Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 371–389

The Problem with the Phrase “Intersecting Identities”: LGBT Affirmative Therapy, Intersectionality, and Neoliberalism


DOI: 10.1007/s13178-016-0240-2

Cite this article as:
Grzanka, P.R. & Miles, J.R. Sex Res Soc Policy (2016) 13: 371. doi:10.1007/s13178-016-0240-2


Since the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973, psychology has transformed the way it approaches sexual orientation and gender identity issues in scientific research and clinical practice. The paradigmatic shift from psychopathology to identity has corresponded with the introduction of “LGBT affirmative therapy,” which suggests that therapists should affirm clients’ sexual orientations rather than reinforce sexual minorities’ experiences of stigma and marginalization. This qualitative study used a subset of psychotherapy training videos about LGBT issues to explore the form of content of LGBT affirmative therapy in the context of increased attention to identity and multiculturalism in applied psychology. The videos suggest that multiculturally competent therapists should understand sexuality and gender issues in terms of what psychologists call “multiple” or “intersecting” identities, namely race and ethnicity. While the multicultural turn in psychotherapy may signal a transformation in mental health service provision, our analysis questions whether these videos may unintentionally reflect a neoliberal logic of inclusion that obscures the structural dimensions of social inequality. We suggest that the uptake of intersectionality-like identitarian discourse in psychotherapy in particular offers opportunities for challenging and reinforcing neoliberalism.


Sexual orientation Gender identity Psychotherapy Intersectionality Neoliberalism 

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
National Science Foundation (US)
  • 1229874
National Science Foundation (US)
  • 1229867

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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