How is the Focus on LGBT Issues Changing Psychological Studies?

In the past several decades, psychological studies of LGBT patients, as well as highly visible political points of view, have thrust mental health and sexual orientation into the spotlight. Significant changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) regarding the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, as well as to the research conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) have changed the landscape of modern studies in psychology.

Changes to the DSM

Before 1973, the DSM classified homosexuality as an illness; the manual also defined various homosexual behaviors as “conditions,” until their removal in the late 1980s. One of the most significant changes in recent years has been the change of “gender identity disorder” to something called “gender dysphoria.”

For psychologists and students in psychology programs, this change means that patients wouldn’t be classified as having a chronic mental illness, but rather having a temporary mental state. Advocates for the changes suggest accurate diagnoses can improve treatment, as well as provide help for certain legal issues, such as when a transgender individual seeks custody of children he fathered before transitioning to female.

Changes within the APA

Members of the American Psychological Association regularly publish research, and the organization is also responsible for the changes made each cycle to the DSM. The organization has different divisions that research various issues, with Division 44 dedicated to LGBT issues. Division 44 is the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues.

While studying psychology in college, students may choose to concentrate on LGBT issues which may eventually lead to membership in the APA’s Division 44. The APA requires yearly membership dues, but becoming a student affiliate during school is less expensive. Division 44 awards grants and scholarships, which may help students pay for school. School financial aid for psychological studies of LGBT issues would have been exceedingly rare several decades ago.

Professional Publications Undergo Change

One of the most contentious topics to impact LGBT issues, and the world of psychology, is the concept of “conversion therapy,” in which psychologists and other mental health professionals try to change a patient’s sexual orientation. After requests from various LGBT advocacy groups on the harm of such techniques, trade magazine “Psychology Today” announced they would no longer publish advertisements in their periodical for reparative therapy.

Several decades ago, a student may have been able to enter a psychology program and study this type of mental health treatment. It’s doubtful today’s accredited programs in psychology would present this type of therapy as a valid treatment option, or as anything other than a lesson in the history of psychology. In fact, the APA published a statement in 2000 describing conversion therapy as a potentially harmful treatment.

The study of psychology and the treatment of patients is in a state of constant change, as can be seen by reviewing the DSM-V and the updates the APA makes each decade to its official treatment manual for the industry. LGBT issues have become a part of mainstream social discourse, and this visibility has influenced the modern study of LGBT issues from a psychological perspective. Students who wish to enter school and eventually conduct psychological studies of LGBT patients will find many resources in school, as well as in future professional activities after graduation.