In Coming Out in Adulthood, Dr. Ritch C. Savin-Williams demonstrates his approach to working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and same-sex attracted clients. Dr. Savin-Williams sees his therapeutic task as determining whether—and, if so, how—sexuality impacts a client's self-perception, identity, relationships with parents and friends, romantic relationships, career options, and choices among many life issues. Although primarily developmental and psychodynamic, Dr. Savin-Williams broadly employs an eclectic approach, the goal of which is to instill a sense of optimism in a world that remains heterocentric.
In this session, Dr. Savin-Williams works with an African American woman in her early 40s who had married and had two children before coming out as lesbian. Dr. Savin-Williams listens as the client recalls raising sons in a gay household, her mother's reaction to her coming out, and ongoing discomfort when in public with her partner.
Dr. Savin-Williams is first and foremost a developmental psychologist, retraining as a clinical psychologist a decade ago. He was trained as a psychodynamic therapist and this is the core of his clinical work. However, he uses the motto "whatever works" and thus is consistently shifting gears within and across clients after assessing what it is that they need and what will work best with them. For example, after a certain point with some clients, insight fails to change behavior or perceptions and cognitive, behavioral, or psychiatric work might prove to be most effective. Dr. Savin-Williams is, essentially, an extreme eclectic. What works is the root of his therapeutic work.
Based on his developmental research during the past 2 decades on the lives of individuals with same-sex attractions, Dr. Savin-Williams feel comfortable with his knowledge about the kinds of issues that emerge in their lives. He has listened to the stories of hundreds of lives and what most impresses him is that in most cases, their issues are the same as those of other clients—they too worry about gaining popularity, coping with their parents, taking out trash, finding the love of their life, wondering how to express their sexuality, and wondering about their careers. The unique addition is their same-sex sexuality and this added component might have very little or, by contrast, tremendous influence on the scope of their lives.
Dr. Savin-Williams views his task as a therapist as finding out whether and, if so, how clients' sexuality impacts their self-perception and identity, relationships with parents and friends, romantic relationships, and career options and selections among many life issues. As a therapist he, of course, listens, supports, empathizes, and encourages exploration of feelings and perceptions. But he also does two other things that he believes are critical:
presents clients with a reality of being same-sex orientated, as far as he can decipher from research, in today's world and
gives them hope.
Both of these are particularly critical because it is not uncommon to discover considerable distortion and pessimism among clients about what their lives must be like if they have their same-sex sexuality. Dr. Savin-Williams attempts to correct these misperceptions and give them hope about living in a world that is dramatically changing (which he is prone to support with concrete data) and might well continue to change in terms of attitudes toward same-sex sexuality. Indeed, clients might not lose friends (at least the worthy ones), not be rejected by parents (family members often do not want gay family members but in most cases unconditional love conquers), be popular (king or queen of the prom is not out of the question), and be able to marry or be civil unioned.
Dr. Savin-Williams says, "In my therapy room, nothing is off limits."
Ritch C. Savin-Williams, PhD, is professor and chair of Human Development at Cornell University. His books on adolescent development include The New Gay Teenager (2005); Mom, Dad. I'm Gay. How Families Negotiate Coming Out (2001); and "…And Then I Became Gay." Young Men's Stories (1998).
Dr. Savin-Williams is also a licensed clinical psychologist and has served as an expert witness on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and Boy Scout court cases. He received the 2001 Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution, the 2005 Outstanding Book Award from Division 44 (the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues) of the American Psychological Association for The New Gay Teenager, and the 2006 APA Science Directorate's Master Lecture in Developmental Psychology.
- Savin-Williams, R. C. (1998). "…and then I became gay." Young men's stories. New York: Routledge.
[A normative perspective of same-sex attracted male youth with a heavy dose of their life stories.]
- Savin-Williams, R. C. (2001). Mom, Dad. I'm gay. How families negotiate coming out. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
[The focus here is on the unique aspects of coming out to parents.]
- Savin-Williams, R. C. (2005). The new gay teenager. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[This is the closest I have come to summarizing "everything" I know about the lives of same-sex attracted youth.]
- Savin-Williams, R. C. & Cohen, K. M. (Eds.). (1996). The lives of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals: Children to adults. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishing.
[A reader to be used as a textbook.]
- Savin-Williams, R. C., & Robinson-Harris, T. (1994). Beyond pink and blue: Exploring our stereotypes of sexuality and gender. A program for ages 13 to 15. Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association.
[The application of a gender- and sex-positive approach to adolescence.]
- Affirmative Psychotherapy With Gay Clients
Kathleen J. Bieschke
- Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Clients
Ruperto M. Perez
- Inclusive Cultural Empathy in Practice
Paul B. Pedersen and Jon Carlson
- Sex Therapy for Middle Age and Older Adults
Barry W. McCarthy
- Working With Gay Male Clients
Douglas C. Haldeman
- Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients, Second Edition
Edited by Kathleen J. Bieschke, Ruperto M. Perez, and Kurt A. DeBord
- HIV+ Sex: The Psychological and Interpersonal Dynamics of HIV-Seropositive Gay and Bisexual Men's Relationships
Edited by Perry N. Halkitis, Cynthia A. Gomez, and Richard J. Wolitski
- Mom, Dad. I'm Gay. How Families Negotiate Coming Out
Ritch C. Savin-Williams
- Sexual Orientation and Mental Health: Examining Identity and Development in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual People
Edited by Allen M. Omoto and Howard S. Kurtzman