Many people I’ve spoken to within the otherkin, pagan, and other alternative communities are skittish about seeing a therapist. They’re afraid of being misdiagnosed due to their beliefs, practices, or identities. They don’t want to be stigmatized, and they don’t want someone to try and “fix” their beliefs or identity.
These are legitimate concerns. But sometimes a therapist is necessary or extremely helpful, and there are measures you can take to mitigate such potential issues.
Please note that I’m writing this from the point of view and the experience of someone in the United States. Techniques, precautions, and logistics may vary based on location. If you have any tips for finding a therapist in your region, please add it to the comments!
Finding a Therapist
- Directories such as Psychology Today‘s can be valuable in locating therapists in your area. I particularly like Psychology Today’s because you can search by specialty, insurance, and therapeutic orientation.
- If you are comfortable doing so, ask other people in your local alternative community for recommendations. They may know a therapist who is aware of and friendly to alternative lifestyles and minority beliefs.
- If you are in college, it’s very likely that your university has free counseling. A lot of the counselors may be graduate psychology students on their internship, or recent graduates still getting their supervision hours, so they will be less experienced, but may be fairly open to education as a result. Tell the counseling office that you need someone who is GLBT and Pagan friendly.
- Look for therapists who are GLBT-friendly or who work frequently with GLBT clients. This is not because you are GLBT – you may be straight for all I know – but because someone who works with GLBT clients is likely to already have been exposed to alternative spiritualities such as Paganism, and alternative lifestyles such as kink and polyamory. They will thus likely be more open to other alternative identities, and better equipped to deal with the cultural and personal issues that come with such.
- If you do not have insurance, look for therapists who provide sliding-scale or income-based services. This will narrow your options considerably, but you should still be able to find someone suitable.
Your First Session
- Most therapists offer a free consultation. If they don’t automatically offer you one, ask about it. It may just be over the phone, or it may be an initial session. Either way, make sure you do this! This is your opportunity to interview the therapist, and it is their opportunity to evaluate if they feel they can provide you with adequate services for your needs.
- Remember: you are hiring the therapist. You can walk away at any time, and you can shop around. Make sure they’re a good fit. Interview multiple counselors if needed. Find one you feel comfortable with. If you can’t open up to your therapist, you won’t get much out of your sessions, and so you’ll be paying for something that isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to hunt around until you find a counselor who is a good fit!
- Bring materials on your relevant communities, identities, and beliefs to the first session. Most therapists have never heard of otherkin; if you feel that you need to talk about your otherkin identity in therapy (which you may not need to; I’ve had plenty of productive therapy sessions and never talked about identifying as avian), bring good, solid information on the subject to give to the therapists. All the counselors I’ve spoken with are open to education, and if you don’t educate them, they’ll probably go researching the subject on their own – and there’s a lot of bad information out there on otherkin. Do yourself a favor and provide information that represents you. (This also goes for Pagans, polyamorous people, folks in the BDSM community, etc.) If the therapist is dismissive or not receptive to education, find a different therapist.
- Many (though not all) therapists will collect demographics in the first session. They will probably ask you about your history, any previous physical or psychological diagnoses, and your current life circumstances. This is a standard procedure; the therapist is acquiring context on your situation. They will also want to know what you’re coming to them for, of course. Do you need help with depression? Relationship issues? Grief counseling? Identity crises? Depending on the therapist’s modality, they may suggest running some tests, usually either a series of questions administered verbally or a long list of questions in paper form.
Keep in Mind…
- Clarify what the privacy policies are in your region. In the United States, HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the standard national privacy set of regulations around medical information. It’s why you get a printout to read and sign whenever you visit a new medical professional. There may be additional regulations depending on your state. Essentially, though, a therapist cannot share any information about you with anyone – not even your parents if you are a minor – unless they have reasonable cause to believe you are a direct, immediate threat to yourself or others. At that point, they are required by law to act for your protection, and may disclose that they believe you are a threat to self/others. Even then, though, they cannot disclose additional information about you. If you are a minor, the therapist is additionally required to report (in the USA) if there is an external threat to your personal safety (i.e., if you are being abused in any way). I’m not sure of regulations in other countries. Research the privacy requirements in your region or ask your counselor about them.
- You are not going to be hospitalized for having non-mainstream beliefs. I so often see otherkin on forums fretting about getting “locked up” for being “crazy”. This is not going to happen in the United States (I can’t speak for other countries, as I don’t know their regulations as well). First, if you are a minor, it is not an easy thing to get you admitted to inpatient hospitalization; there are limited beds, and you have to be a serious and immediate threat to yourself or others, the intake staff have to have reasonable cause to believe you’re a threat to yourself or others, and they have to have the space available for you. If you’re an adult, there are more beds available if you can pay for them, but that’s only if you admit yourself consensually. To admit an adult into hospitalization against their will requires a medical hold, which requires them to be an immediate and serious threat to themselves or others, and it is very difficult to get a medical hold on an adult for longer than 24-36 hours. The ease or difficulty of this varies by region even within the United States, of course, but you are still not going to be hospitalized merely for identifying as otherkin.
Now, if you say you’re planning to kill people because you’re a demon and you think it’s your duty, or because you’re a wolf and you can’t control your bloodthirsty rages, that’s another matter entirely – you now fall into the “danger to others” category. It’s not because of your otherkin identity, though; it’s because you are seeking to hurt other people.