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Graduate psychology programs can foster gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) affirmative education practices by creating an institutional climate supportive of GLB students and teaching skills for working with sexual minority clients, according to guidelines recently published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 34, No. 5).

The guidelines, developed by Pacific University School of Professional Psychology professor Maryka Biaggio, PhD, and her students, sprung from a 2001 suggestion by the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology that such recommendations were needed.

"There is a relationship between the institutional climate and the quality of education about GLB issues, and it behooves programs to attend to both," Biaggio says. "Institutions that embrace such strategies will be rewarded with a more stimulating, accepting and affirming environment for members of their community."

Moreover, creating a positive environment for GLB students takes more than just saying programs are tolerant of diversity, Biaggio says: It means taking action to create a diverse student population and a comprehensive curriculum. While there are several programs that emphasize diversity and teaching GLB skills, the GLB climate varies from program to program, Biaggio says.

"Some students have reported concerns about coming out in programs, that they've heard negative comments made by professors and that they aren't getting the skills they'll need to work with GLB clients," she says.

To help programs meet the gold standard, the article recommends that programs:

  • Make affirmation of diversity a priority for the whole institution.

  • Appoint a panel of qualified individuals to review the institution's informational materials.

  • Include sexual orientation in equal employment opportunity statements and admission and recruitment materials.

  • Consider diversity in promotion, tenure and other personnel decisions.

  • Provide support systems for GLB members of the institution.

The article also offers recommendations on how programs can improve graduate education on GLB issues:

  • Integrate and infuse information about sexual orientation and the needs of GLB people into the program curriculum.

  • Ensure that faculty and clinical supervisors are informed about the unique needs of GLB clients.

  • Encourage research on GLB topics.

  • Promote contact with the GLB community.

  • Recruit and retain faculty with experience teaching GLB topics.

  • Facilitate student and faculty awareness of personal biases.

The recommendations did not explicitly address concerns of transgendered students and clients because their concerns are somewhat unique and demand attention in their own right, Biaggio says.