In honor of Transgender Awareness Month, I sat down with Cortney, one of the Gavia therapists, to ask about her role in bringing awareness and support to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Hi Cortney, can you share a little about yourself and your role at Gavia?
Hi, I am Cortney Bills (she/her), LMSW, Primary Mental Health Therapist, as well as LGBTQIA+ group facilitator. I have worked at Gavia since December 13th, 2021. I previously worked for RRH as an Addiction Therapist, where I was also given the opportunity to start working with more clients who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Please share what made you decide to start this group.
I have always had interest and passion in working with those who identify in the LGBTQIA+ community, from both a personal and professional standpoint. In my experiences both professionally and personally, I have been able to take a deeper look into the struggles that individuals face in our community, and the need for more services in which provide support to these individuals. There is one experience professionally that inspired me to start this group, and that is finding out that one of my past transgender female clients had been killed on the street, and suffered a great deal throughout their life, due to their gender/sexual orientation. This client was very special to me, and as a way to honor them, as well as be a hand in providing support to our community, I was ready and excited to start the LGBTQIA+ community at Gavia.
That must have been hard and what an inspirational reason to start this group! Can you share about your group?
The LGBTQIA+ group was created with the intent to provide a safe and healthy space for clients to process their own emotions pertaining to their experiences related to mental health and their gender/sexual identity. One of the biggest strengths of this group is the support which is provided by and to clients throughout our weekly group sessions. We explore various aspects of their mental health, and how this connects with and/or impacts their own exploration of self-identity. Some of the common themes in group are; family and relationships, gender/sexuality exploration, connectedness with oneself, health and safety, as well as the importance of engaging with community/treatment/social LGBTQIA+ support networks (amongst many other relevant topics).
How long has it been running?
Since May, 2022
When/where does it meet?
From your experience working with LGBTQIA+ community what do you feel is important for the general community to know about this population?
I’ve found that clients in this population value safety, respect and acceptance. It is extremely important to me as a therapist that I am both aware of the group environment, as well as my own self-awareness and sensitivity in discussing topics that may be difficult for clients. My experience in facilitating this group and 1 on 1 therapy with LGBTQIA+ clients, has shown me how supportive this community can be, especially when they feel safe and comfortable to express themselves, and show up as who they are.
What do you wish more people knew?
The importance of respecting others sexual/gender identities, as well as making a conscious effort to correct oneself if the wrong terminology/pronouns are used. I also stress to my clients that it is not their job to educate others. It is important to have resources on hand to provide educational information for family and loved ones to learn more about the client, their needs, and how to help them feel safer.