James Robinson sits down with his fellow clinician and new coordinator of LGBTQ services at KIP, Nick Fager, to discuss his work with his clients and his perspectives on issues that LGBTQ people face.
James :What brought you to KIP and why are you always saying it’s a “special place?”
Nick: (laughs) It’s true, I’m always saying that, I feel really lucky to have ended up here. When I was about to graduate from Columbia, I knew that I wanted to try to shake up this business somehow. There were certain things that I found unacceptable, like how hard it is to find a therapist, how expensive they can be, and how difficult it is to find an LGBT specialized therapist. I heard about KIP through a friend in grad school and after I checked out the website, I knew I had to be involved. KIP is special because it’s made up of energized and emerging therapists who are passionate about the field and have similar visions of shaking things up. We are all committed to making therapy more accessible to everyone, and bringing a more multicultural focus to the field. We all have different theoretical approaches to therapy that we feel passionate about, and we’re constantly educating each other and incorporating evidence based research. You feel the energy as soon as you step into our weekly, 3-hour meeting. We all care deeply and we’re in it together, and we actually really like each other! Except you James, you’re just okay.
James: You’ve got a pretty solid background in the LGBTQ community and run the incredibly successful GayTherapy instagram. What is it about your work within this community that makes you so driven?
Nick: I’m really proud of the experience I’ve had working with this community so far. It’s difficult to say what makes me so driven because I feel like there are so many things. Starting my career at the LGBT Center, I was exposed to so many issues right off the bat, and it was exciting to think that I was right in the middle of everything and could play some hand in bettering them. I also felt like I had a message to spread and a chance to be a real voice in the community, which is why I started GayTherapy. But there’s also a deeply personal element to it. When I think about growing up and entering adulthood, there was so much that I just had to figure out by myself, so so much, and I went through a great deal of emotional isolation. I’m driven to give people what I didn’t have then, and what I do have now, which is a space to feel safe and validated. Entering therapy was really the best thing that ever happened to me, and so now I want to provide that service to as many people as I can. It doesn’t matter what stage you are at with regard to your gay identity, even if you came out 40 years ago, we all still have wounds and we can all still benefit from that safe space.
James: Has your work in this community ever helped you in your own personal development?
Yes! Absolutely, like almost more than I’m willing to admit (laugh). First of all, I feel a sense of normalcy knowing that so many other people have the same weird fears and desires as I do. I hear people talk about certain issues, like shame and the need for validation, or how they have difficulties being intimate with other men, and it forces me to take another look at my own life and realize that I’m still a work in progress. Hearing others helps me to be mindful in certain situations, like when I get too guarded with a partner, or when I beat myself up too much for a mistake. I’m able to recognize that those tendencies have deep emotional origins, which I try to work through, and I’m also able to recognize that I’m not alone.
James: What are some of the major issues that you see facing the LGBTQ community in terms of mental health?
Hmm, I feel like this answer could go in a couple different directions. On one hand, I could talk about the systemic issues such as transgender discrimination and the stigma surrounding HIV, and how they make those populations more anxious, depressed, and prone to suicide. However, there’s a broader perspective which I feel like is a better answer. I think that the LGBT population is a very unique population when it comes to mental health for one specific reason, which is that we didn’t have anyone guiding us through it in childhood and often into adulthood. From a young age, most of us had to figure out the whole gay or trans thing by ourselves, we didn’t have anyone to prepare us for the stigma and discrimination and rejection we would face. Other stigmatized populations usually have family members or friends to prepare them, but most of us didn’t, and that is very significant from a mental health perspective, because it means that we are much more prone to emotional isolation. Most of us develop an attitude that we have to take care of ourselves, and that dependency is inherently dangerous. Unfortunately, research shows that emotional isolation can be as harmful to our health than smoking or not exercising. In order to be healthy, both mentally and physically, we need to let others in, and our population is trained to do the opposite. Many of the mental health issues that we see among the LGBTQ population arise from this one tendency we have to isolate, and that’s why therapy is so important to this community.
James: Congratulations on the creation of the LGBTQ division here at KIP. Can you tell me a little about what it is?
Thank you! I’m really excited about it! we worked really hard to develop services and build a team that are LGBTQ specialized, and that includes individual, couples, and group therapy. It’s so important to feel like your therapist gets you, and that you don’t have to explain things or fear judgment during your sessions. We know all about Scruff and Grindr, we know what undetectable means, we won’t misgender you or judge you for being in an open relationship. The LGBTQ division is a place where you will feel understood and the real work can start in session one.
James: What are some of your dreams and goals for this division over the next year?
Right now I’m focusing on expanding our groups. This fall, I’m starting a new group for gay men struggling with intimacy, and another one focusing on gay men with body image issues. I’m also working with other therapists in the division to get some other groups off the ground, such as our gender nonconforming group and our queer women’s group. After all of those get started in the fall, I’m going to shift my focus to expanding our division and getting the word out there even more. I’d really like to make KIP’s LGBTQ division into one of the go-to places in the New York for LGBTQ therapy.
James: Do you have any tips or advice for people in the LGBTQ community who are struggling?
Nick: The advice that I always tell people is to make sure that you have someone to share your emotions with, whether that means a therapist or a friend or a partner, or anyone really, even a dog. It goes back to this idea of emotional isolation. The path to mental health is in sharing our emotions with others. If you feel like you don’t have that safe space in your life, that’s when therapy is the best option.
James: If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be doing?
Nick: Oh no, I’m embarrassed. This is one of those really annoying answers, like when someone in a job interview asks what your weakness is and you say I care too much, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I tried out more than a handful of professions before becoming a therapist, but I’m here now and I don’t see myself going anywhere.