender care and identity development, advice for supporting and treating LGBTQ patients and families, and the nuances of behavioral health treatment for LGBTQ individuals.

“As the LGBTQ community has increased their visibility over the last 10 years, it has allowed many people to take steps to seek therapeutic help,” said Saunders. “However there are certain risk factors and stressors that are unique to this population, so it really takes extra work and training to be more sensitive, similar to work with veterans or other specialized populations.”

LGBTQ individuals carry additional stressors — social stigma, minority stress and family rejection — that cause them to be overrepresented in the mental health population, explained Saunders. This is why behavioral health providers need to be particularly attuned to the needs of the community.

“I have always thought of behavioral health as having a responsibility to lead the way on issues such as LGBTQ care,” said John Santopietro, MD, FAPA, physician-in-chief for the Behavioral Health Network and senior vice president for Hartford HealthCare, who gave opening remarks at the conference. “Behavioral health and psychiatry, from its origins over 200 years ago, have always been, in part, about social justice. We have always fought for better treatment for groups that have been marginalized.”

Although mental health and addiction treatment remained the focus of the conference, overall healthcare delivery remains a challenge for the LGBTQ community – particularly those who identify as transgender.

In her presentation on transgender affirmative care, Sarah Gilbert, LCSW, from Transitions Therapy, shared that in a 2008 survey of more than 7,000 transgender individuals, 50 percent reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender healthcare.

This lack of understanding, coupled with the uncomfortable questions that transgender individuals often face, can prevent people from seeking the healthcare services they need, explained Gilbert.

“A transgender male needs to have a place to go for primary care that will understand his unique physical needs, but that means that all healthcare providers need to have more sensitivity to the LGBTQ community,” said Saunders. “It starts with your paperwork, your front office staff, and being able to validate people’s identities and ask direct questions about their lifestyle without shame.”

The conference was an important step in sharing information and best practices in treating the LGBTQ community across the Behavioral Health Network and Hartford HealthCare, said Dr. Santopietro.

“We are still not where we need to be nationally around regular education and training on LGBTQ healthcare issues,” said Dr. Santopietro. “There is a sense of urgency about this, and I’m proud that HHC is responding and being proactive.”