Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The college years are often a time of personal growth, gaining new awareness, and understanding different parts of our identity. Sexual orientation and gender are two aspects of identity that we all embody, though the specifics of these identities vary from person to person.
Sexual orientation is an aspect of identity that reflects our sexual attraction to others. It is often described as a continuum of feelings that include romantic feelings, attractions, fantasies, emotional intimacy, and sexual experiences. While it is not necessary to put a specific label t these experiences, many people identify with various sexual orientations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, asexual, pan-sexual, queer, questioning and others. It is common to experience various questions or feelings about your sexual identity during adolescence and young adulthood, and because our sexual orientation lies on a continuum, it's not necessarily important to pick a specific identity.
Gender identity refer to a person's psychological, emotional, and/or spiritual sense of their gender. Gender identity varies across the spectrum and also includes a range of identities, some of which include girl/woman, boy/man, trans-gender, gender-queer, gender fluid, and agender. Gender is sometimes confused with assigned sex at birth, which is informed by biology (i.e., anatomy, hormones, chromosomes). Assigned sex at birth identities include male, female and intersex.
How people identify in terms of their gender and sexual orientation varies from person to person. For some, they may feel they have always known how they identify with their gender and sexual orientation. For others, there may be questions about gender and/or sexual identity, including learning more about how they identify for themselves or if/when/how to share that identity with others ("coming out"). The staff at Counseling & Psychological Services are trained in a variety of diversity issues, including gender and sexual identity, and can provide support to students who are in the process of question their gender identity or sexual orientation. Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or questioning (LGBTQIQ) can find support at CPS.
Support is Available
College students inevitably face challenges while attending university. LGBTQIQ students encounter many of the same problems that occur with other college students, such as concerns related to family, friends, relationships, stress, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grief and loss. At the same time, LGBTQIQ students may experience difficulties that are more unique and are impacted by their sexual and/or gender minority status. For example, LGBTQIQ students may contend with minority stress (i.e., hostile and stressful social conditions created by the experience of stigma, discrimination, and prejudice), which contributes to the experience of distress and mental health concerns.
Additional concerns LGBTQIQ students may experience include:
- Academic concerns
- Mood swings
- Body image or eating concerns
- Religious issues
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Coming out
- Identity exploration
- Sex & relationships
- Finding support
- Feeling invisible
- Finding community
- Internalized heterosexism or trans-negativity
The counselors and staff at CPA all complete Safe Zone training and engage in on-going training to provide counseling services that are sensitive to the needs of LGBTQIQ students. CPS staff are committed to providing support to LGBTQIQ students, considering both their individual, intersecting identities as well as social and cultural factors that may be impacting their concerns.
How much do services cost?
Services at CPA are FREE to MSU undergraduate students who are enrolled in at least 7 credit hours and to graduate students enrolled in at least 1 credit hour.
Myths & Misconceptions About Counseling
"My counselor will expect me to come out."
CPS counselors recognize that coming out is an individual and personal process, and that it is up to an individual to determine when, whether, and to whom they come out. CPA counselors do not push agenda, but rather provide support and a safe space for exploration of identity/coming out.
"Counseling is only for people who are crazy or weak."
While these beliefs vary in their prominence across cultures, here at MSU, students receive counseling services for a variety of issues and are not considered "crazy" or "weak." Rather, CPS can be viewed as another supportive agency, much like other offices on campus. Their goal is to promote students' academic, social, and personal growth and development.
"My counselor will assume my problems are related to my gender identity or sexual orientation."
Although LGBTQIQ students may often face the issues and challenges stated above, CPS counselors treat each client as an individual and do not assume that being LGBTQIQ causes psychological problems. Rather, they understand how social and environmental stress may contribute to distress for LGBTQIQ students.
"A counselor will not be able to understand me unless they are from the same background or have had similar experiences."
Counselors are CPS value diversity and have been trained to be sensitive and respectful of differences related to gender, sexual identity, race/ethnicity, religion, age, socioeconomic status, ability, and nationality. While counselors may not share the same experiences or identities as their clients, they are empathic and strive to understand each client's experience while facilitating a culturally sensitive approach to the issues being presented. All CPS counselors have undergone Safe Zone training and identity as allies to the LGBTQIQ community.
"I'm afraid my private issues will be made public."
CPS maintains a strict confidentiality policy and will not release any information about clients without their written permission except in cases where we are obligated by law to do so. We will not even disclose whether students are a client of CPS without written permission. CPS confidentiality policy is in accordance with the ethical guidelines of the American Psychological Association as well as federal and state laws.
Who Goes to Counseling?
CPS provides counseling to over 1,500 students, and that number grows almost every year. Many students discuss concerns related to anxiety, depression, relationships, family, past trauma, adjusting to college, acculturation, suicidal thoughts, sexuality, eating issues, substance use, or aspects of their identity. Virtually any issue that you would like to explore and behaviors that you would like to change are appropriate for counseling. Coming to counseling does not mean that you are "crazy," weak, ineffective or sick, but that that you are choosing to explore a problem and optimize your functioning. CPS sees all types of students from all ages, academic departments, student organizations, and demographic groups.
CPS staff work closely with other providers at University Health Partners. At times it is helpful to share treatment information to coordinate mental health care, and as an integrated agency, your providers may do so.
Outside of University Health Partners, CPS services are completely confidential within the limits of the law. The fact that you received services form our office, the reason for your visit, and the content of what was discussed are confidential and cannot be disclosed to anyone without your signed consent. This means that parents, professors, Residence Life staff, partners, coaches, friends, etc. will not be privy to your contact with CPS without your permission. CPS values your right to privacy and confidentiality and adheres to strict legal and ethical standards set for the State of Montana and he American Psychological Association. Exceptions to confidentiality include: 1) threat of harm to self/others; 2) report of abuse of minor children or dependent adults; 3) report of minor children witnessing abuse; 4) if records are subpoenaed by a court of law.
Scheduling an Appointment
You can call or stop into the CPS office during regular hours to set up an initial appointment. CPS is located in the Swingle Building, adjacent to the SUB/Procrastinator Theater.
Counseling & Psychological Services