New research reveals that community-based clinics and clinicians play an essential role in reshaping both mental healthcare for LGBT people and broader attitudes about sexuality and gender.
Stephen Vider, assistant professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University, co-authored a paper with David S. Byers, assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, titled, “Clinical Activism in Community-based Practice: The Case of LGBT Affirmative Care at the Eromin Center, Philadelphia, 1973–1984,” which was published Nov. 9 in American Psychologist.
The paper uncovers the story of the Eromin Center, one of the first LGBT counseling centers in the United States, which was open in Philadelphia from 1973 to 1984.
Historically, LGBT people struggled to find mental healthcare that didn’t treat divergence from sexual and gender norms as a mark of psychopathology. The authors show how Eromin’s proactive stance not only provided support for people who needed mental healthcare but also advanced a new model of LGBT affirmative clinical practice.
They describe Eromin’s approach as an example of what they call “clinical activism.” Without pre-existing models or research to draw upon, Eromin clinicians improvised new therapeutic approaches, guided by their own ethics and experiences. This improvisational and community-responsive approach to care was used by many early LGBT counseling centers in the U.S., in spite of national leadership and mental health policy that was slower to change, the authors state.
“Most histories of LGBT mental health point to the removal of homosexuality from the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ in late 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association as the crucial turning point in LGBT depathologization,” Vider says. “Our research shows, however, the critical role of clinicians working in developing models of affirmative LGBT counseling.”
Eromin was founded six months before the APA decision. Their paper, written with Amelia Smith, a social worker at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, is part of an oral history and archival research project that Byers and Vider have been leading since 2015. The oral histories will be archived in Cornell University Library’s Rare and Manuscript Collections as part of its Human Sexuality Collection.
Related: Bridging The LGBTQ Research Gap