Last week we talked about LGBTQ isolation and what that looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in Thailand.
Along the way, I realized that there is a lack of resources available for queer people suffering in isolation. So, I talked to Dr. Scott Berry, a psychotherapist in Bangkok with a history and keen interest in counseling queer people, both during these times, and beyond.
What is your practice? How long have you been practicing?
I do counseling and coaching. My practice is a general practice, so I see anyone and everyone and there is a range of different issues people come to me with. Depression, anxiety, couples work, addictions counseling, and I work with LGBT people, who are sometimes dealing with what I’d call standard life stuff. By that, I mean that sometimes it’s a gay man or a lesbian that comes to see me about things that affect everyone, such as having anxiety or having a realtionship problem. Sometimes, it’s about gender issues directly, and about the guilt and shame that sometimes come along with those sorts of things, and how they become a part of their overall healing process as they get older.
It seems like you have a specific interest in LGBTQ counseling in Bangkok. Why?
I’m a gay man, first of all, so my motivation to work with LGBT people comes from my own life experience. I have spent many years working in the field of HIV-related counseling, specifically in TV and designing community-based outreach for gay men and transgender people.
My earliest response as counselor to LGBT people, specifically, was through HIV counseling in London and Australia in the beginning of the HIV crisis. At the peak of HIV-related deaths in Sydney and London in the 1990s, I helped to open up the first HIV clinics in those cities and most of the clients I worked with at that time were gay men, who had just been given their diagnonses 15 minutes earlier.
At Scott Berry & Associates (in Bangkok), do you see mostly foreigners or Thais, or both?
The majority of my clients are western expats or other Asian expats.
Why, in your opinion, are there less Thais seeking counseling?
The smallest number of my clients are Thai people and most that do come have no history of talk-based therapy like we see in the West. Most of my Thai clients have lived in Thailand for their whole life and, as a result, don’t really know how talk-therapy is practiced elsewhere.
So, often they’ll come to me once when their relationship is falling apart or when their feelings are at a point that they can’t handle how they are feeling right now, anymore. They’ll also come to me in intense moments, like when they’re about to lose their job. They’ll often come [to therapy] once to get through one tough moment and then they won’t return, because they’ve gotten what they needed just that once.
In Thailand, many people have yet to figure out why we should use talk-therapy as a process. There isn’t a proactive movement for the growth of talk-therapy here and actually government legislation seems to actively discourage it.
To be registered as a psychologist here you have to be allocated to a hospital, so setting up a private psychology practice, like we often see in western countries, is difficult to do here- aka, it doesn’t exist.
What is your approach? Are you using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?
I do a combination of things, and CBT is one of them.
I primarily take a psychodynamic approach, which connects to family systems. Understanding the system in the family and the role that the client has in the family, and understanding the role of shame-in-blame in childhood and the impact it has on people as they get older is of utmost importance.
Understanding that clients bring shame-and-blame into their adult lives and giving them the ability and tools that they need to reprocess it- that is where I put a lot of focus. It’s not about telling them what the answer is, but opening them up to being able to decide, and even knowing how to decide.
Whether they want decisions about their identity to stand in their adult lives or if they wish to change them, for example. Often, the messages that were given to them from other people about who they are or who they should be were swallowed whole and just accepted as what is always right about who they are, now and forever.
So, in therapy we help people to regurgitate those things with their adult brain- does it really fit me, or do I reject it? For LGBT people, this is often about shame, guilt, blame and feeling less than everyone else. What we want to do is to help people find the pathway to shameless living.
Do you have any tips or advice for LGBTQ people currently having issues with self-isolation in Bangkok?
I’m offering free counseling to people who feel negatively affected by COVID-19. It can be done online. It’s isolation that is affecting people the most right now and with counseling, there are a couple of things that seem to help.
First of all is having someone to talk to on a regular basis. Someone like me or someone else who is able to listen and ask questions and facilitate an emotional process for the person who needs help. Feeling that there is someone in particular who is willing to listen and someone who cares.
The other thing is to deliberately build a network of people to connect with everyday. Have a routine connection with people. I encourage LGBT people to deliberately ask other people to communicate with them on a regular basis, like every second day, something like that.
Once you’re disconnected, it’s incredibly hard to develop easily. As LGBT people, we often need to build a new family and especially during a time like this, people need to have overt, deliberate agreements with people that they will become part of your family.
Isolation nurtures addictive tendencies. Connection to others is a cure or a treatment for addictive behavior and isolation fuels addictive behavior. It’s a cycle that can be broken, but first we must make a point to deliberately check on each other as much as we can.
Dr. Berry is currently offering free counseling for anyone suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or a loved one have just been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you’re stuck having to make difficult decisions because of the pandemic, reach out.
If you’re currently alone and you have a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, a personality or mood problem and you’re finding it difficult to cope, you’re also eligible for free counseling from him. More information about setting that up here: https://www.scottberryassociates.com/covid19-free-counselling-support